How to change the future of consulting

Traditional consulting needs to move with the times. To succeed in these challenging conditions, the consultancy of tomorrow will transform the industry through tech, talent, and transparency

by John Stern
Last Updated: 09 Dec 2019

The consulting market is about to be disrupted beyond recognition. It is changing in a number of important ways and the role of the consultant needs to be re-evaluated across the four key areas of delivery: expertise, insight, information, and execution. Which is why we started building Capita Consulting’s business earlier this year as part of our own repositioning as a company.

Traditionally, consultants would give recommendations but in today’s world, those recommendations are very quickly out of date. So the challenge is to develop recommendations that are executable while retaining some skin in the game. You should not view success as how big a project is but instead, how big an impact you can make and how quickly can you get out of there.

The financial arrangement between consultant and client also needs to change. We don’t believe the time-and materials model is here to stay. We want to have a stake in the result from day one – we’re so confident in our talent and our IP that we want to be paid on the basis of outcome, not input.

Time for change

Clients, too, are in the midst of an intense technolo-gydriven period of change. They don’t need generalists any more, they don’t just need smart people, they need IP and really deep expertise. They want a set of answers but the questions are not yet fully developed. We’re going through a moment in time where lots of things are going to change. The audit businesses, for example, are trying to work out what technology and blockchain will mean for them; strategy businesses are trying to work out how to become more tech savvy.

I think developing ecosystems will be a really important part of the future of consulting and you can see that in the acquisitions taking place at the top end of the strategy consulting organisations. I wonder where those businesses will be in five years’ time.

There is recognition that not one organisation is going to be able to deliver all the services that a client might want so there will need to be partnerships. Sharing platforms will be key. No one thinks twice about all banks using one payment platform, or an HR platform or a customer engagement platform, which means consultancies will have to get comfortable with being part of an industry rather than consulting to it. That has consequences because being part of an industry means you live or die by that industry.

Regardless of how the political landscape looks in the coming months, there seems to be a pent-up demand for change in both private and public sectors. We’re expecting an opportunity to redefine access to public services, which is going to be a really exciting time. There is no reason why many of our citizen experiences should not have the ambition to be as good as the consumer-grade experiences we have in the private sector. For instance, citizens are going to start to expect an experience that is as personalised and relevant as say, Apple or Amazon.

Public services should have the same infrastructure, same capability, same user experience, same security as organisations in the private sector. That’s the overriding principle: that the disenfranchised, or school kids, or parents, or teachers or pensioners or the armed forces should all get access to the same customer-centric capability that we are used to in the commercial world.

I was talking recently to a leader in the retailing banking sector, learning what he as a buyer would be interested in. He confirmed that organisations don’t want institutional knowledge walking out of the door. We’re just starting an automation project with a retail bank and the idea is that even from day one, we will bring automation experts to a team where the client team doesn’t have the knowledge. We’ll then upskill them as one of our deliverables so that when we leave the engagement, we’re making sure that there is a mechanism for delivering ongoing value – we call this a do, show, support and leave model.

We believe that Capita has a unique opportunity in this changing environment because we don’t have the baggage of other consulting firms – we can start with a clean slate. We also have that IP and expertise already at Capita. Software is a large part of our business: we have a payment platform, we have a mortgage operation platform, we have GDPR capability. We’re in 80% of the schools in the UK, we’re in health, we’re in financial services and in telco. We intimately know the challenges of the industries we focus on because we’re on the front foot developing software to help them with these day in, day out.

People power

We decided to recruit the best practitioners in the world focused on industry or technology capability, which we have done from the likes of Accenture, EY, and Deloitte. The people who are interested in joining us confirmed our suspicions of what’s going on in the industry – that the baggage these firms carry, for example, practices built around legacy ways of operating and templated ways of doing things, makes transformation quite painful. The opportunity to come to a new place and make an impact is powerful. I think it’s going to be harder for other firms to change than it is for us to create, so we have some competitive advantage there.

There is a pull for senior people in other organisations to join Capita as a leader in the digital services and software business. As some national borders go up, I believe the role of the local technology giant is going to have a disproportionate part to play in the national economy.

We have gone from zero to 300 as a consulting firm in the past six months and will continue to grow rapidly through 2020. So we are very aggressive in terms of what we think the opportunity is and we’ve already had some success with clients. Others are waking up to the idea of new competition in this space. A lot of the people in those organisations are friends of mine so we talk about it a lot. I think their attitude has changed from ‘see how you get on’ to recognising a real and present danger in a shorter period of time than perhaps both they and we thought.

Image credit: James Gifford-Mead

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