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Time for a consult



The time of IT services players who have built credible consulting capabilities, has well and truly arrived

Sandy Gopalan

The head honcho of a leading global bank recently remarked, “We are a technology company with a banking licence.” Not long afterwards, that thought found an echo in the CEO of a leading global hotel chain when he declared, “We are a technology company.”

These assertions may well sound extreme to the uninitiated. But they are strong reminders of the extent to which technology has moved front and centre in most companies. Even at traditional, old-economy companies, technology is taking the centre stage and becoming integral to their go-forward strategies. Pushing the envelope on that thinking are new-age companies such as Uber for whom technology is at the core of their existence. To many, Uber is a taxi company. However, it doesn't own a single taxi. All it owns is a technology platform and is valued at about $50 billion.

At the heart of this phenomenon is the collective force of digital technologies such as mobile, analytics, cloud, social media, and the Internet of Things, which are challenging yesterday's models and redefining value. Companies are leveraging them to optimise their businesses, engage better with customers, and even build entirely new business models and drive innovation.

The world of consulting is not untouched by this once-in-a-decade shift in the technology landscape. More than ever, consulting is the first port of call for clients looking to leverage next-generation technologies to optimise their businesses and drive innovation. So powerful is this trend that even the traditional strategy consulting houses can now be seen adding analytics and other technological capabilities to their quiver, appending implementation to their value proposition that historically centred on their advisory and audit pedigree.

The writing is on the wall: The time of IT services players who've built credible consulting capabilities has well and truly arrived. Those with end-to-end capabilities ranging from strategy to solution implementation are best positioned to address the emerging market needs.

Clay Christensen's Harvard Business Review article (October 2013) titled “Consulting at the cusp of disruption” is possibly one of the most cited pieces in the context of changes in the consulting marketplace. Clients want more from their management consultant - they want more than strategy; they want the result. They want to see more than smart consultants and MBAs armed with templates to solve problems, they look for analytical and other tools that can quickly crunch massive amounts of data to derive insights. And they want quick-burst engagements and rapid prototyping, which can drive innovation for them, as opposed to long-drawn strategy definition exercises.

We've entered an era where 'strategy' without 'technology' is no strategy at all. And this heralds the dawn of a new era in consulting. IT services with formidable consulting arms are the most relevant in the emerging digital environment.
In the digital era, strategy has a lot to do with ideation and managed innovation. And the solution options need to be created collaboratively with the clients in an iterative manner. There are no silver bullets or best practices as there are endless possibilities to leverage these new technologies. It requires consultants with an entrepreneurial spirit and a millennial mindset which today's MBAs do possess.

Millennials detest strict hierarchies and hard-coded career architectures. Progressive consulting practices are designed to be flexible and cater well to the millennial aspiration. One such MBA started out in the role of a business analyst, creating next-gen solutions for the auto industry. He then worked as a business analyst in a team that designed and implemented a dealer management system for a global auto major. In the course of a coffee-machine discussion with the client, he talked about social media driving customer opinions. This led to a quick proof-of-concept, and was subsequently scaled as a social media listening solution, which fed insights from social chatter into the product ideation and development processes.

This consultant went on to relocate to an emerging geography, where he now leads consulting for an entire industry segment, while also focusing on analytics and digital solutions. Going ahead, there is a wide range of roles such MBAs could consider, some even beyond consulting, such as managing regional P&Ls, client relationships, innovation, and full-fledged programmes. Such excitement can be afforded only by the rich range of challenges and opportunities that accompany consulting with a technology focus.

It is not uncommon for MBAs to follow a herd mentality in their aspiration for a certain type of job. They would do well to heed Wayne Gretzky, the Sachin Tendulkar of ice-hockey, who observed, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." Top-tier IT services firms, who have built credible consulting practices, are an interesting destination for MBAs as they charge towards 'where the puck is going to be'!
— The author is vice president, business consulting, Cognizant

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