Interview with Rasmus Holm, management consultant.

Management is more than a CV

Interview with Rasmus Holm, management consultant.

Rasmus Holm has both mad technical skills and strong commercial understanding. The combination puts him in a position to understand the need before he points at a solution. Meet the prototype of a management consultant.

We turn back the clock to 1991. Rasmus Holm is 15 and already a bit of a geek. His father is a composer and has purchased a costly Mac so that he can write music electronically via a special programme. Rasmus's dad needed a helping hand with the work, so he takes his tech-savvy son along to a course in musical notation. Within a few months, the father/son collaboration led to a finished music book that Rasmus has laid out in Adobe Pagemaker and which is later issued to primary and secondary school teachers all over Denmark.

'That was actually when I changed my ambitions from wanting to do something in music to doing something in IT,' Holm relates 22 years later and explains that after the eye-opening experience with music in the schools, he first became a super-user on the Mac for the IT department at his secondary school and later applied to the Media Coordinator programme at the university in Herning.

'It was a pretty impulsive decision. I was too late for it in relation to many other degree programmes, but found out that a lot of the IT programmes were short of students. So, I ended up applying without knowing anything about the contents of the programme or the IT industry in general. But it didn't take long before I realised that I had ended up in the right place. I had a flair for IT, I am a very logical thinker and I can quickly penetrate complexity. In fact, one of my strongest characteristics as a consultant is that I am very strong technically and can talk to the technicians on their level,' Holm explains.

An army of consultants

After finishing his degree, he was hired by a printing house in Haslev where his responsibilities as a system administrator included building up the company's IT department.

'Working with the owner, I was involved in deciding which systems we would use, whether we would run a Windows server, a Linux server, a Mac server, etc. On the whole, I was involved in a great many strategic decisions. I was also deeply involved in sales and brought a few new customers into the shop. My department was later spun off as an independent subsidiary,' says Holm and explains that he primarily learned a great many dos and don'ts in the process. Experience that, many years later, he has put to good use as a consultant.

'I worked a great deal with optimisation and making the right long-term decisions in relation to operations. It was extremely valuable. And I also learned that sales is a key element of the job. When I am out as a management consultant today, my principal role is to support the client's business needs. But as a part of ProData, I also know very well that I can deliver an army of IT consultants if that is what the client requires. You simply have to be able to identify the need. That is an ability I can trace back to my time at the printing house in Haslev,' says Holm.

From 18 months to 5 days

In 2003, Holm was taken on as a system administrator for what was then the Ministry of Business and Economic Affairs. To use his own words, he was hired as a 'hard-core technician' who produced scripts and other geeky things.

'I was sometimes allowed to be involved as a project team member for various projects, and I was also given project management training while I worked there. After a few years I was promoted to technical manager and sat next to the operations manager who was responsible for HR management. When he went out on stress leave in 2008, I took over his functions and became operations manager responsible for 17 people and an IT installation providing support and operations for about 2,000 users. That same year, the IT department at the Ministry of Economics and Business Affairs was merged with the IT department at the Ministry of Finance, so we went from a staff of 25 to 55 and I ended up as operations manager,' says Holm. He explains that before he decided to become an independent consultant in 2012, he was also deeply involved in the formation of the Danish Agency for Governmental IT Services (Statens IT) where, as team leader, he was responsible for operation of all general applications: a system portfolio that supported more than 11,000 users.

In other words, Holm has vast experience of public sector IT projects, which has been extremely useful to him at ProData Management, where he is currently guiding a client through a major IT modernisation process.

'The client had been sitting there for 18 months with an improvement programme that another consultancy had produced for them. They needed a little supervision and sent a query to ProData Consult asking for a CV with the necessary skills. Claus from ProData Management caught sight of the query and took over the contact. He explained that he was certain they could help, but first he really needed to know what the technical skills would be used for. This dialogue led to a meeting with the management at the client's organisation and five days later ProData Management delivered a proposal along with several recommendations. That proposal took the client further in five days than they had come in the preceding 18 months. Thereafter, I was introduced as the management consultant they needed for the assignment,' says Holm, and explains that the first time he visited the client, he also stepped into a major technical and managerial challenge.

'When I asked the management whether they ran ITIL processes, they said yes. But when I asked the colleagues on the floor, they asked me what that was. And when I asked them what they did when an incident occurred, they just looked askance at me.' The entire concept was simply non-existent.

ProData Management, with Rasmus Holm in charge, ended up providing both supervision and strategic advice on a viable technological direction for the client's continued work.

This is a fine example of a project that started out small, but with the right attention at the right time has the potential to grow.

'The original query was sent to ProData Consult. "We need an engineer for supervision. Can you please send a CV." That was it. But of course that does not suffice. Consult can only deliver once we know what the assignment involves. And finding out what the assignment involves is a management task. Thereafter, Consult can deliver all types of consultants,' says Holm and goes on to sum up the essence of being a good management consultant.

'To my mind, there is a big difference between a project manager and a management consultant. A project manager is typically given clear frameworks and a deadline for getting from point A to point B with finite resources at his or her disposal. A good management consultant prefers to define the frameworks for the project rather than manage the project. This demands a comprehensive perspective, good understanding of the business and the guts to say "trust me, this is the way we should go". That's what I like about it. You have to be ready to take a good beating once in a while and admit when you have made a mistake. And of course you have to accept the responsibility for getting things back on track.'

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