New player Flipside aims to challenge consulting and agency space

07 February 2019 Consultancy.uk

A new network-based consulting provider is setting out to take on large consultancies and agencies for a slice of the lucrative ‘digital transformation’ market. According to Flipside’s founder Nick Parminter, the firm will offer a tailored service which will enable it to win business from firms which offer a more one-size-fits-all proposition.

With hype surrounding technological innovation having reached deafening levels, recent years have seen corporate entities of all shapes and sizes involved in a scramble for digital supremacy. In the UK, this is particularly pronounced, to the extent that Britain currently tops even the US in terms of investment in FinTech, one of the most profitable digital disruption scenes around. While technologies could improve output across all industries, however, profitability remains low.

Many leaders have seemingly pursued transformation exercises on the basis of the dreaded FOMO (fear of losing out), rather than in pursuit of tactics tailored to their own business’ needs. Due to this, a recent study from KPMG found that CEOs across UK businesses are under pressure from board members, who appear to feel a degree of buyer’s remorse when it comes to digital transformation efforts. On top of this, the digitalisation programmes which come under scrutiny are often driven by expensive advice from consulting firms, meaning CEOs are short of places to turn to for expert help to address this.

A new London-based professional services firm named Flipside is aiming to help clients change that for the better. The firm has been working behind the scenes over the last year with a handful of businesses, includeing FTSE 100 leaders and even one of the UK’s fastest-growing startups. Following a successful pilot period, Flipside has officially launched to offer its digital transformation expertise to clients across all industries.

New player Flipside aims to challenge consulting and agency space

Named to reflect its differing proposition from other consulting firms in the digital transformation field, the core philosophy driving Flipside is not about proprietary methodologies, but the swift and valuable delivery of key talent. A tried and tested proposition in other fields, this would see Flipside emulate the likes of Eden McCallum in the consulting and digital agency space, leveraging a small core team supplemented by a large network of independents to tailor teams for individual projects. This talent-led approach allows it to run bespoke projects to help clients understand the change they want to make.

Flipside founder Nick Parminter explained, “While it may be easier and more reassuring to buy, work delivered by different people, in a different context, in the past, doesn’t guarantee success… In this context, the people in agencies are an afterthought – fungible resource, staffed as ‘whoever is available’ regardless of experience or fit. We believe the opposite. We start from the perspective that great work starts with great talent. And the job of any agency or consultancy is to give them the platform to do just that – to practice their craft, to do impactful work, and to see it go live.”

One example Parminter points toward is a project the firm is currently working on for a High Street Bank’s innovation function. As the bank seeks to launch a new challenger brand, Flipside has crafted a team to run all things digital product, innovation, design and brand for launch, as well as for establishing the capability to let them do it for themselves beyond launch. On the other end of the spectrum, the firm is also working with private equity backed mid-cap companies (mid-caps are companies with market caps that are between $2 billion and $10 billion) to redefine the client as ‘digital by default.’

"The range of our services is as broad as our talent network, which covers designers, developers, brand strategists, systems integrators, technical architects, sound designers and everything in between," added Parminter. "It’s deliberately diverse to fit the complex nature of our client’s problems. Likewise, our commercial model lets us work with areas of the market that a larger and more expensive firm just couldn’t - their challenges aren’t important or big enough. In fact, these are the challenges that we enjoy – empowering mid-cap companies to be as ambitious as megacorps in their digital strategy."

Network building

As mentioned, the consultancy is more than a network, and is centred on five core members. Alongside Parminter, ex-EY professional Ben Langdon is the firm’s Chair. They are joined by Partners Alastair Cottrill – a former Practice Director, Business Design at EY Seren; Arvid Brobeck – former UX Director of Digitas UK; and Ashley Webster – former Business Development Director, EMEA at Lippincott. This core team will work with an ecosystem of like-minded partners from the strategy, design, technology, and data sectors – whom they are in the process of recruiting.

According to Parminter, Flipside’s model means that the ecosystem gives its Partner team easy access to top talent. It is particularly ready to take advantage of a side-effect of the flurry of M&A activity in the converging consulting and digital agency space, with a number of people (usually disgruntled senior managers who miss doing the work) “spinning out to either freelance” or founding their own small companies – a trend which he believes will only gather momentum.

“We start from the perspective that great work starts with great talent. And the job of any agency or consultancy is to give them the platform to do just that – to practice their craft, to do impactful work, and to see it go live.”
– Nick Parminter, founder of Flipside

Parminter stated, “These are the people with whom we share the same mission, approach and values. And these are the people we work with every day. Currently our network consists of more than 250 people who we’ve worked with before, many of whom are proven combinations - from the most prestigious design and innovation agencies, the sturdiest systems integrators and tier-one strategy houses. We also have partnerships with more established firms that can fill in the gaps for us (like offshore agile delivery, or detailed data science)… Because of our commercial model, we are able to make senior talent available full time at a fraction of the cost. Unlike the ‘pyramid’ model on which larger firms are dependent to stay profitable – the people most experienced and critical to delivering successful outcomes are the ones made most available.

When asked what the firm’s long term ambition is, Parminter said it was ultimately to be a viable alternative to the largest consultancies, and he claimed that the firm’s early projects had provided a lot of faith in achieving that. The firm’s more immediate goals for the end of its first year include being able to point toward “tangible examples” of how it helped clients to take the first steps in becoming digital businesses. By the end of “year 5”, the firm is aiming to deliver “more of the same but at a larger, international scale.”

