Web-based development pays off

Fearing that he could be in store for a dry year, independent consultant Don Wallace took two months off at the end of this past year to reposition his practice and refocus his skills.

Based in Lebanon, Ohio, near Cincinnati, Wallace has kept busy the past few years doing Delphi and C++ development work. When his last project came to an end, he took a hard look at where he was headed.

Wallace reckoned he could drum up sufficient Delphi- and C++-related work, especially by going to repeat clients. But he concluded that he should upgrade his skills.

“I’ve realized that I’m not on top of a hot technology that everyone is using,” Wallace said. “I’m hoping to find an opportunity to leverage my current background in C++ but learn Internet development and Java.”

Wallace is adjusting his 2001 rates as part of his strategy to land such an opportunity. He’ll charge clients who seek his bread-and-butter skills his usual rates, but if a gig offers the immediate prospect of learning Java on the job, he’ll negotiate a temporary rate 20 to 30 per cent lower as a concession to his learning curve, he explains.

Wallace’s retooling and his corresponding pricing strategy reflects where consultants see the big money in contract gigs in 2001. Although they expect far fewer opportunities with dot-com start-ups due to the demise of pure-play e-commerce ventures, they anticipate that Web-based development will continue to dominate the higher-paying opportunities in the next year.

Consultants who can jump into Web-enabled customer relationship management (CRM) and supply-chain management system projects will take the lion’s share in 2001, according to independent consultants, agency recruiters and market research firms. Technical expertise in data warehouses, Oracle Corp. applications, server-side Java, XML and CRM packages coupled with functional experience will bring top dollar.

Consultants who have already gained Web-based development experience are setting their sights on higher fees in 2001. For example, Tom Scott, sole proprietor of Scott Consulting Inc. in Encinitas, Calif., plans to raise his rates by 30 per cent this year. His justification for the increase is based in part on the fact that he has gained Oracle Internet Application Server skills.

Like Wallace, Scott at one time was a Delphi developer. Three years ago, he turned his attention to learning Oracle. In 2000, he said, he moved to webify his database skills in anticipation of a boom in CRM-related data warehousing and data mining projects.

Trading on functional experience definitely pays more per hour than technical expertise, said Walt Sloan, principal of The System Smith in New York, who has been a consultant for 29 years. Sloan, who specializes in developing financial applications in Visual Basic, raised his rates by 25 per cent last spring and plans a 15 per cent to 20 per cent increase in 2001. Nonetheless, he said, his rates are lower now than five years ago when he ran a specialized consultancy selling accounting software.

“Then, I was banking on my business analysis skills,” Sloan explains. “I was billing out at US$150 to US$200 an hour, but my part of the project was only five to 10 per cent of the total, and my developers were doing the rest.”

Sloan said he folded that company because he was burned out on the business side and found he prefers focusing on technology. Now, even though he charges less, he brings in a higher gross because he gets more billable hours.