Digital switchover?

Digital techniques are altering the way that companies view their IT strategies and infrastructure investments – and the way in which consultancy is being delivered, says Mick James, our management consultancy columnist.He thinks it is only a matter of time before digital services become the major focus for consultancies.

I’m currently involved in a lot of conversations that suggest that there is a fundamental change occurring in the way that consultancy is being delivered. One of the forces behind this is the way in which digital techniques are altering the whole way that companies view their IT strategies and infrastructure investments.

“Digital is very different because you don’t get organisations who know what they want to do,” says Simon Short, head of Capgemini’s digital services business, a recently set up division which looks to use many of the services already offered by the company but transform the way they do business with clients.

Larger consultancies like Capgemini have built businesses around the selection and implementation of enterprise IT systems. But now the emphasis is on speed and agility rather than consolidation and integration.

“The risk is that so many business people do get the power of this so well,” he says. “They don’t see the need to talk to an IT department – they’re just going to buy it and then work out how to move the data. And if they don’t like it they’ll throw it away.”

With so many people “doing their own” thing, there is a real danger of organisations losing control, not just of IT assets and data but of the direction in which they are moving. According to Short, whereas before the value added by a consultancy was to help a client make the right choice between systems, now it is more to help them navigate a journey through a changing landscape. Strategies are almost certain to be overtaken by events.

“Most organisations have no idea what their requirements are to begin with,” he says. “In the 1990s we would come and work with you on your digital strategy. Now you don’t need a five-year strategy, but a vision.”

Short likens this to taking a lengthy road trip across a continent. You are clear about where you will end up, and things you would like to do along the way, but will continually make and revise decisions about each leg of the journey as you go along.

“There’s been a breakdown of the old consultancy model where you bring someone on for nine months for strategy and then go to market with a big RFP before selecting someone for the next five years,” he says. “The worlds of strategy and the world of IT delivery have merged: strategy is no longer a one-off buy – it’s got to be all the time.”

This aspect of everything happening all the time is reflected in the design of Capgemini’s digital business, which combines consultancy and applications services, rather than seeing them as separate disciplines which hand off to each other.

This means getting people to step outside traditional roles. Short says that one of the biggest challenges is to attract the “very interesting and dynamic people” who might see working for a large consultancy firm as a bit old-fashioned.

“We can now say to them that we have a very different model and that attracts consultants who might normally work for a small niche firm,” he says. “We’ve made over 60 hires this year, some from traditional firms like Accenture and Deloitte and some from smaller firms, even from marketing agencies.”

Short says he is increasingly seeing marketing agencies encroach on consultancy as they react to the pressures of the digital world.

“Traditional marketing is dead,” he says. “It’s no longer about publishing the specification of your products but how quickly you react to negative comments about your product – you can’t respond to tweets by committee. And IT has to react at the same pace.”

This trend is leading many consultancy firms to hoover up niche players, and Short says he is increasingly running into firms whose sole raison d’etre appears to be to be swiftly bought by someone else.

Capgemini prefers to tap into this highly creative sector by creating a network of smaller companies who can be exposed to customers in Capgemini’s customer demonstration and innovation hubs.

“If people have things that are interesting that we haven’t solved ourselves then we can demo them to our clients,” says Short.
“We can bring this whole ecosystem to bear, and use our facilities to make it real rather than just have a sales person talking,” he says.

These hubs have long been a part of Capgemini’s offering but now Short finds that rather than mock-ups his team are building working systems using live data:

“You’ve got to be able to demonstrate things in real-time,” he says. “We’re not selling the technology itself anymore, we’re selling a service – we’re saying that we will run this for you.”

Capgemini’s digital unit seems to have addressed a number of the big questions facing the large consultancies, such as how to match the innovation offered by smaller players without abandoning assets built up over many years. The real question for me is how long can digital services can be seen as a subset of any consultancy’s offerings, and how long before they take over the whole show?


All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of and

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