Technology service providers enter a golden age

The good -- the digital transformation project is now a priority. The bad -- IT is short staffed, equipment is back-ordered and everyone is burnt out. Who will do the work?

Early in the pandemic, most companies paused their most sophisticated digital transformation efforts while they accelerated the launch of cloud services, added security and set up scenarios for remote work.

Since then, many of those companies have restarted their strategic projects in recognition that they must continue to advance to stay competitive. But the virus has produced at least one significant side effect sure to touch every digital transformation rollout: That is, who will do the work?

Knowledge gaps caused by employee burnout, disillusionment and job churn present barriers to much-needed digital evolution. Add to that a gummy supply chain and the rush to cloud services even from the most slow-to-adopt companies, and the result is the current boom for digital transformation technology service providers, IT consultancies and VARs.

The exact mix of skills service providers will supply is yet to be determined, however. The shift to strategic, transformative projects has ramped up demand for IT professionals with expertise. Those who have work, have work up to their eyeballs. The enterprise architect (EA) could be positioned to lend an overarching perspective to these ambitious IT initiatives, but some industry observers question whether customers will tap such individuals.

Glory days for consultants, VARs and digital transformation service providers

Just a few years ago, enterprises might have viewed partners differently -- as mere service providers. All was well as long as they met the service-level agreements, said Gordon Barnett, an analyst at Forrester Research. Now their role has expanded.

"Now the move is to a partner model where there is shared accountability, especially as we move to leaner organizations," Barnett said. The work has grown from upfront strategy to migration and roll out, and continues through the operational phase.

Elizabeth Costerisan, director of strategy and services, ConResElizabeth Costerisan

Indeed, business is booming at Continental Resources (ConRes), a Bedford, Mass.-based MSP. According to Elizabeth Costerisan, director of strategy and services at ConRes, the MSP would have had its best year ever -- if not for supply chain hiccups.

"Managed services, professional services and CX groups are through the roof with revenue and profitability," she said. "Revenue is up 230%."

And Costerisan herself has observed that her company is more integral to a customer's daily operation. "They can't retain talent, can't use tools," she said. "They trust us. We know all the gotchas."

Individuals with infrastructure experience may be the toughest skill set to find on the open job market, and that scarcity has only accelerated during the pandemic.

"No one wants to be the Cisco switch person, or the NetApp storage person or the F5 firewall person," said Rob Strechay, a senior analyst at ESG, an analyst firm in Newton, Mass. ESG is a division of TechTarget.

VARs and other IT consultants can keep a bench of people who can be time spliced into different organizations, Strechay added. "They can keep the infrastructure humming as companies move up the stack to the app layers and integration layers to plumb these things together."

Spending on technology service providers is way up

Forrester, the Cambridge, Mass., market research firm, recently released its global tech outlook research, which said it expects tech outsourcing and consulting to expand by 8% in 2022. The report also said that IT services will grow this year by 6.8%. That growth spurt is significantly faster than pre-pandemic levels and driven both by digital and cloud investment and the momentum of 2021, the company said.

Forrester also queried 1,550 enterprises and technology service decision makers in 2021 about their use of technology service providers, management consultancies, vendor services and business process outsourcers in 2022.

Forrester said 76% of these businesses will use technology service providers this year. About 71% of organizations will pay for management consulting firm expertise. Another 70% said they will use a VAR's professional services, and 65% said they will use a business process outsourcer. Forrester does not track year-over-year comparisons because the survey doesn't always include the same companies.

Also, some of the largest IT consulting firms reported they have exceeded last year's growth targets, largely due to technology service provider spending and general outsourcing.

  • Tata Consulting Services reported a Q3 with 14.4% year-over-year growth. In particular, the management consulting firm cited consulting and services integration with a focus on digital transformation and acceleration in cloud platform services adoption.
  • Accenture's Q1 results ending in November reported a revenue increase of 27% over the same period last year. The company reported a 30% increase in new bookings over the same quarter last year.
  • Infosys reported that its digital business grew by 34% YoY in Q4, representing 51.5% of the overall business.
  • Capgemeni Group said its digital and cloud services had a 14.6% fiscal year growth in 2021, much due to large digital transformation projects.

The resurgent EA?

If outsourcing for strategic tasks is so prevalent, could there be no role for the EA? That's not so clear. In recent years, as businesses turned their attention to tactical tasks, the role of the EA did diminish. Whether or not the pendulum will swing back is open to debate.

With companies once again interested in large-scale changes, they need individuals who can look across the entire organization. Mark Hanson, chief architect at Ahead, a Chicago-based cloud consulting firm, does some internal development for external services and interfaces with cloud customers. As Hanson sees it, the EA role is still focused on developing strategies and alignment of business and technology.

in a world where you have a lot of dynamic changes, [enterprise architects] need a good friend and partner.
Mark HansonChief architect, Ahead

"There's a lot under the hood," he said. "Road maps, strategic direction. And in a world where you have a lot of dynamic changes, [EAs] need a good friend and partner."

Jason Baragry plays a similar role as chief enterprise architect but at Ardoq, a Norwegian company that makes a data collection tool for enterprise architects. Baragry's role is to research the customer base, study trends, consult and ultimately feed information back to the product development team.

People need information about what their colleagues are doing, and for that to succeed, they need tools that offer information in a business context so non-IT practitioners can use them. "The trend I see is to democratize decisions," he said.

This might set up a situation where a tool can be used by a business user but then passes information to an IT consultant.

ConRes's Costerisan said that while it may depend on the vertical market, she sees mostly subject-matter experts who run technology areas, such as networking, security or cloud.

 "You need tools that give visibility," she said. "But having the architect position, that's not real world anymore."

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