When many people hear “digital consulting,” they probably think of consultants who specialize in helping their client organizations go digital, digitizing their clients’ workflows and processes to help them become more streamlined, grow revenue, and better meet the expectations of today’s consumers. But as we discussed in a previous post, the same principle for going digital applies to consultants. So when we at 9Lenses refer to digital consulting, we are talking about the process of consultants taking their practices digital in order to keep pace with today’s technology-driven business world.
Embracing digitization means more than adopting a piece of technology; it involves embracing a new mindset that permeates every part of an organization. For consultants, that means ensuring that every stage of the engagement is enhanced with digital capabilities, from the creation of IP before an engagement kicks off to creating follow-up business opportunities at an engagement’s close. Whether your firm has yet to go digital or is in the process of digitization, it helps to think about the digitization of consulting in five different categories.
- Digitize Intellectual Property
The first step towards digital consulting is the digitization of intellectual property. A firm’s intellectual property usually consists of the frameworks that the consultants use to approach different problems and build solutions for client issues. Some firms, particularly the larger, more established firms, have standard frameworks that they use repeatedly. For these firms, digitization will mean loading their standard frameworks into a digital platform that allows them to be deployed over and over with little additional effort. Digitized frameworks can be shared easily across practices, and consistent deployment of standardized frameworks will ensure a consistent output.
Other firms may not use standardized frameworks, but will approach each client with a different framework, depending on the client’s specific problem. Digitization will give these firms an easy means of standardizing the questions and frameworks that work best so that they need not recreate the wheel for every engagement.
For either type of firm, digitization of frameworks offers consultants clear benefits. Creating a library of frameworks will give consultants a powerful tool that allows them to improve their own internal knowledge. By comparing data filtered through the frameworks over time, consultants can easily discover what questions and frameworks are returning the best information and which have room for improvement. Thus consultants can use the data they collect from clients to continuously improve their own offerings.
Moreover, digitization of intellectual property gives consultants a huge advantage in data security. Spreadsheets are notoriously insecure – financial, HR, and legal firms, for example, warn against storing valuable data in spreadsheets. Insights and IP that firms have built up over years can vanish in an instant from malicious attacks. Moreover, if it is not stored centrally, IP frequently leaves a firm for good whenever key personnel does.
In addition to solving these problems, digitization of IP allows consultants to eliminate duplication of work. One of our customers told us the story of how multiple industry groups within his firm were building the same framework at the same time, but neither group knew it because the firm had no way of effectively sharing that information. Digitization of IP would allow it to be easily shared across practices, therefore helping to create consistency and better reinforce the firm’s brand.
- Digitize Discovery
Consultants have an enormous opportunity to digitize the discovery process; the manual discovery process is one of the primary pain points that consultants face today. Clients are increasingly unwilling to pay for long discovery time, causing firms to lose business to internal consulting units or other consulting alternatives. Smaller firms that lack the resources of the top firms may have to sacrifice the quality of the insights they present to clients because they do not have the time to gather data from all the appropriate stakeholders. Digitization of this discovery process, therefore, can mean tremendous gains for any firm.
The obvious solution to digitizing discovery may seem to be the survey, as a survey can automate the collection of large amounts of data from across an organization. But while surveys may be useful in spotting high-level trends, they fall short in meeting a consultant’s needs. Consultants need to know not only what is going on in an organization, but why it is going on, and they need to be able to slice and dice the data in multiple different ways in order to thoroughly understand it. Most survey platforms are not designed to collect in-depth, segmented, and easily understandable data without heavy manipulation. Moreover, surveys do not automatically filter data through the consultant’s frameworks, and few survey platforms have automated analytics. The time and effort it takes to make survey data useful, therefore, make surveys expensive tools for consultants.
Some consultants will argue that the in-person, face to face interview is integral to successfully understanding an organization’s problems, and certainly in-person communication with at least the top level of a client organization may always be part of the process. But the fact remains that quality data collection often takes longer than a client is willing to pay for, and so in-person interviews must be supplemented. The ideal would be something in between the survey and the interview, such as 9Lenses’s interview software. By using tools such as interview software, or software that uses survey technology to engage large populations in a way that simulates an interview, consultants can pulse an entire organization – no matter what the size – before an engagement kicks off. Thus they can rapidly understand the state of an organization and give clients real value from day one.
- Digitize Analysis
Digitizing the analysis process is also crucial to today’s consultants. In the era of big data, clients are increasingly expecting consultants to use large amounts of data in reaching their conclusions. Moreover, because many organizations are flattening, the opinions of just the top layer of a company no longer necessarily reflect the state of the entire organization. Analysis of such large amounts of data will begin to constrain resources, especially for smaller firms, unless the process of filtering the raw data through the frameworks and into an analytics platform is digitized. Consultants should look for tools or platforms that combine the discovery process with an analytics platform, as they will eliminate the time-consuming step of transferring a data set from one platform to another. Digitization of the analysis process will allow for greater speed and will enable consultants to come to clear, data-driven conclusions.
- Digitize Delivery
Today’s clients usually receive the results of an engagement in the form of a deliverable – usually a PowerPoint accompanied by a presentation that explains the findings and recommendations. Rarely do clients get to see the actual data that was used to reach the conclusions, and when they do, it is usually in the highly indigestible format of an Excel document (or a number of them).
While these types of deliverables may have been sufficient for clients in the past, many clients today want greater involvement in understanding and dissecting their data. Digitizing delivery, therefore, would involve allowing clients access to see their own data in a digital platform. The end goal of delivery is to explain the findings to the client in such a way that the client clearly understands the issues at hand and the steps necessary to resolve them. If a consultant can accomplish this end by showing the living data to the client, using the actual dashboards and charts used to reach the conclusions, the client will undoubtedly have a far better understanding. Beyond allowing consultants to skip the final step of creating a PowerPoint (or at least reducing the necessity), consultants can give clients a much clearer view into their data.
- Digitize Client Data
As we discussed above, digitization provides security to a firm’s intellectual property; the same goes for client data. Many clients would likely be alarmed to know that their highly confidential data is stored in non-secure spreadsheets, and digitization better ensures the security of that data. Moreover, the storage of client data on individual hard drives and spreadsheets leaves its ultimate security largely up to the person who possesses it. Consultants can (and do) all too easily misplace client presentations or other data after an engagement’s conclusion, and data is lost when employees leave or systems get updated. Firms need to create a traceable path of client data so they can ensure its security, look credible for clients, and identify which employees worked on the respective projects.
But there are other advantages to digitizing client data, as well: collecting and storing client data in a digital platform will allow consultants to continually learn from the data and improve their practices. Just as consultants can use digitization to improve on their own questions and frameworks by observing how they perform over time, they can benchmark client data over time to better understand their clients. Thus they can build on their customer knowledge, better understanding the client as a whole by gaining an aggregate view of the client across all engagements. By creating these client benchmarks, consultants can give clients an enterprise-level view of their performance and help them see how they improve over time, opening the door for opportunities to increase client stickiness and create recurring revenue. Consultants can also learn more about their clients’ industries, as they can easily compare one client’s data to another to discover new connections in the data and better understand the problems facing the business world.
There are multitudes of ways that consultants can digitize their processes within these four broader categories – facilitating communication between leadership and employees, for example, is another way that consultants can improve the discovery process. We hope that a look at these categories through the digital lens will help consultants identify additional ways they can “go digital.”