FINDING A NEEDLE…IN A STACK OF NEEDLES
What can the consulting industry expect in the coming year? Looking over his 23 years in consulting, Bain & Company’s Keith Bevans remembers when the big challenge was finding data that could unlock game-changing insights. Now, Bevans notes, clients can supply all of that data on a thumb drive. In other words, says Bevans, the industry has changed from finding a needle in a haystack to “finding the right needle in a stack of needles.” Translation: the job has evolved so consultants are now looking for the right data, figuring out what it means, and turning it into encompassing and lasting solutions.
“Data availability and proliferation is actually what I consider both an opportunity and a threat,” Bevans shares. “There is more data being created than ever before – and the firms that will win are ones like Bain that can digest that and make sense of it, even though it can be overwhelming to most people. Being able to digest that amount of data and still get the insights to drive action and results for clients is harder than ever. That is something that I’ve witnessed over time.”
For Vault’s Stephan Maldonado, another change to watch is increasing client demand for integrating new methods and technologies into their services. “Firms are feeling the pressure to innovate in “hot” industries, not only to remain competitive when vying for clients but also to attract and retain talent,” he explains. Firms are investing more than ever in digitally upskilling their employees and expanding capabilities in big data, cloud computing, AI, etc. Most firms, be they a life sciences firm or an economic consulting firm, wants to position itself as a tech firm. More than ever, in the responses to our Outlook-related questions, consultants cited a firm’s efforts to not only invest in new technologies but also to train employees in those technologies as a key indicator of innovation and potential success in the future.”
‘FOR THE TIMES, THEY ARE A-CHANGING’
Bain had studied the implications of this transition long ago. As a consultant in the 1990s, Keith Bevans recalls how a supply chain solution might involve a “well-designed, well-formatted” Excel model. Now, clients often receive “a slick app with an intuitive user interface” for their phone, iPad, or desktop. To deliver this, a Bain case team will now include a member of their Advanced Analytics Team on the front end and a member of the Advanced Digital and Product Team (ADAPT) on the back end to produce an easy-to-use solution that truly adds value. The challenge now, Bevans asserts, is orchestrating all of these extra parts.
“As a partner and manager on a case team, I have to integrate all of these disciplines in a way that I didn’t have to do 20 years ago,” he says.
IMAGINING THE WORK OF TOMORROW
Increased demands aside, Bevans believes that failing to keep pace is one of the biggest threats to consulting firms. “It is no longer enough to just be a brilliant spreadsheet jockey and deliver all of your value in Excel or PowerPoint. We’re using Tableau to have real-time, interactive scenario models with our clients in meetings. Whereas before, you would run the model and cut-and-paste screenshots onto a PowerPoint slide and call it a day. Now, it is a more interactive meeting. You’re going to plug the laptop into the screen and you’re going to run scenarios in the meeting. As questions arise, we’re going to run those scenarios.”
That requires consultants to invest more in themselves. At Bain, Bevans points out that the firm provides regular, deep-dive training in areas like advanced analytics tools and digital integration. Similarly, the firm offers certifications, for example, to seasoned data scientists to help them stay current with cutting edge developments in the market. By upgrading such skills, Bevans adds, firms are laying the groundwork for long-term success.
“The threat is you take your eye off the ball and you’re not investing in your talent…These are the kind of investments that don’t just teach people how to do the work they need to do today, but it is preparing them for the kind of work they’re going to need to do tomorrow. The threat for any consulting firm is they lose sight of that and focus on the road directly in front of them that’s trailing off over the horizon.”
Go to next page to see how McKinsey, Bain, and BCG compared head-to-head in the 2020 Vault Consulting 50.