Consultant – A defenition, and a bit more

My first post under this subject should have been this one but it was not so, I’m posting the definition of Consultant now. I believe it is important you understand this definition so that you can better understand the content of my posts on consultancy.

A consultant (from Latin: consultare “to discuss”) is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as security (electronic or physical), management, accountancy, law (tax law, in particular), human resources, marketing (and public relations), finance, engineering, or any of many other specialized fields.

A consultant is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter. The role of consultant outside the medical sphere (where the term is used specifically for a grade of doctor) can fall under one of two general categories:

■ Internal Consultant – someone who operates within an organisation but is available to be consulted on areas of specialism by other departments or individuals (acting as clients); or
■ External Consultant – someone who is employed externally (either by a firm or some other agency) whose expertise is provided on a temporary basis, usually for a fee. As such this type of consultant generally engages with multiple and changing clients.

The overall impact of a consultant is that clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired.

‘Consultant’ is also the term used to denote the most senior medical position in the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland (e.g., a consultant surgeon).

Qualifications

There is no such thing as a single qualification to be a consultant other than those laid down in relation to medical personnel who have attained this level.

Internationally the accreditation of Management Consultants is overseen by higher education training and accreditation organizations —

Consulting guru, Peter Block, defines a consultant as “someone who has influence over an individual, group, or organization, but who has no direct authority to implement changes.” He contrasts this with a surrogate manager who is a person who “acts on behalf of, or in place of, a manager.” The key difference is that a consultant never makes decisions for the individual or group, whereas a surrogate manager does make decisions.

The Institute for Independent Business (IIB) with — globally, July, 2012 — 5,889 mature executives, stringently accredited as Associates since the IIB was established in 1984 as the Institute for Independent British Business (http://www.iib.ws) The IIB’s twelve month pe-accreditation Consultancy Business Development Diploma — CBDDip.— is now awarded by the International Independent Business University (http://www.iibu.org) as a pre-requisite for its unique MBA (Consultancy) — NB, that’s Master of Business Arts, not Administration. And the prestigious Oxford Brookes University even recognizes the CBDDip as 20 of 80 credits in its MBA (Global)!!

Institute accredited Associates are bound by a Code of Ethics that requires the consultant to only provide “practical advice that works” — by “Analysing as a Generalist and Solving as a Specialist” — using the skills and experience of a sub-contracted fellow Associate, thus at all times providing the client with the best available advice and support.

Life as a Consultant
Life as a Consultant (Photo credit: Ikhlasul Amal)

The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (ICMCI) has around 50 member institutes covering the globe. The award of Certified Management Consultant (CMC) status is its internationally recognised accreditation that is not specific to the technical content of the consultant’s practice. For instance this could be held equally by a Human Resources (HR) expert or a Chemical Engineer operating as management consultants in their field(s) of expertise.

Chartered Institute of Management Consultants (CIMC) is a not-for-profit professional body chartered federally under Letters Patent granted by the Government of Canada. CIMC is also chartered under the Laws of the State of Delaware, USA. CIMC is also registered with the National Certification Commission, USA. The CIMC award Chartered Management Consultant Ch.MC designation as a global management credential.

Common types

In the business, and as of recently the private sphere, the most commonly found consultants are:

  • Strategy Consultants working on the development of and improvements to organisational strategy alongside Senior Management in many industries.
  • Human Resources or HR Consultants who provide expertise around employment practice and people management.
  • Internet Consultants who are specialists in business use of the internet and keep them self up to date with new and changed capabilities offered by the web. Ideally internet consultants also have practical experience and expertise in management skills such as strategic planning, change, projects, processes, training, team-working and customer satisfaction.
  • Process Consultants who are specialists in the design or improvement of operational processes and can be specific to the industry or sector.
  • Public Relations or PR Consultants dealing specifically with Public Relations matters external to the client organisation and often engaged on a semi-permanent basis by larger organisations to provide input and guidance.
  • Performance Consultants who focus on the execution of an intuitive or overall performance of their client.
  • Information Technology Consultants in many disciplines such as Computer Hardware, Software Engineering or Networks.
  • Marketing Consultants who are generally called upon to advise around areas of product development and related marketing matters.
  • Interim Managers as mentioned above may be independent consultants who act as interim executives with decision-making power under corporate policies or statutes. They may sit on specially constituted boards or committees.
  • Pay per question consultants The professions vary greatly from appliance repair consultants to medical specialty consultants. Clients post a question to a website that provides a venue for consultants, that are verified as an expert in their profession or trade, and customers to interact in a Q&A session. A value is chosen, and a deposit made by the customer to have their question answered by an expert in a specific trade or profession. The expert provides the information to the customer, and is then paid a percentage of the deposited amount. The website retains the remainder of the fee for use of the venue. Although still a new method of getting information from professionals on a one to one basis it is growing in popularity. For an average fee of $30.00 people can ask specific questions to professionals such as Lawyers, Doctors, Mechanics, Electricians, Veterinarians, Appliance Servicemen, Teachers, Engineers, and almost any type of trade or profession there is.

