How does IT Consulting create experts who know how to integrate IT into all business spheres?
Keeping in mind how much the IT industry influences all other industries but also everyday life, it's surprising how little is said about IT consulting, which is practically the bridge that connects the two. That's why we sat down with a junior and two seniors on different career paths - to explore this profession with those who practice it, love it, and live it.
Sandra, Tin and Slađana have different levels of work experience, different types of knowledge and education… Accordingly, their views about the IT consultant’s job are also specific, however – all three agree on one conclusion: IT consulting is unique because of the way it can affect all industries.
What emerges through combining senior and junior perspectives about IT consulting is a story about practices, motivation and challenges, which can give you additional insight into the nature of consulting work to anyone thinking about this career, regardless of experience. So, let’s begin…
All paths can lead to business intelligence
Slađana Krpić has been in Business Intelligence for 17 years, from junior consultant to a director position and finally, as a board member. At the other side of the table, the conversation was joined by two novices, at least in terms of seniority at this company, which specializes in advanced analytics solutions.
Tin Runje, a freshly graduated AI engineer, is a young associate consultant who has been with Poslovna inteligencija for 10 months. Experienced senior consultant Sandra Hajnal recently celebrated one year at Poslovna inteligencija, and previously spent 20 years as part of Zagrebačka bank, where she advanced to the position of Chief Data Architect.
How did their consulting stories begin?
If you expected that they were all aware of what business intelligence is and dreamed of it since their high school days – of course, you were wrong. As always, figuring out what you want to do in life is a process. For example, after completing his undergraduate studies in computer science, followed by a graduate degree specializing in artificial intelligence, Tin realized that he was less and less attracted to “pure coding”. He wanted to know how IT is applied in different industries – he wanted to be on the business end and even more in touch with the client.
Sandra, on the other hand, reached college age during the war years and wanted to enroll somewhere that would give her the fastest route to a job. And so, as she says, she enrolled in Business Economics, a play-it-safe approach. Even then, she was attracted to technically oriented courses like databases and mathematical programming, which became the reason for her subsequent focus on business intelligence. Meanwhile, Slađana considered chemistry, but at the same time, she never saw herself spending her days in a lab. Instead, she was looking for a way to combine…
…the desire to work with people, to help people with something, while at the same time being able to apply my passion for numbers.
Poslovna inteligencija attracted her as a junior and kept her as a senior
Thus, Slađana also decided to enroll at the Faculty of Economics, majoring in Business Informatics, during which she wrote a paper on business intelligence. Upon completion, she had the opportunity to choose between a BI role in a large company and a consulting role in a then-small Poslovna inteligencija:
I thought I would certainly learn a lot more and progress much faster if I aimed for a company such as Poslovna inteligencija was at the time, where I would be sure to work with many more clients and on many more projects.
Anyway, it’s been 17 years and I’m still here, she concludes with a big smile on her face. Moreover, she emphasizes that she still equally enjoys the challenges of her job and that today, she is happy about even more things than before:
It’s not just my personal victory anymore, a one project win. Through the people I work with and lead, I can work on a hundred projects. That’s my responsibility – to help everyone else be the best they can be, to have everything they need, and to develop as experts.
“What are we doing?”
Given his background and experience, Tin was introduced to the project from the technical rather than the business side. As a data engineer, he currently works on analyzing, verifying, and parsing data. For this reason, he has a slightly narrower view of the client’s situation than his senior colleagues and superiors. While he appreciates and loves his role as an assistant, Tin adds that – in the long run, he would prefer to see a bigger story come together.
Remembering her first months and projects and how she stayed seated next to Lidija Karaga (now the chairwoman of Poslovna inteligencija’s board) longer than she needed to in order to absorb how she worked, Slađana advises Tin that even in the process of learning the basics, he can learn about the bigger picture.
Because you’ve been working on a project with a higher purpose this whole time. If you don’t see it, ask a colleague, ask your mentor, “What are we doing here now?”
Sandra, in fact, has an answer to this question for Tin, who is working on a project with him. She explained they are preparing a data governance solution for the client, that is, they are creating a Master Data Management tool within it. With this project, they are helping the client to consolidate and centralize their data – which was dispersed by different ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems – into one place.
