As we are in our final semester in Audencia, we decided to specialize in consulting for our master. During our four years in a business school, we heard and learnt a lot about an always growing phenomenon: digitalization. We even have a class in the consulting major dedicated to digitalization.
But what is it really?
Is it this constantly evolving monster that French people are afraid of ? Is it an obvious business accelerator that should be implemented everywhere? We often hear those two positions in the public space and it would be appropriate to listen to those who are directly concerned.
First things first. According to Gartner, digitalization “is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities.” It is key to differentiate it from digitization which “is the process of changing from analog to digital form”. One can then agree that digitalization is a step further than digitization.
A junior in a consulting firm* described her main tasks as being as follows: “analyze the data, interview people and make presentations.”
So, a big part of the role of a junior in consulting firms is to do the analysis of the client, of its environment, of the key challenges and also mainly the data sent by the client. To do so, they often go to the client to have a better understanding of the global situation, and catch a glance of the client’s objective reality. They then make reports that the senior consultants will read and work on. According to the interviewed consultant, “juniors use common tools on computers to help them do their work: analyse (Excel), and present (PowerPoint), that is simple digitalization.”
Here, we can see that digitalization is in reality digitization, and at first sight, it seems that it is going to impact these lines of work. Indeed, it is quite easy to use Artificial Intelligence to analyze data, and sometimes even more efficient as the error rate is lower for AI than for people. Machine learning would then step in to have a better knowledge so that AI improves at every iteration. That is the current possibility with AI, to replicate human actions.
However, the future of AI is deep learning and the aim is not do what people do, but to work hand in hand with people. Indeed, people cannot be replaced everywhere, as they are the only ones to understand feelings because they feel them.
Digitalization completes human actions
That is what the interviewee considers about the other main part of her job as a junior: “I really think that juniors and digitalization can, and must by the way, work side by side. A huge part of my work as a junior is to interview people in the client’s company. While doing so, there is an enormous part of social and affective interaction that could not be replaced by digitalization. Humans are always more comfortable in confiding in another human than in a machine. Our role is to chat with them, understand what they think of the project that our client is trying to implement. It is true that we could be replaced by a chatbot that would adapt to the employees, but it would miss a crucial part of the interview.” Machines, but especially digitalization, are not going to replace humans in the way they work because it would not completely get humans functioning.
What is the added value that consultancies provide to their clients? Knowledge of course, but a way of analyzing as well. The work asked of consultants is always quite complex because it deals with people and processes all at the same time.
This line of work is at first sight not easily replaceable with machines, even with AI. However, digitalization can be effective in simple tasks, such as the analysis of proper data as implied by the person who was interviewed. That would save consultants some time that could be spent on more complex aspects of their work. In that case it would be very effective.
But what about the juniors that need to do the first-base tasks, in order to acquire knowledge about the industry, about the processes, and about the work of consultants? There would then be a need to redefine the work of the juniors and make them gain experience in a different way so that they can reach the level of consultants in the following years. The junior consultant gives us an answer there: “Even if the work of a junior was completely replaced by digitalization, which is highly uncertain, there would be a shift in the senior position as well. Their simpler tasks would be dedicated for the newly graduated, and seniors would then have more time to manage their teams while being present for the client. There would also be a new activity around data that would be even greater than it is now, concerning the treatment and analyze of the data, which could lead to the recruitment of data specialists. The job of the junior would not disappear, it would shift to new activities.” This, is still linked with the fact that humans cannot be replaced in their humanity and in understanding each other.
The impact of digitalization on firms
This means that digitalization has a huge impact regarding the Human Resources of the consulting firms. There is a first stake with the act of hiring. What kind of newly graduated young persons are the firm willing to hire and to do what kind of the work for the company? Would they be people from business schools that have a consulting diploma? Or maybe people from engineering schools that are able to work alongside advanced technology? The consultancies have to define their needs, in order to have a powerful and relevant hiring policy. According to our interviewee, a time could come when consultancies would have to recruit people data analysts from engineering schools for the treatment and analysis of data.
It also comes with defining their internal HR politic. How do they want to articulate people and machines, to what extent and in which ways? Starting from this point, they would be able to increase the wellness of employees because they would no longer feel threatened.
* For confidentiality reasons the names of the person and consulting firm are not stated.