While reliance on consultants may be a logical outgrowth of the recession, don't be surprised if the trend toward a strong contingency workforce outlasts the recovery. The recent explosion of business technology means you now need access to a range of independent contractors, consulting firms, managed services and other experts for a variety of unpredictable demands that may strain even the most skilled full-time staff. Many, therefore, are finding that it makes sense to supplement their team with a pool of experts with specific skills that can be called upon on an as-needed basis.
Early in the recession, in the wake of widespread IT layoffs, there was a spike in demand for independent IT consultants. On the surface it appeared to be a natural function of reduced budgets -- hire the temps for now, and when the economy rebounds, ramp up the full-time staff. What people failed to see at the time, but is apparent now, is that we were also at the cusp of a major upheaval in business technology characterized by terms like "consumerization of IT," the "social enterprise." These changes are driven by factors such as the introduction of new flexible technologies, the ability of any group of two or more people to communicate in real time, and globalization, to name a few.
The most tangible outgrowth of it all is that now in business, things are moving fast, and getting faster by the minute. Cloud-based infrastructure -- which can be implemented in weeks, modified on the fly, and abandoned just as quickly -- is both fueling this acceleration, and helping companies keep up with it. The skills you need your IT and even business line staff to have may vary from week to week making it difficult to rely completely on full-timers the way you used to. In order to compete, CIOs will need to supplement their full-time staff with a sizable contingency of specialists that can map technologies to very specific and immediate needs.
Now indications are that we're in a tech boom, which always makes it more difficult to secure top talent. However, the specialization required now means that there's going to be even more competition for candidates with the kind of skills I've been describing, making the prospect of hiring these folks full-time even more bleak. For example, my firm's 2012 IT salary guide shows demand spiking in several categories that fit this description, such as front-end developers and CRM developers.
The specific skills you'll need vary business to business, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you build your elastic workforce:
Eric Berridge is co-founder and principal of agile business consulting firm Bluewolf, which provides lifecycle innovation, cloud implementations, IT staffing, managed services and other services to sync business and IT for efficient, adaptive performance. He also co-authored the book "Iterate or Die" along with Bluewolf co-founder Michael Kirven.