Moving from consultancy into an end-user role

November 2005

Person using a computerAfter more than 20 years as an IT consultant, a BCS member, who wishes to remain anonymous, moved to an end user organization two years ago. It was his biggest job change to date. In this article he recounts the pros and cons of taking on a senior role in the IT department of a very large UK company, and give tips to those considering a similar move.

I had several reasons for moving to an end user role, the most important of which was around my work-life balance. When I started out as a consultant, the mobile lifestyle and 'living out of a suitcase' was quite a thrill. However, with a young family, being away from home for extended periods was becoming increasingly unworkable. I also had some frustration with the consultancy ethos, and was eager for a change of direction.

Improved work-life balance

First, the positives of the move. While I still work as hard as I did before, my work-life balance has improved dramatically. My workload is more evenly spread over the working week, and very late evenings or very early starts are relatively rare.

Furthermore, I travel to the same office every day and, barring the occasional overnight visit to a distant conference or supplier, return to my own home every night. I can also vary my hours to a reasonable extent to attend school events, rather than using up my holiday entitlement in half-days throughout the year.

Chance to dig deeper technically

There are some other benefits too. Because I am fixed to the same role now, rather than moving from one short-term assignment to another, I have the opportunity to dig deeper and grow my technical and business knowledge in a focussed area. I also generally have greater control of my workload and career progression, rather than being at the whim of whatever my next client wants me to do.

When I was job-hunting, I found that my consultancy skills, particularly communication and self-management skills, were valued by end-user organizations, and this helped me to land a job which I find challenging and stimulating.

Pay may drop

Of course it's not all been good news, and the most immediate impact was on my pocket. Consultants are paid a premium to be mobile and to be willing to tilt their balance away from life towards work, sometimes drastically so. By giving this up, I have suffered a cut in my take-home pay of about 15% or so. I do know of one or two ex-consultants who haven't suffered a shortfall when making a similar move, particularly those who live and work outside London where differentials may not be so great.

Newcomers lack insider knowledge

As a consultant, I was used to dealing with the arcane political dynamics of some of my clients, and anticipated being able to put this to good use in my new job. However my position as in 'insider' in a large organization has proved to be somewhat different to what I expected. In particular, it has taken me quite some time to really gain the trust and acceptance of some of my colleagues who have been with the company for 10, 15 or even 20 years.

I also suffer from a lack of detailed knowledge of the organization's IT and the history behind some of its largest programmes, and have on several occasions found myself suggesting something that was tried and didn't work several years ago. This is getting better, but it is going to take me quite a while to catch up.

The stability and predictability of my job also has a downside in terms of a lack of variety. This hasn't really affected me yet, but I suspect that I may eventually start to get a bit bored unless my role grows and changes within the company.

Overall, however, I am absolutely convinced that I made the right decision. The improvements to my life outside work far outweigh my somewhat reduced income and the lack of variety.

Tips for going end-user

If you are considering a similar move I would recommend you do the following:

  • Think carefully about the move and ensure that you can manage any reduction in your financial circumstances.
  • Research all aspects of the job, and the employer, before you accept a position. It is harder to move jobs once you are out in the 'real world', than when you are a consultant. You are also more vulnerable to changes in the financial circumstances of your employer.
  • Be patient. Once you arrive it takes time to become 'embedded' in an end-user organization, and while the temptation as an ex-consultant may be to try and change everything on day one, this is unlikely to be successful.
  • Don't burn your bridges. If it doesn't work out, or even if it does, you may want to return to consultancy one day.