References

  1. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/consultant
  2. Pieter P. Tordoir (1995). The professional knowledge economy: the management and integration services in business organizations. p.140.
  3. http://www.icmci.org/
  4. Consultant. (2012, November 12).  In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:10, November 12, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Consultant&oldid=522605872

To Be, Or Not To Be: An Independent Consultant

I’ve been in the Web Development field for over 16 years and during this time I have worked as a consultant and as a fulltime employee. If you ask me which I prefer I would say I prefer being a fulltime employee but not for the reasons you might think. As a Consultant I experienced working for consulting firms and as an independent consultant. Both options are viable ones which I would recommend to any developer seeking to make a move away from the fulltime employee scene. Both offer great pay opportunities and a level of independence that is refreshing and rewarding. They also ask for a higher level of commitment when you consider how your level of responsibility is increased when you become a consultant.

IT consultant
IT consultant (Photo credit: Todor036)

How could this higher commitment level impact you? Consider this, as a consultant you will no longer have tuition reimbursement available to you unless you are lucky enough to be hired by a consulting firm that offers it. Most likely you will be hired by a consulting firm that only offers this benefit to fulltime employees, not short-term consultants like you. Add to this that you will have to keep up with new trends in the field of your choice if you want to stay competitive. As a consultant you are only as good as your level of experience which can be limited to the type of work you are contracted to do. Unless you make a commitment to keep your skills up-to-date you will not remain competitive. The consultant market is full of opportunities but most of them are for short-term contracts and as a consultant you won’t have the luxury of choice, at least not at the beginning. You will have to be focused and committed to your choice if you want to succeed.

If you are looking into becoming a consultant you must consider more than just your experience and what pay you could expect, you need to consider the fact that what you have taken for granted as a fulltime employee will be your responsibility. It will be on you to secure many of the benefits your HR department offered. It will be on you to track your expenses in order to deduct them come tax time. It will be on you to market yourself in order to secure new contracts and keep earning money.

At first glance, choosing to become a consultant seems like a no-brainer but I’m here to tell you it is a very serious decision which will impact your life considerably. Make an informed decision, do your homework and research all aspects of consulting before committing to becoming one.

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Website Accessibility and Usability

Usability is one of the most pressing issues in the field of website development nowadays. The usability of a website is tested against its simplicity which makes it easy for people to navigate the site as fast as possible, therefore making access to information easier.

Accessibility is a concept that is intertwined with the concept of usability. It refers to creating the website content available to all people.

Context

The issue has caught the attention of different sectors of society.  Why? Because 1 out of 5 people in America possess some kind of disability and this figure translates to around 30 million Americans. The figure is still increasing, with the coming of age of senior citizens. During the past decade alone, a dramatic increase of 25% was seen.

Why the Internet?

One might ask, “Why is the Internet a central focus in this issue of usability?” The Internet has transformed the lives of people during the past decade. People have been able to do things that they were not able to do before, this includes the people with disabilities. People who are impaired don’t have as much opportunities compared to people who are well and able. The Internet has provided them avenues for communication, information gathering, social interaction, engaging in cultural activities and it provides them with employment opportunities. However, statistics have shown that the potential of the Internet to provide these certain opportunities is still not maximized because the people with disabilities are hindered by usability issues from using it to the fullest.

Stakeholders

The issue of usability is not only watched by institutions which are related to giving support to people with disabilities, most of the sectors of society are closely watching its progress. Institutions which are involved in governance, education, media, public services and even the business sectors are observers in the game.

Benefits

The benefits of improving accessibility of websites will not only benefit the people who have impairments but will affect the whole web community. Businesses, services, information campaigners, everyone will benefit.

Many people are calling for developing websites using a universal design approach. This is a way of developing web content which would accommodate the widest range of users. Some features of this said scheme are: provision of interoperability of applications; access for the disabled; localization and customization.

Recommendations for Improving Accessibility

Listed below are some of the key recommendations from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 which was developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of W3C on how to improve the accessibility of the contents of a website.

1. Provide alternatives to audio-visual content

Not all people will be able to use different kinds of content. These people may be disabled or may have a lower version of Internet browsers. Movies, sound clips, animations and other contents should be translated into text alternatives so as to provide information to the broadest range of viewers.

2. Developers shouldn’t rely on color alone

Many people are impaired in color differentiation. Developers shouldn’t rely too much on the use of colors to relay information in the websites. Charts that are color-coded should be modified and the background and foreground colors of the websites should have enough contrast to enable people with color differentiation impairment to easily navigate the site.

3. Clarification of the use of natural language

Content developers usually mark up the changes in natural language in their websites. They should be able to identify the dominant language that is used in the site so as to avoid confusion.

4. Control of content changes that are time-sensitive

This issue particularly involves people who have visual or cognitive impairments and those who are not able to read texts that are moving quickly. Movement is seen as an over-all enhancer to the look of the site, but it may pose some problems to people with cognitive impairments.

5. Accessibility of user interfaces that are embedded

Objects that posses their own interfaces should be made accessible, and alternative solutions must be provided if this is not possible.

6. Provision of orientation and context information

The provision of information on how the objects are organized is important to provide people with guidance on how to access information.

There are other ways of improving a website’s over-all accessibility to make it more usable. Developers should take into consideration the different people who are going to view their websites and make them focal points in the designing process.