Management Consulting: Customer and Digital skills at the Forefront of Demand

Owen Thomas / April 28, 2017

digital

In the world of consulting the adage of the customer is always right is something of a paradox as livelihoods are made on the basis that the customer is in need of improvement. The recent demand for advisory skills helping clients on their customer agenda looks set to offer consultancies both massive opportunities and interesting challenges.

One of the most in-demand service lines for consultancies, across all sectors, is the Customer and Digital function. In a recent study by Consulting UK of 400 buy side decision makers found that 99% stated that digital has led to some form of marketplace disruption. As clients talk of customer-centric operating models, digital strategy and increasing e-commerce presence, consultants of all ilk find themselves engaged in the area.  Indeed the customer and digital area covers a vast spectrum of skills including strategy, transformation, human and technological elements. Unsurprisingly therefore, it is a highly attractive area for consultancies to target and most major firms are bolstering their presence in the space.

On the face of it the world of Customer and Digital advisory would appear to be a happy hunting ground for consultancies eager to showcase their range of services and ability to deliver to on the most pressing business needs of the day. However, they are finding more unusual creatures hunting the same ecosystems and this is causing something of a conundrum. Boutique customer and digital agencies have existed for decades but they now find themselves thrust into competition with the likes of the Big 6 Advisory firms and, what’s more, they are holding their own in the fight. So much so they are now being cannibalised by the bigger firms keen to stake a claim to the market.

A cursory glance at the sectors acquisition list shows numerous examples of the traditional consulting houses buying in capabilities in this space, for example, EY’s acquisition of Seren, KPMG buying Nunwood, Accenture’s capture of Karmarama, PwC bolstering its capabilities with BGT or Deloitte through LRA Worldwide. Ashley Friedlein, Econsultancy founder, puts it well in his introduction to the Top 100 Digital Agencies report. “Historically separate parts of the customer funnel, managed by agencies, tech vendors, system integrators and consultancies, are coming together,” Ashley says. He adds, “The merge is forming a single view of the customer journey where there is data visibility, tracking and tech inter-operation throughout the funnel.” Consultancies, with their experience of strategy and technology implementation, were well placed to complete the loop and have been doing so through acquisitions.

The pace of development in digital technologies is also creating new business models at a faster speed than many current company structures are able to cope with. Consultancies, as well as acquiring capability, are having to work in partnership with other firms and look at their own business models.

Consultancies looking for new skill sets are having to cast their net beyond those with like for like experience in a competitor or traditional top universities  

“Innovation cannot be achieved purely by investing large sums,” says Marco Amitrano, UK head of consulting at PwC. “We need to adopt that ‘fail fast’, agile mentality that is seen to work so well in small businesses; we need to learn from our mistakes. As an industry, we can often have low acceptance of failure and end up valuing accuracy over creativity. It’s important to recognise this as a barrier to reinventing the way we operate, develop our people and, ultimately, provide our clients with greater value.”

All of these factors are impacting on the consultancy talent agenda. Consultancies looking for new skill sets are having to cast their net beyond those with like for like experience in a competitor or traditional top universities. They are also having to examine how, if indeed at all, they integrate new acquisitions into existing hierarchies. In such a competitive talent market where individuals come from disparate environments, consultancies will have to work doubly hard not just to attract top talent but also to retain it.

The transition to these new ways of working will not necessarily be an easy one for consulting organisations and as much as they are helping their clients adapt to the changing customer landscape so ultimately must they.

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