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ThinkOutsideTheBox.jpgI found myself asking this question very early in my IT career when I was an intern. As part of my internship, I worked on a project as a “functional analyst” and worked with business users to come up with a design for a new program to help their business process. The development of that design was to be completed by a couple of “consultants”. While reviewing the design, the “consultants” asked whether they should do a certain task one way or the other. A co-worker responded by saying “You guys are the experts, which way do you think is best?” The response was dead silence followed by a “mmmmeeeeeerrrrrrrrr” sound that one of them would make when they were thinking. Were these people truly “consultants” or were they “contractors”? In this blog post, I want to redefine what it means to be a consultant and what it means to be a contractor.

What is a Contractor?

A contractor, according to my definition, can be someone inside a company, outside a company, onshore or offshore. My definition is based on the work that is performed, not the job title or location of the person. A contractor is not concerned with the long term success of the company or project, their only concern is getting the task at hand completed. They do not question or try to improve on any existing designs or proceses. The goal of a contractor is to finish the work quickly so that they can move on to the next project or client. Some areas where a contractor may be better than a consultant is in support. There are times when a change just needs to get done quickly without spending much time trying to analyze or improve.

What is a Consultant?

A consultant, according to my definition, can also be someone inside a company, outside a company, onshore or offshore. What makes someone a consultant is when they regularly challenge the status quo and debate changes to ensure that the best solution is put in place. They will not ask to be plainly told what to do, but they also will not tell the client or business what they think is best or blame the technology on what can’t be done. The goal of a consultant is to listen and understand the needs of the business and come up with a long term solution to their problem.

How to switch from a contractor to a consultant

In this article, the author not only talks about how he defines a consultant and contractor, but also gives suggestions for how to move from a contractor to a consultant. In my definition, a consultant can even be an IT employee at a company. The biggest key to becoming a consultant is to always be learning new things and challenging the way things are done. I think that it would be cheaper for companies to invest in internal IT staff to make them consultants, rather than trying to hire someone as a consultant who really is a contractor. The risk of this is higher with people who are not on site, as demonstrated by @SAP_Jarret in his blog post about consulting fraud.

Do you have any good or bad experiences with IT consultants or contractors? If so, leave a comment!

Photo by artjonak @ flickr

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