Thinking about working for a Big 4 as a technology management consultant?

I’ve spent the past 2 years working for a Big 4 Consulting firm as a management consultant. The experience has been like nothing else I’ve seen professionally. I’ve advised a Fortune 500 in their global data center strategy. Another project helped a Fortune 500 Financial Service firm avoid insolvency and as of this writing I’m helping a large Pharma rollout a completely new IT organization. It has been an experience to say the least. However, it has been a huge shift personally and professionally. If you are a technology SME and currently considering working for a Big 4, I have some reflections to share.

Management consulting and consulting is not the same

It’s important to define the Big 4 and establish the difference between Big 4 consulting and all other consulting. The Big 4 are PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (E&Y), Deloitte, and KPMG. For each firm, their primary business is financial auditing. This is important as the audit culture of the business dominates the culture of these organizations. Each firm also has an advisory practice that provides professional services to their mainly Fortune 500 clients. If you are a technology SME then you will more than likely end up working for the Advisory practice of one of the firms.

Big 4 work is considered Management Consulting. The Big 4 take the difference very seriously. Consulting in any other form is considered “Industry” experience. Experience with boutique or regional strategy firms is relatable.

Management consulting and technology consulting has two different focuses. Management consulting focuses on advising customers on how to solve complex business challenges. I.E. how do I stay in business or how do I strategically exit a market. Technology consultants help solve problems around technology. An example would be a multi-million dollar ERP migration. While each problem is difficult and requires a high level of skill, they are not the same.

It’s not about the technology

As a technology SME, you may be accustomed to a linear relationship between your knowledge of technology and your career success. For instance, if you are a network engineer then climbing the Cisco certification ladder may result in moving from a senior engineer to a principle engineer. This formula doesn’t work in management consulting. The measure of capability is measured on the impact you’ve had on the firm and their clients. Getting accustomed to the subjective performance measurement in management consulting can be a difficult transition.

The nature of the problems you are trying to solve are different. In an industry role you are trying to solve a technology-specific challenges. In a management consulting role you are helping to identify the problem, frame and communicate the solution. The solution may be an IT transformation project that includes migration to a managed service provider and moving a data center to a different geography to gain tax advantages. You are required to communicate all the complexities of the solution to C-Level executives.

While having a deep understanding of technology may help in understanding the technology parts of the solution, it doesn’t help to increase this knowledge. The product at the end of the engagement isn’t a new system, but a PowerPoint presentation with tables and graphs that communicate the solution and next steps.

PowerPoint and Excel are your primary tools

On any given project, you can spend months of data mining, interviewing clients and employees and performing research with peers. At the end of the project, you may get one hour to present the results to the C-Level executive that’s sponsoring the project. Three months of analysis is hard to pack into a 12-page deck. You trade the overnights coding or in a data center getting the server up and running to spending the night in the conference room getting the right color blue on the pivot table.

All this effort is spent to provide the right mix of data, graphs and tables just to get stuck on the finance slide on page 3 in the actual client meeting (Warning: never put a slide with finances too early in a deck). The point being is the technology isn’t the focus of the job. The focus is on the ability to communicate effectively to non-technical executives. In order to be effective, you must develop your skills in presentation, writing and data analysis. This means knowing what an Excel pivot table is and how to gleam useful data to be shared with your client.

Audit dominates the culture

The roots of these firms are based in financial auditing. This has an impact on the day-to-day work experience and culture. The leadership of the firms simply doesn’t focus on the technology part of the advisory business. While these firms have extremely capable technology-focused consultants, the size of the technology practices is dwarfed by the financial services practices. The individual practice leads have to champion the technology projects vs. senior leadership providing the focus. This is akin to a real estate agency that offers home loans. While the real estate agent may be really good at providing home loans, their focus is on selling real estate. You wouldn’t expect a well-known agency like, The Space station to suddenly turn into a bank when they specialize in selling properties to a world-wide audience.

Travel, Travel and more Travel

I’d be less the forthcoming if I didn’t call out the emphasis on travel. The travel may or may not exist in your current industry job, but there is little doubt about the amount of travel required as a management consultant. You will go where the work is sold. You will also do the work that is sold. If you are an IT Service Management (ITSM) SME in New York don’t be surprised if you spend 6 months traveling Monday through Thursday to Oklahoma working a SAP migration.

This brings to me to another topic of specialization. While you may be a SME in a specific area of technology, it’s rare when you are able to focus on that area. When interviewing for a management consulting job the focus isn’t on your technology knowledge. The interviewer is trying to determine if you have to aptitude to apply your general skills across technology domains. You may go a year or two without working a project that’s in your technology “wheel house.”


If you are ready for a career shift then life at a Big 4 will provide just that a big shift. Be careful what you wish. If you really love technology then you may find that the new career doesn’t fulfill your geeky needs. However, if you are much more interested in business and how technology and business intersect then a Big 4 life may be the life for you.

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Published by Keith Townsend

Now I'm @CTOAdvisor

10 thoughts on “Thinking about working for a Big 4 as a technology management consultant?

  1. Excellent article, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Perhaps I was not clear on what interests you more, is it purely technology or are you happy with this role in the Big4. Asking because I was recently presented an opportunity to build a practice for one of the Big4s and currently work for a large technology firm…

    1. I’m no longer a pure trchnologist. The experience has changed me. However, I found there wasn’t enough technology in the role to keep me happy. You really have to either love or not be bothered by the bussiness side of the job to be successful. As some one building a practice you will see very little of the technolgy side. It would truly be a bussiness develop role with tech as the backdrop.

    1. According to my co-workers that come from similar boutiques the experience is comparable. While boutiques may be a bit more focused on strategy or specific verticals the overall experience is similar.

  2. I come of a background in IT services for a Oracle Retail ERP solutions package and right now I’m pursuing my masters in MIS from a highly accredited university in the US. I am eager to get into the world of consulting as I feel I have the right qualities. But the bulk of the roles on offer involve either Tech risk, assurance or Forensic Discovery services none of which I have had prior exposure to. How does one go about applying for such roles in that case ?

    1. In my market Deloitte has been hiring infrastructure consultants. With that said, I wouldn’t worry too much about the area. Firms high for the boarder skill set. The focus may be on Risk, Assurance or Forensic in the hiring. But with a MIS along with your experience you would be well suited for the Risk or Assurance roles.

  3. Thank you for this post, it is very helpful. I have a background in Architecture Design and about 2 years of experience in the AEC industry. I have been seriously considering a move into Technology Consulting and applied to Deloitte and Accenture. I have been told they hire folks from different backgrounds and might get an interview. Do you know anyone with a similar background as mine who moved into consulting? I figured Technology consulting would work better for my background but I am not sure. Any information you could share with me on architects who moved into management or technology consulting would be great. Thank you,

  4. It’s reasonable to think that you have the skill and background. The interview process is pretty transparent. If you have gaps the interviewer will share their thoughts. Feel free to ask the question.

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