IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Manifesto for a Modern IT Consulting Industry - Part 5

On The Transformation of an Industry into a Profession

This is Part 5 in a series on transforming our industry into a profession. Here are the previous installments:

Transformation of an Industry into a Profession - Part 1. Profit. Maintenance-Focused Support.

Part 2. Education. Core Values / Statement of Ethics.

Part 3. Ransomware and How We Handle It.

Part 4: Legislation and Insurance

To recap the nine pillars, very quickly:

The First Pillar: Profit

Profit is not the only measure of success, but it is a necessary one.

The Second Pillar: Maintenance-Focused Support

Backup and Maintenance are the foundation of all IT service.

The Third Pillar: Education and Certification

Education and certification are central to professionalism and continual renewal.

The Fourth Pillar: Core Values / Statement of Ethics

Ethics and principles ultimately define an industry and build the path to the future.

The Fifth Pillar: Defending client systems 

Defending client systems and data is an ethical imperative.

The Sixth Pillar: Response to our greatest challenges

A strong profession begins with a consistent, effective response to our greatest challenges.

The Seventh Pillar: Regulation and Protection

Recognition as a profession includes both statutory requirements and limits on liability.

The Eighth Pillar: Cooperation and Alliance with the Insurance Industry

A mature profession works with other professionals to safeguard ourselves and our clients.

All of which brings us to the future - which we'll need to create. 

Whether or not you agree with the definition of Managed Services or professionalism that I've outlined here, one thing is true: There is a never-ending flow of people entering our industry. And, as far as we can tell, that will go on forever.

Again, when I talk about "this" industry, I mean SMB IT - not enterprise. Not big business.

For about the first fifty years of our industry, there were two common ways that people got into SMB IT. Either they worked for a larger organization and decided to get out while they could, or they started out as a tinkerer and fixer who figured out how to make a living with IT. It took a long time before SMB IT shops started having employees.

Most people who haven't been in the industry for more than fifteen or twenty years may not know that multi-tiered companies  (with at least two layers of management) are a very recent phenomenon in small business IT. And since this aspect of our industry is so new, there is no established apprenticeship process.

In most industries, there is a somewhat standard path from newbie to seasoned professional. And we have a bit of this. But our industry has not defined paths for new entrants to gain experience and education that lead to specific job titles. The closest we've come is a series of technology-specific exams. Take a few exams on SQL Server and you can become a SQL administrator.

Ultimately, such technology-specific paths can never become professional paths. I have Microsoft certifications that go back to Windows 3.1 in 1995. A handful of that knowledge is still useful, but virtually all of it is time-bound and obsolete. Even the MCSE and Small Business Specialist certifications that were so valuable to my company ten and twenty years ago are just proof of knowledge once possessed.

If a modern IT business is maintenance-first and focused on a "managed service" model of service delivery, then we should be able to define requirements for both the specific technology of today and the more general business model for delivering that technology successfully and profitably.

The Ninth Pillar: Building a Path to the Future

A successful industry must build a path for newcomers to grow and thrive, constantly creating the next generation.

One of the ongoing problems I mentioned in the first part of this series is that IT professionals continue to sell based on the promises of managed service, but they continue to deliver break/fix. This happens, in large part, because they don't embrace the managed service business model. Perhaps they're unaware of what it entails; perhaps they just like the recurring revenue and don't really understand how to do all that maintenance-first profitably.

When industries are not professional, people just sort of "fall into" a certain job or business. Because they didn't take a path to the industry, each person comes from different experiences and education. They might be very, very skilled at what they do, but there's very little in common that could become the basis for a larger, professional approach to the industry as a whole.

Time and time again, when we find ourselves talking about books that changed our business and made us more successful, people say things like, "I wish I had found this when I first started my business." I heard that exact comment last week on a call. The book (not surprisingly) was The Emyth Revisited by Michael Gerber. I'm proud to say I've heard the same thing about Managed Services in a Month.

What we need is not a definitive library that everyone should read, but a general acceptance that there are some core concepts that define our profession. And here I begin to see the profession as something defined by some core business knowledge on top of the current technical knowledge.

Here's an analogy: Accounting. Lots of people figure out how to run QuickBooks, balance a checkbook, and keep track of income out expenses. They are amateur accountants. With enough practice in a specific area of accounting, they might become really good amateurs. But without proper training, they will not become professionals.

Accounting professionals take a certain course of training. They don't necessarily all read the same book. Each takes an Accounting 101 course that has SOME primary reading material and delivers the core concepts that introduce the student to the profession. Some of that knowledge is how-to, but it also includes a bit of ethics and a lot of practical advice.

Following this analogy, I am not advocating that a specific book or existing class be required for our discipline. I am advocating that some level of education on business philosophy for IT be included in training for our profession. We will always need technical training, but that will always become obsolete over time.

The non-technical training should define the current business models one might choose from. Break/fix and managed IT are both good, solid, profitable options. And anyone managing a professional IT consulting business should understand what each of these means, as well as the consequences of embracing one model over the other.

Finally, let's look beyond the technician. We all acknowledge that we've reached the point where we'd like to find an attorney who has worked with managed service providers before. They simply understand our business a little better. And we'd love to find an accountant who has worked with IT professionals before. And, in the 2020's, we're realizing that it's great to find an insurance agent who has worked with IT professionals. 

When you look at it from that perspective, there are many element of our industry that are different from the rest of the service industry. We have specific challenges and skillsets. We have good, better, and best ways of operating our businesses and delivering services.

Now let's look internally. It would be great to hire an office manager who has worked with IT professionals - especially in managed services. It would be great to fine a service manager who understand the managed service model. The same is true with sales people, administrative assistants, and (of course) technicians.

We are now at the point of our professional evolution that someone could enter a managed service business and find that there's an advantage to understanding our business model, and competing business models. One great way to acquire that knowledge is through formal training. 

We need to embrace formal training in IT services and managed services as an important path to creating great job candidates and building successful businesses. And, through that process, we will continue to grow as a true profession.

-- -- --

This has been a lengthy series. Thank you to anyone who has read most or all of it. I would sincerely like to discuss next steps with anyone who wishes to move this profession forward. Agree or disagree: Let's have a conversation.

I am honored to be part of this industry. And as it makes its inevitable way to becoming a profession, I look forward to assisting in any way I can.

Please post comments and questions. And stay tuned for a few proposals to apply these nine pillars going forward.

:-)

About the Author

Karl W. Palachuk, is a technology consultant, author, speaker, trainer, and coach. He is the author of fifteen books. He has built several successful businesses, including two managed services companies. His books include Managed Services in a Month and The Network Documentation Workbook. Karl is a frequent trainer and speaker in the SMB Community. His popular blog can be found at SmallBizThoughts.com. He has more than twenty years experience as an I.T. professional and serves on advisory panels for several hardware and software companies.

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