Will the next generation still become consultants?

Consulting, disruption, consultancy, framework, cusp, of, disruption, mckinsey, bcg, atkearney, bain

After our lecture on digitization versus disruption by BCG’s Peter Burggraaff, I started thinking about the impact of these trends on the consulting business. As stated by McKinsey and Company’s Dominic Barton (Global Managing Director) in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, they “value the judgment, not so much the analytics”. This related to the X-axis of disruption in consulting, in which one can separate the difference between projects/processes that are highly repeatable (and thus attractive for automation) and those that are non repeatable (currently

Meanwhile, according to prof. Clayton Christensen (author of “Consulting on the cusp of disruption”) the Y-axis of disruption in consulting is the size of the problems, often related to bigger companies.

A research by ‘the Emerging Future’ tells us that intuitively we think that in 6 years, the advancement of technology will be 32(!) times compared to what we currently can. If that is even remotely the case the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence/Cognitive Systems, combined with analysis of tremendous amounts of data, will more and more equal the thorough analysis of consultants. The advancement of technology, majorly subject to time (not if, but when), is therefor noted as the Z-axis of disruption.

So combining all this: let’s see where existing companies are situated in the ‘matrix’.

  1. This is where large software companies are growing their business, often in combination with a consulting practice. They have certain Intellectual Property (IP); either generated by the company or in collaboration with clients, and integrate these in software products (e.g. SAP, Oracle etc.).
  2. The position of large ‘consulting firms’. They deal with big problems that are very specific. Because of there nature, as stated by Dominic Barton: they are relying on judgement, as (currently) analytics fall short.
  3. Although difficult to label, this might be where all SME oriented consultants earn their money. They face similar non-repeatable issues, but the number of parameters that influence the issue are limited and thus less complex.
  4. This part of the landscape is crowded; it consists of SMEs that work on analytics and startups that deliver cutting-edge solutions for your every day problem.

With the advancement of technology, we will see that the area of the number 2’s will become more and more narrow. The number of problems that can be solved with automated solutions will become bigger and bigger, IBM Watson is just a start of what is possible with cognitive systems. Meanwhile startups are starting to attract business that is not interesting to the leading firms and will gain more business in the consulting-landscape if they proof to deliver sufficient solutions. Despite the fact that consulting firms are aware of these disruptors and are preparing themselves for the digital age, e.g. McKinsey Solutions, it has proven though for major firms to disrupt themselves. I guess time will tell.

While thinking of all this I noted that my ‘graph’ is far from what a consultant may call ‘MECE’. Look at it as a conversation starter. Which factors do you think will influence the disruption of consulting? Will they be smart enough to stay ahead or will we be one of the last generations of BIM students looking at consultancy?






2 responses to “Will the next generation still become consultants?”

  1. geertkriek says :

    Nice post, obiously many professions will change in the future or even cease to exist due to technological advancements. However i don’t expect consultantcy to be one.

    First, to answer your last question: Consultants have been smart enough to create work for themselves for years now, even in the face of technological disruptions.

    Additionally, it might be so that large parts of the analysis AND judgements of porblems currently taken care of by consultants will be outsourced to computers. However i see a new role here for consultants, which will be to run the projects were questions are being asked to computers. A big role here will be to determine the questions being asked to computers. There is no point in knowing the answer is 42 when you don’t know the correct question.

    In short: I think consultants will be there in the future, they will just have different roles.

    McAfee, A., and Brynjolfsson, E. 2012. Big Data: The Management Revolution. Harvard Business Review 90(10) 60-68

  2. 421142sw says :

    Let me first state that I find your theory really interesting.

    As I interpreted the beginning of the discussion between Dominic Barton and Clayton Christensen in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, they were talking about plotting the size of the problems (y-axis) over time (x-axis), regarding the theory of Christensen about his “disruptive innovation model, published in 1997, [that] provides an explanation for the inability of well-managed, industry-leading companies to stay atop of their industry when confronted with new, ground breaking technological innovations”. (http://www.provenmodels.com/595/disruptive-innovation/christensen)

    Christensen’s disruption diagram is made up of out three axes:
    – Y-axis: represents the dominant product performance metric (in this case more profitable customers, rather than the quality of the product as he first assumed as can be read in the interview)
    – X- axis: represents time (that growing consultancy firms shift more to the bigger problems over time)
    – Z-axis: represents consumer segments with different needs (represents either new customers who previously lacked the money or skills to buy and use the product, or whose needs can now be fulfilled because the product may be used for other purposes due to the new (disruptive or sustaining) technologies.)

    But that more as a side note, because probably you used it as a source to come up with your model, which provides some really interesting insights. Indeed, in line with the theory of Christensen, the bigger (more matured) consultancy firms are focusing on the bigger problems (2), while the smaller consultancy firms are focusing on the smaller problems (3). Personally, I really like your x-axis in which repeatability separates the (potential) software solutions from consultancy solution!

    Could you maybe elaborate more on your choice to put technology on the z-axis? Now, I perceive technological advancement more as the separator that reduces the area of the consultancy surfaces rather than being an axis on its own.

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