Filling this tool with data is one segment of Tin’s job which depends on making reports and business processes as simple, clean, and coordinated as possible – either from a regulator end or a client process. All so that the work can be done without worry, without fear of the risks posed by inaccurate data or the inconsistency of the ERPs, where each shows a different picture.
From tuna and salt to tuna pâté
And it is not uncommon for the data systems of different links in the business chain not to be synced – for a number of reasons. Slađana immediately takes the opportunity to give an example of a group that has its own manufacturer and several distributors.
Take, for example, a tuna pâté weighing 30 grams. Its manufacturer records it under a unique number. They will sell it to one, two, three distributors, who might also serve different markets, which is why we have a situation where one distributor, who has their own system, ERP and people, will open that pâté under one number, another distributor under a completely different third number, and so on. In the end, under one group we have one and the same product kept under five different codes.
The problem is that customers find it difficult to find the figures they need from data structured that way, such as information on how many pâtés they have sold in total. This is followed by a number of other procurement questions, Slađana continues.
As a group, if you want to get the best possible benefit from a centralized order of raw materials, you should know what your real needs are. A pâté calls for questions like: How much tuna do I need? How much salt do I have to order? How much sugar, oils… do I have to order?
If you don’t have a system that allows you to make the connection – that everything refferes to the same pâté – and how much raw material is needed for a certain amount of it… Well, than you have a problem.
A similar thing can happen with widely used raw materials, like sugar, she adds. When such raw materials are acquired based on data from everyone in the production chain (because all manufacturers use sugar), then no one has to individually buy a tonne, two or five. Instead, you can buy 100 tons of sugar as a collective and incidentally benefit from a reduced price.
IT specialists who add value to business processes
This is just one example of “little” problems in the big picture of a particular industry that IT consultants solve. Without them, many companies wouldn’t have taken advantage of analytics and technology opportunities so deftly and efficiently, and some would never have taken their business to a new level. For although most firms today want to be competitive in the market, Sandra says, most only do what they have to do and what’s mandatory.
Unfortunately, individual companies sometimes simply don’t have enough experience or resources to explore possible solutions, and even when they implement data management, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will know how to extract value from it. Slađana explains:
When you have a clear business case that you’re solving with data, even if the information in itself is ordered in the best way in the world, cleaned and managed in the best possible way, if it is not linked to some kind of business process or business logic that will add value to the business process, it’s actually worthless.
That’s where the value of the IT consultant lies. On the one hand it is the structuring of data, and on the other it is understanding why the client wants us, suggesting where and how they can improve their business.
As it turns out, IT can most effectively enter all other industries precisely through IT consulting. By carefully injecting the IT consultants’ knowledge and experience into the domain area. In order to succeed at this, they must become experts who can boast a range of skills, technical and soft.
Equipped with a range of skills and experiences from different industries
This collection of methods, ways of thinking, and experiences aren’t something adopted in college, but a learning process that takes place each new workday of an IT consultant.
Sandra explains the value such experiences give an IT consultant, not only in the moment but much later, using a personal example:
It is the connection with people, and learning new things, that enrich you afterwards, for life. I was surprised by how much one business process, or some task that has absolutely nothing to do with IT, still affects my work and the way I look at people, users and the end solution, to this day.
Such knowledge does not become obsolete, such knowledge is multiplied, networked, gives new results, and ideas – and will not become unusable with the arrival of a new framework. Such knowledge creates specialists who will not “spoil” over time, to be replaced by new talents.
Slađana also comments from her perspective…
It wouldn’t suit me to do just development and not have that kind of scope, but that scope costs time because it takes a while to get through everything. Personally, I feel that when you go through a few challenging situations as an IT consultant, you can literally succeed anywhere.
However, due to the need for continuous contact with people, and the need to polish their “people skills” – many are averse to IT consulting. Some even consider it to be a more difficult career path than programming. You deal with various people, clients, invest in these relationships – yourself, your time, energy and knowledge – invest in solving other people’s problems and trying to understand their point of view.
This just confirms the fact that this type of work is not for everyone, and I believe that Slađana, Tin and Sandra are good examples of the kind of people it suits.
Those who want to understand and solve tangible business problems, create order out of chaos, help people see the forest from the trees, discern an industry’s bigger picture and how the smallest bit of data affects bigger things, and ultimately – turn ordinary data into information that really serves a company.