The Future of Consulting

Disruption. As consultants, we love to talk about how radical technology shifts are disrupting everything—the markets we work in, the clients we work with and the world we live in. But what about consulting itself? Surely our industry is facing massive disruption with the introduction of technology platforms, like Hourlynerd and Experfy, which are connecting highly skilled individuals with companies using a whole new model. Will the birth of the Gig Economy mean the death of generalist consulting?


In order to understand the future of consulting, we have to think about the future customer and the future client. Fast forward and imagine opening your eyes in the morning and your Smarthouse, using advanced biometrics to sense you’re awake, begins to hum to life. Heat purrs, coffee brews, lights adjust, music plays. The morning news appears as a hologram, hovering at just the right height over your bed, allowing you to thumb through stories with each virtual swipe. In natural language, you rattle off endless asks to a virtual digital assistant, and expect accuracy, and creativity, back. What’s the weather going to be? How’s the traffic? Where are the kids? ‘Susie and Joe are safely on the bus on the way to school. Don’t worry—I reminded them to bring jackets, because it is going to be cool this afternoon.’ Great. ‘Oh and by the way, you’ve been offered a discount on that SUV you’ve been looking at. Partnerships the manufacturer has with Auto Lending and Insurance providers have made the package much more attractive.’ Thanks. So yes, whether it’s insights on health, advice on finances or recommendations on a car—the customer of tomorrow will want complete information delivered beautifully and with ease. But that’s not all. He/she will expect suggestions that offer the absolute best option for them, personally, taking into account pretty much every aspect of their lives. The fact is that the ability to unite, analyze and share unfathomable amounts of information is, for the first time, allowing service providers not just a means to generate revenue—but the ability to make people’s lives better—and the customer of tomorrow will settle for nothing less. Smart start-ups know this. Many FinTechs are basing their business models on the economic concept of holistic financial health. In FinTech economics, or ‘FinTechonomics’, the ultimate goal of a Financial Service provider is to contribute to the financial health of consumers, and to improving their lives. This in turn creates the opportunity to sell additional financial (and other) services to grow customer loyalty. In this age of explosive data and transparency, if you are not providing your customer—retail, wholesale, corporate or commercial—the optimum solution that contributes to their overall health, they will leave for someone who can. It’s called disintermediation and it’s changing the industries in which we work.



Delivering this level of service is no small feat. To succeed, our clients must take into consideration all aspects of a customer’s life in real-time, and digitally deliver a stream of contextual and relevant services. To achieve this, our clients will need an instantaneous, endless transfer of data, housed in a limitless, unified space, that can be continuously mined and used to create and deliver truly personalized experiences. This degree of customer service requires transformation across the board. To succeed and grow in this explosive environment, all businesses—our clients and ourselves—need to embrace change; to our business models, and to how we’ll employ technology to deliver results. Data transformation, cloud innovation, process re-invention, digitization, and the application of cognitive analytics to achieve once unimaginable goals, is just the beginning of the journey. It begins with a unified sea of data, and for most complex organizations, that alone is a grand goal. Unlike new entrants, who build their foundations around the value of data, most of our clients will need to break down walls and challenge traditional approaches, to get to the holistic customer view they’ll need to compete – and to collaborate. Understanding and adopting FinTech approaches in using emergent technologies to provide more pleasing engagements will be key. The ability to partner, crucial. The cheap lean infrastructure of leading tech startups also means that our clients will have to streamline operations to compete with businesses built on the technologies of today. They will have to remove costly, repetitive processes requiring human touch that can be radically reduced using revolutionary robotics, automation, cognitive and blockchain technologies. The extent to which an organization embraces this transformation will determine its ability to cut costs and plug into emerging innovation in an eco-sea of partners. And of course our clients will have to deliver an exceptional interactive user experience spanning whatever digital, chat and natural language channels are desired by the increasingly demanding customer of tomorrow.



Supporting our clients in their transformation toward customer concentricity and helping them streamline their businesses will not be enough. The consultant of tomorrow will be a broker of talent, a doer, a participant in the industry rather than a consultant to it. The eco-system economy is here to stay and those that don’t know how to exist and prosper within it will be gone, consultant or client. By 2020, in excess of 75 percent of ideas, talent and innovation will be sourced through eco-systems of engagement, which will fundamentally change the way our clients work, and the way consultants work with their clients. Bringing together a web of providers to bring customers superior service sounds great, but the truth is this approach introduces a cast of characters and a myriad of technology that has to be carefully managed to produce desired results. In this eco-sea of partners, the consultant becomes principle conductor of an extremely complex orchestra. Consultants of the future will have to be experts on emerging start-ups and stay in front of the technology interfaces necessary to plug into pools of innovation, pertinent to thrive in the new API economy. And let’s not forget about employing emerging technologies to disrupt our own industry. In the next several years we will work to eradicate many of the entry level research, analysis and finance modeling processes we presently execute for clients, using digital and cognitive technologies. Leading consultancies will actively employ breaking edge technologies to eliminate non-value added processes in their own offerings and return economic advantages back to clients. Consultants at all levels will have to spend more of their time innovating with new technologies to help clients drive revenue and cut costs continuously. And most important will be the change in people. Consultancies will have to address that the way people like to work is changing and will have to change along with it. Numbers show that 35 percent of the total U.S. workforce choose to work as freelancers. Consultancies have to build new models that will require significant gain in the speed and agility needed to identify, source skilled workers, as well as stay abreast of the technologies, like VR, available to bring them together. Consultants of tomorrow will need deep content. They’ll have to not only profoundly understand their industry, but also how technology is going to change it. Generalist consulting will become a commodity product. Welcome to the Gig Economy. 

Ismail Amla is Managing Partner, IBM Global Business Services, North America, IBM’s professional services division and the world’s largest consulting organization. In this capacity, Amla sets the strategic direction of the GBS team—the first cognitive consulting practice—as it engages with corporations, government agencies and educational institutions.

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