The End of Management Consulting?

March 20, 2017

Is Management Consulting about to end by the advancing digitalisation? How does the role of consultants change?


Consulting goes digital


Management consulting is still a booming market in Switzerland. Over 45 million Swiss francs sales per year generate by any large Consulting Company in Switzerland according to the Association of Management Consultants Switzerland, ASCO. But the consulting market is changing. Digitalisation  is becoming more and more influential and presents new challenges to consulting firms. According to ASCO, the process of digitalisation  will influence customers and consultants alike, and the right way of dealing with them will be decisive. The image and the role of the consultant will therefore change. But what does that mean? Many consulting firms have begun to focus on the digital business on the core of their services, build their own digital laboratories and competence centers, and specialized consulting firms rise that advise companies exclusively in the context of digitalisation.


Is this the solution?


Is the theoretical knowledge in the digital environment enough to provide customers with comprehensive advice in their digital transformation? The problem is that digitalisation  is still a relatively new topic. In fact, it took the first ride almost 20 years ago, when companies began to establish digital business models on the market and discovered the web as a sales channel. This also means that a sound expertise in many areas of digital business is not yet widespread. Everyone knows social media, knows the importance of good websites, SEA, SEO and user experience are most common. But how do you do it right? In order to be able to properly advise customers in the future how they can generate success on the web or in Omnichannel management, consultants also need practical experience in addition to theoretical knowledge. Long-term practical experience in digitalisation  coupled with sound knowledge will be the new challenge of the consultants. Individual consulting firms are already pursuing this concept as DIGIRATIS - Swiss Network of the Digital Elite (


Practical experience is key


As digitalisation  is rapidly developing and it is time to act as a first mover or test a lot, these experiences are based on success but also on failure. You can no longer predict why an app is successful, which mail "flies", or what inspires customers on a website, you have to try it out and build on the experience. However, this also requires a change in corporate philosophy. A solid error management culture is often not widespread and the risk appetite is usually limited. Ultimately, the digital transformation also takes place in the minds of the employees - not just in software and web appearances. What does that mean for the consulting firms? It is only when you have operational responsibility in the digital business of companies over a long period of time that you learn where the challenges of each company lie. And only if you have the necessary coaching skills, you can accompany the employees and the management in the process of change for the digitalisation .


Powerpoint philosophies are no longer sufficient


This means that not only the outside-view and theoretical knowledge, banned on beautiful PowerPoint slides, lead to success, but also the understanding why companies and their employees find it difficult to digitally transform and what they need for success. Internal policies, lack of resources and skills, old technologies, complicated processes, reduced budgets, traditional marketing approaches, wrong priorities, complicated products and traditional business models are often obstacles to successfully mastering the digital world.

Only those who have worked in companies and have experienced the obstacles and challenges themselves can advise in the right manner. According to the motto "the best marriage counselor has been divorced twice," the company's internal experience with its successes and failures is needed. And these show that it is often the mindset and communication within the company that blocks the success on the web.

Opening an online channel and a Facebook account and maintaining it with young employees is not enough. The entire company, together with its employees, has to adapt itself to digitalisation in the areas mentioned above. But how do you get there? It is a process of digital transformation that takes place over a period of time and which must take into account the uncertainties on the way to digitalization. As an example, it is no longer enough to show the customer on slides that social media is important, the online shop has to offer a "seamless experience", or if you want to use content marketing to achieve a commitment and generate viral posts. It is the answer to deliver how and what to do specifically. Only those who know, for example, why large companies often discuss topics for weeks, how they can use the image material, who has the budget to speak, how the sales unit can be incentivized by online sales or how to communicate to the customer via digital media understand the real problems in the implementation.

But this is exactly the challenge for the consulting firms. Who has long-standing, operational experience in the responsibility of digital fields and also have the right consulting and coaching skills? The fact that digitalisation is still a relatively young topic consultants who combine both are rare. Which consultancy firm can claim to be able to advise its customers in all aspects of the digital business and to deliver concrete, feasible proposals - from web presence with “wow-effects”, from social engagement to successful digital marketing - especially if it is only based on theory and from studying. How can digitalisation actually help to generate more sales, save costs and make customers more satisfied?


Change in the role of the consultant


ASCO calls the change in the role of consultants "away from standard services and towards a companion of change as a pilot or bridge builder" and speaks of "trust". This requires above-mentioned practical experience and the necessary social skills. How can I trust someone who cannot get into my situation and have not made similar experiences? Thus, the consulting firms will have to re-orient themselves in the recruitment in order to continue to make customers successful. A clear understanding of the company’s situation and concrete, meaningful proposals instead of an infinite number of slides are required. There are still a lot of PowerPoint presentations or projects running for the bin, because the answer is missing, what to do now and how or the wrong time is chosen, because the company still has other issues to deal with. For customers, the cost-benefit ratio for consulting assignments is becoming increasingly important under the budget pressure.


Networking is the future


Since this whole experience cannot be covered by one company itself, the networking between the know-how providers in digitalisation is a possible alternative. There will not be one consulting company that can offer all required consulting and services on the basis of practical and theoretical experience. Networking, know-how transfer and specialization are already key for a successful consultation today.


An approach driven by the foundation of "DIGIRATIS - Swiss Network of the Digital Elite". This leads us to the benevolent conclusion that the company consulting is not about to end - but a change must be accomplished. The possibilities of digitalisation must also be used in the consulting world as well. It remains exciting for all parties involved.

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