Why IT consulting services need a makeover

Updated: Dec 26 2011, 08:47am hrs
A recent research report on the state of consulting services offered by the IT industry opines that consulting services have degenerated in recent years from the original aspiration of being a service line in itself to issue-based tactical services or bread and butter offering meant primarily to drive downstream package implementation or application management and business process optimisation and off-shoring services. The transactional offerings which started with impact analysis in the Y2K days when large volumes of legacy systems had to be analysed for the impact of the date change have now moved to specific offerings like SEI CMM process consulting and ICD to ICD 10 transition services in the healthcare sector and India-based business analytics, modeling and process management services that often have payments linked in whole or part to the actual business outcomes of these services.

This may seem a rather understandable state of affairs particularly at a time when the jury is still out on the impact of the global economic turbulence on industry fortunes in the next year and more. Almost paradoxically, this period is also when most questions will be asked by CEOs and CFOs to the CIO community in their quest to reduce the total cost of ownership of IT operations and enhance the competitive position of their companies in their industry sector by providing new services as well as new ways for business and retail customers to consume their products or services.

The CLO-SO-MO continuum, which translates to cloud computing, social media and mobility, provides a plethora of opportunities for companies to achieve these goals and for IT consulting firms to provide a clear assessment and roadmap towards the new internal efficiency and external opportunity maximisation possibilities. Cloud computing with its ability to convert capex to opex by transitioning software as well as infrastructure to a virtual formats enables CIOs to avail SaaS and IaaS and eliminate not just the fixed costs but also minimise the regular hassles of hardware and software upgrades and version controls that have plagued IT departments in the past. While some additional investments may be needed in enhancing enterprise wide security and revisiting business process management to align IT goals with business objectives, the stepping stones to the cloud approach advocated by many firms today can be a must-do for companies, both with global and domestic focus.

Mobility and social media, at least in India have been embraced aggressively by the individual users, as evinced by the sudden alarm bells raised by our IT & HRD minister, but the potential impact on business fortunes is beginning to dawn only now. Integrating mobile applications rendered on phones and tablets into enterprise applications for supply chain management and dealer, distributor and customer relationship management can enable anytime, anywhere access to key company data delivered in a platform of choice with high security. And the use of social media to serve up buying ideas to potential consumers, network with collaborators, monitor feedback and trends and even do collaborative product or service development has the potential to change the way Facebook applications are conceptualised and launched in future.

Companies like Google are already pushing the envelope in providing new ways of collaboration to an eager community of world citizens out in cyberspace. The capabilities of Google Docs and the integrative potential with geo-spatial applications like Google Maps and learning and infotainment vehicles like YouTube can give rise to a whole new way of co-creation of knowledge as people collaborate within and beyond organisation boundaries and the ability to avail modern unified communications integrating voice data and video enable convergence to deliver seamless collaboration to organisations for all their stakeholders. Content management, data management and analytics will all acquire new meaning in this high potential growth phase for enterprise deployment of new technology capabilities.

These developments which have been called business at the speed of digitisation may see advisory opportunities emerge for clairvoyant IT forms as legacy IT investments get creatively destroyed, business embrace the idea of supporting their workforce through tablets and mobile and social media applications not only become the standard for collaboration but also eventually replace todays ubiquitous e-mail as the primary means of interpersonal communications. Advising companies on branding, content creation, traffic generation, enabling multi-channel purchase decisions and new loyalty and advocacy programs will take IT consulting to a new plane of capabilities in future.

As the recessionary trends play out during 2012 and the industry looks somewhat warily for new opportunities, consulting runs the risk of being relegated to a low impact service supporting the transactional opportunities in code conversion, server virtualisation or specific analytics, business intelligence and process optimisation needs of clients. It is only the more adventurous of the IT services pack, which grasps the opportunities in cloud, social media and mobility with both hands that will build the consulting business in India and abroad and move up the value chain even in a relative period of dullness for the sector.

The writer is CEO of Zensar Technologies and co-chair of the National Knowledge Council of CII