Reinforcing why he believes the digital transformation consulting sector is ripe for disruption, Parminter concluded, “We’ve all witnessed the unhealthy convergence of design agencies and traditional consultancies – and the broken incentives and expensive failures that it has yielded. Too often clients are paying through the nose for frameworks, reports, processes, and ‘journey maps’ that lead them on a path to nowhere – all in the promise of ‘transformation’.”

Related: Four areas to consider for developing digital transformation strategies.

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How a change toolkit can help consultants deliver transformation

23 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Changefirst is a company that provides a cloud-based transformational change toolkit to consultants and companies. David Miller, Founder of Changefirst, sat with Consultancy.uk to discuss how the toolkit known as ‘Roadmap Pro’ adds value to consultants. 

When David Miller called time on his 15-year career with American Express to found Changefirst in 1995, change management was a different animal altogether. According to Miller, even as recently as five years ago, the business of change was much more manageable. The pace of change was slower and project timescales were longer.

Since then, however, the accelerating pace of change and the widespread impact of digital transformation has completely transformed the role of change management professionals. Those working in change management now face more projects, with diversified end-goals, new ways of working (e.g. agile), and are left with shorter timescales to deliver them. The drastic alteration in the sector prompted the IT and services company based in West Sussex to develop a new SaaS-based toolkit for implementing change more effectively.

An example of this is that Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based services in the HR technology space have been steadily increasing in recent years, as companies explore ways in which to reduce costs and access new innovation in the space. SaaS can reduce the cost of ownership, an HR department’s dependence on IT support, improve employee experience, and increase the speed at which value is yielded by change.

How a change toolkit can help consultants deliver transformation

Speaking to Consultancy.uk, Miller explained, “The pressure from digital transformation and the race to reinvent business processes means that the sheer pace and volume of change projects can be overwhelming and chaotic. Organisations needed a whole new way to respond to the challenge – one that is quick and easy to use and supported collaborative working; one that is online and can rapidly scale across the organisation itself. We saw these trends emerging and they were the inspiration for developing the Roadmap Pro tool as a SaaS-based approach to implementing change projects.”

Consulting sector

The SaaS toolkit provided by Changefirst, named Roadmap Pro, has the potential to yield value for consulting industry incumbents, as they are so often drafted in by clients to oversee complex change programs. However, firms might still be skeptical of the need for an external tool to do something that in essence is already part of their core business, and something they theoretically know inside out.

When asked how Changefirst believes it can make inroads into the consulting sector, Miller noted that not all consulting firms have the same level of change management capabilities. Indeed, the toolkit is designed to be tailored to firms, depending on their level of know-how.

“Our solution can help and how consultants choose to use it is likely to differ based on the change management maturity of their firm," Miller explained. "The more capable firms can utilise Roadmap Pro to increase productivity, improve client delivery, consistency and to rapidly on-board new hires and contractors. Less capable firms also might want all these benefits too, but it's highly likely they also want the ability to rapidly increase their client-facing change management capabilities.”

The toolkit is an ‘Out-of-the-Box’ solution, supported by Changefirst’s service offering, which enables clients to deliver higher time-to-value returns compared to other approaches. It is mostly configurable, and the ability to customise it is increasing during 2019, with Changefirst working with new clients to make changes that ensure the software meshes with their clients' implementation methods, while giving them the advantages of the installed content. The system takes the best practice content the firm has built up since it first launched, and makes it available in a state-of-the art, SaaS-based software solution.

“We’ve spent 25 years building our ‘best practice’ model," Miller added. "We have a huge database, that we are able to query, and that tells us a lot about what is happening during change projects. We continuously synthesise that with the lessons we have learned from working with over 300 organisations around the world. This has enabled us to build a methodology which was described by Forrester Research as one of the three most used change management methodologies in the world.”

“We’ve spent 25 years building our ‘best practice’ model... We continuously synthesise that with the lessons we have learned from working with over 300 organisations around the world.”
– David Miller, Changefirst

Roadmap Pro uses this wealth of experience for three key building blocks, which integrate these capabilities: effective online learning; change management diagnostics and analytics; and pre-populated change management planning. It also creates high levels of client engagement, enabling consultants to easily collaborate with clients.

Feedback

There have been some fears in the consulting sector that the leveraging of technology could risk the cannibalisation of hourly work. However, Miller regards this more as an opportunity than a problem.

He argued, “If you look at all the reporting from the analyst community, it’s becoming clear that clients want more digital support and what is called 'Reusable Assets'. In other words, they want IP that consultants have used left behind so they can continue to use it. Consultants now have a big opportunity to create continuous revenue streams and client ‘stickiness’ by using digital tools on assignments and then letting clients continue to use their tools. These firms will also sell more hours and generate more opportunities by on-selling and supporting clients' use of the tool.”

Indeed, the benefits seem to have already been judged to outweigh the perceived risks. Roadmap Pro was only launched in early 2018, but Changefirst’s partners are already using it to deliver a variety of major projects. These include usage in a major real estate change for a European media company; in the outsourcing global IT services for a Brazilian manufacturing company; for implementing a new global HR business model for a European chemical company; and for implementing industry changing technologies for both infrastructure and for new ways of working in a major transportation organisation.

According to Miller, clients have already presented the toolkit with “tremendous” feedback. The interface and the marriage of content and software have drawn particular praise, but Miller concluded that the bigger picture here is that Roadmap Pro can help the firms looking to challenge the Big Four. Indeed, with many firms looking to leverage technology to increase their competitiveness and digital presence, technology like Roadmap Pro is undoubtedly playing a role in seeing such companies win more of the bids against larger organisations around the world.