“I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone.”
Harry Tuttle, heating engineer (‘Brazil’, Terry Gilliam, 1985)
The life of an IT consultant is not filled with action and excitement, unlike that of Robert De Niro’s character in Brazil. There is no abseiling, no night-time assignments, no balaclavas and no evading authorities, at least not normally. The life of an IT consultant is to help customers who don’t have in-house resources to complete their IT projects and vision.
With DSCallards the consultants are specialised in SAP BusinessObjects, business intelligence, data visualisation and information management services. This means working with our partners to help them get the most out of the data their businesses generate and process. We can create data warehouses, produce interactive reporting, train groups of users, mentor individuals, build applications, advise on infrastructure and help fix problems.
But how does an individual consultant work in this environment and use their expertise to fulfil their working lives and their customers’ requirements?
Maintaining Skills and Learning New Ones
DSCallards has been an SAP Partner for many years and we have a very close relationship with the software provider. We work with them to promote new software such as SAP Analytics Cloud, maintain the user base of existing tools like BusinessObjects on-premise, and work with customers to find ways of migrating away from end-of-life products. There is a constant stream of new methods and innovations in IT and it is our role to guide users and customers through these choices.
To do this our consultants attend SAP workshops and seminars to learn about their new products, read the blogs and wikis of the SAP community and share insights and new finds between us. We’ll get excited over new functions and new chart types, share tips on how to use new tools in the best way and pass on rumours and trends about the industry: at heart we are data-geeks who have an affection for the software we use day-in day-out, with its foibles as well as its strengths.
We keep abreast of the competition as well, so we can see how SAP tools match up to and surpass others – feeding back to SAP if we feel they have a gap in capability.
We hold our own seminars, for our customers and prospects, to pass on this knowledge and build awareness of what BusinessObjects can do. Talking to people about the software, its use and capabilities is very important as it provides opportunities to share best practice and discover new tricks. I have often been surprised and delighted by a new ‘hack’ a customer has created to work around a problem. Ingenious solutions to problems are part of our working life and finding new ones and passing them on makes us feel we are doing our job well.
Travel vs Remote Working
Consulting on projects for customers means no two days are the same, and potentially no two days are spent in the same location. I have been to Kent and the north of Scotland, the Isle of Man and Norfolk, and most points in between in the course of my consulting career. I see it as a privilege to be trusted and welcomed into our customers’ offices. I love discovering new parts of the country, and even the least pre-possessing industrial estate can have a unique charm: an unexpected wildlife haven between distributions centres, unusual architecture, a decommissioned nuclear reactor or the CEO’s personal koi carp ponds are just some of the things I’ve found.
Pride in staffs’ surroundings and their company history is great to find, I’ve been given tours of warehouses and tea-tasting facilities, sampled the produce from local fields or the factory, and even been given local history lessons. Staying away from home for a few nights can be a wrench, but I always take my camera with me and will sometimes get up early to take in the dawn through Durdle Door or photograph kingfishers in Lewes town centre before heading to the offices of our customer.
Not all projects require a consultant to be onsite though. Remote working infrastructure is available to all levels of business now, from VPNs and Citrix, to TeamViewer and Skype. We can use these tools to work on customers’ systems from our own offices, providing more flexibility and spending less time on the roads and generating fewer expenses!
Support From The Team
Usually we are working alone when we are with a customer, though bigger projects can draw more resource and we can provide multiple consultants at once if required. Being the face of DSCallards to our customers means we are the ones who receive praise when things go well and who work through problems and fix issues when they don’t. Our knowledge and confidence is what the customer sees and responds to.
However, no one person can know everything about BusinessObjects or information management and each of us has unique experience in our field. This is where the power of DSCallards as a team comes in. Each consultant is not alone, we have the knowledge of every other member of the services team, the experience of the company, and the contacts at SAP too. If the consultant ‘on the ground’ does not know the answer or cannot solve the problem, then he or she will draw on the knowledge of others in the team. We aren’t afraid of admitting to not knowing everything ourselves, but we are proud of our ability to find out that information from our team or from our knowledge base.
We are people who love data, logic and neat technological solutions to problems. But we also like people too. Finding like-minded individuals in the IT or MI teams of our customers is rewarding as we work through a project; but then helping people who don’t like data or can’t fathom mathematical logic to realise a business intelligence solution can be even more interesting.
As we work through projects, short ones or longer ones, we communicate with people in other companies, relying on them for security access or to provide business rules, we train staff in classrooms or by their desks, we take breaks with them and make coffee in their office kitchens. We build relationships that hopefully last beyond the scope of one project and into the support phase, and hopefully into future projects and upgrades.
Business Intelligence is not a topic that can be addressed once in a company’s lifetime and then ticked off, assumed to keep working the same way forever. Many drivers in the business will force change in data, progress in reporting and create new needs from management and compliance.
We want to see our customers grow and develop skills in the software and processes they invest in. Many of our best experiences and most loyal customers are ones that started small, maybe with Crystal Reports, and grew into a BI landscape with additional tools, data feeds and larger teams.
I started with BusinessObjects as an end user at a life assurance company, made my way to the IT team responsible for maintaining it, and then through a series of unlikely events joined a small consultancy firm who specialised in it. I’ve moved companies a couple of times since and arrived at DSCallards earlier this year.
My experience started with the reporting tools, then encompassed the back-end and universe design, before moving into the infrastructure and solution design aspects. I’m still growing and gaining experience every day. I am learning more about cloud systems now as SAP move their focus there along with every other technology company, and I’m also trying to add more information management strings to my bow by getting more involved with SAP Data Services and SSIS packages for our customers.
I think the aspect of my job I like the most is training and mentoring – imparting knowledge and seeing other people gain enthusiasm for something I enjoy is a great feeling. Generally speaking training professionals features fewer disciplinary problems than teaching in a school room, and I can’t hand out detentions or homework. I do get to show people how to improve their working lives with their data, speed up processes and get engaging visualisations to their directors or displayed on big screens.
Bringing data out of the shadows, demystifying it, and getting people out of bad habits (putting it all in Excel!) give me the satisfaction I need while I work.