Seven principles to turn consulting firms into digital transformers

18 July 2016 Consultancy.uk

In the last few years there have been several quantitative and qualitative studies which have highlighted that if organisations want to sustain growth through a competitive edge, then they need to embrace digital strategies and embed digitisation throughout their operations. The need to transform is apparent across all industry segments – including professional services.

Digital technology has altered, and will continue to alter, the landscapes of business, education, entertainment, and government. The past few years have seen fast change, from the introduction of industry-wide mega trends such as Internet of Things, robotics, Industry 4.0 and virtual reality, to the rise of ‘startups’ and unicorns that have disrupted entire industries. For example, Uber in the transport world or Airbnb and Booking.com in the accommodation space.

According to research firm IDC, this trend is set to accelerate in the coming years. In fact, IDC mentions “Digital technologies and the new business models and strategies that they fuel will continue to significantly impact most organisations at a rising level of intensity”.

Despite the numerous benefits of going digital that are now up for the grabs, IDC found – in a new maturity study across 400+ European organisations – that while most enterprises use digital technologies, few actually reap the full potential. Less than 20 percent of the businesses reviewed can call themselves a ‘digital disruptor’ (companies that are aggressive in the use of new digital technologies and business models to remake and create new markets) or a ‘digital transformer’ (organisations that deliver digitally enabled products, and experiences). Most European organisations are either what IDC describes as ‘digital explorers’ or ‘digital players’ – players that acknowledge the need or are at the early stage of transforming the business digitally. However, they face the issue that transformation initiatives focus on optimising the existing business processes and not on truly developing digital products or evolving the company’s business model.

Digital maturity of European organisations

“Being a digital transformer means adopting technological opportunities whole-heartedly. It involves seeing technology as something profound, something synergising and something more than just a number of disparate business tools that are in place to improve basic business functions,” says Fergus Gilmore, Managing Director of Deltek in the UK. 

In the consulting industry, says Gilmore, digital transformers are firms that see technology as a catalyst for bringing their people, processes, customers and ambitions together. “They adopt it as a mechanism for compounding growth and adding value for customers through new and innovative products, services and ideas.” 

As a result, these digital transformers – or the ‘Digirati’ as they are also known – are pulling away from their competitors. “They have more agile business processes, well-connected departments, improved collaboration, stronger analytical capabilities and better insight for more accurate reporting that simply puts them out in front.” 

Research found that companies that understand the value of digital transformation (Digirati) were on average 26 percent more profitable than their competitors, they were also 50 percent more likely to have lower employee turnover*. For consulting firms that are trailing the digital pack, or those that are seeking to step up their digitisation efforts, Deltek has drafted a set of principles that can help operations partners of consultancies adopt digital into their own ranks:

1. Put clients at the centre of your strategy – Drive home how digital transformation can benefit your customer's businesses as well as your own, then introduce new products and services as a result. The added value you provide will show them you're dedicated to innovation and progress.

2. Invest in digital skills – 77 percent of firms say a lack of internal knowledge prevents them from becoming digital transformers. Invest in a digitally literate team and task them to drive the change you desire.

Seven principles to turn consulting firms into digital transformers

3. Digitalise your entire firm – It's true that digital transformation is usually led from the top, but the responsibility cannot just lie with the CIO. To roll out a successful digital plan, the entire company should be on board so staff at all levels are willing to learn, develop and improve. 

4. Empower employees – speed up and improve decision making by providing relevant, real-time data to employees when they need it, through whichever device they choose.

5. Implement the right business platform – Make the most of your people's time and billable resources while minimising administrative tasks such as time recording, reporting and invoicing with a robust enterprise resource planning system, for instance.

6. Use your data – Measure key performance indicators to set objectives and establish if you are heading in the right direction. Analytics will pinpoint lucrative sales opportunities and historical information will help you spot trends and plan for the future.

7. Build 'digital' into your strategy – Technology is no longer a means to an end. It should be ingrained and intertwined into a firm's strategy and vision right at the point of design. That way it will shape and drive your firm's culture, relationships and services. 

Gilmore concludes: “Eighty seven percent of companies believe adopting a modern approach to digitalisation holds the key to gaining a competitive edge. If you're one of them, take action: capitalise on the future and guarantee your consultancy's success by adopting a pioneering spirit in the digital present. It's never too late to begin.” 

More information about the principles can be found in the report ‘Digital transformation in the professional services industry’. 

* World Economic Forum Report, Digital Transformation of Industries.

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