ATG Missoula, a technology consulting firm, recently announced in the Missoula Current that it is moving to the Old Sawmill District.  

ATG Missoula started a little over seven years ago with just two employees in a conference room near Red’s Bar. Today, it has over 135 employees who need their own building.  

A recent search of LinkedIn showed that more than 100 University of Montana students have worked or are working in some capacity at ATG Missoula over those years. A study by UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that ATG provides $18.4 million in economic impact to Missoula each year, and pays average salaries in the $85,000 range.

But what is “technology consulting”?  At its heart, little has changed in the 25 years I’ve been involved in technology consulting: It is about helping companies use technology to do things better, faster, smarter, cheaper, with more impact, more sustainably, or some combination of all of those things.  

Companies typically don’t do things which are risky. Indeed, most companies spend a lot of time and effort and employ a lot of people to minimize risk. With technology ever-changing, one huge risk to companies is having out-of-date technology or going with new technology that does not or will not meet their needs in the future.  

This is where technology consultants come in.  They help companies reduce the risks of changing their technology and managing that technology. ATG Missoula is a perfect example of how technology consulting done well can mean a small company in Missoula, Montana, can have a global reach.  

A good way to see what technology consultants do is to consider how a company like GoPro, the action-camera manufacturer based in California, might have to completely change how they do business.  Just two years ago, if you were a police department and wanted a GoPro body-camera you would call GoPro up and ask for 10 GoPros. GoPro would make the cameras, ship them to the police department with an invoice, and then cash the check when it arrived.  

Issues with police departments such as in Ferguson, Missouri, mean police departments now realize that they don’t just need body cameras. What they need is to know what police officer A, B and C were doing between 12:30 a.m. and 1:10 a.m. this morning, where they were, and what was on their body cameras during that time.  All of that is an information issue.

So GoPro will have to become an information management company.  What it now needs to sell are body cameras to police departments coupled with a way to store the information from those body cameras in a safe, secure, accessible-when-required way.  

It has had to become much more like Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile selling service plans to access a network via a device. Rather than a smartphone, the device is a body camera. Ferguson police department now buys not four GoPro body-cameras, but it buys the “$40 per line for 4 lines” monthly plan so it can access information safely and securing from those devices.

And this is where technology consultants like ATG Missoula come in.  They help companies like GoPro reconfigure, or in most case start completely from scratch, all the information systems that are needed to sell “$40 per line for 4 lines” monthly plans to police departments rather than simply a body camera.  Getting that done well, without risk, can require up to 25 different IT systems that talk to each other pretty much all the time. And there are hundreds (and growing) of IT vendors selling those systems.

ATG Missoula helps companies like GoPro select the right IT vendors to get the specific task they need done.  ATG Missoula can then come in and install and configure those 25 or so different IT systems from those 25 or more vendors and make sure everything is working. Finally, if you want, ATG Missoula can even run those systems for you, so all you have to do is focus on your product and your customers.

All of this is happening to companies all over the world, and technology consulting firms like ATG Missoula are delivering their technology consulting solutions globally, from right here in Missoula, Montana.

David Firth is a professor of management information systems in the College of Business at the University of Montana and a faculty fellow with Advanced Technology Group in Missoula.