Do as I say, not as I do... or how consulting firms apply their own advice

14 February 2020
Article written by Hugues Lecointe Blancan, Grande Ecole Programme Student

Nowadays, consulting firms are more and more specialized in digital problematics. They look at a company’s IS strategy, IS transformation, implementation of new IT tools… to sum up they support the design and implementation of digital services for their clients. However, one subject that may have been overlooked is how consulting firms go about making their own digital transformation: What is the IS strategy of consulting firms? How did they implement it? How long did it take for them to transform? What are the digital tools that they use? How are digital innovations integrated within consulting firms? 

The logical thing to think would be that consulting firms must go through their own digital transformation before they can even start to offer consulting missions on the same topic as a service. A relative comparison could be what if someone taught you to cycle but did not know how to cycle himself? You would seriously ask yourself why you are letting this person help you and why you are investing your time for a questionable return. And it makes absolute sense! Consultancy is based on past experience and knowledge about “scientific management.”

This means they are specialists on how you should manage your company to know your goals. We therefore arrive at  the following question: How do firms that advize on digital transformation go about making their own internal digital transformation?

Unsurprisingly, the information about consulting firms’ digital transformation is scarce. The strategy of firms is not really something that is common knowledge and they tend not to share this information for obvious reasons. After all, it is nowadays a big competitive advantage to be specialized in digital solutions. Another approach is to try to have an inside look, if you will, inside one of the major players in the sector. Thanks to the immense chance of being able to interview a managing consultant, Mathilde Levallois, who works on customer engagement at Capgemini Invent, some of these questions can be answered.

Before the start of the interview, the popular impression was that the main (and maybe only) tool that consultants use is PowerPoint. As it turns out, this is far from  the truth. Of course, they still use PowerPoint which is after all a great digital tool for delivering a message in a clear and powerful way (if you have the right capabilities to do so). Indeed, consultants are “very mature on PPT/Excel which has been our main tools for the last few decades.” However, consultants at Capgemini also use different types of tools including collaborative tools, delivery project tools and process tools. To summarize, we could categorise these tools in two groups: service tools which are used to deliver the message like PowerPoint, but also videos, which are “now often used,” “infographics, data visualization” or even “websites”. These tools are meant to “reinforce the messages to the clients and provide some marketing-oriented content.” The second group would be tools that are used internally by consulting firms which regroup the collaborative and process tools. The first set of tools is not really particular to the sector. It included “SharePoint or video conference calls” and help consultants “share the information with more ease.” However, those tools clearly are even more relevant for consultants who work almost exclusively in teams, and as Mathilde says they “improve the efficiency of our meeting and of our people.” The process tools are in some ways even more relevant for consultants. The tools offer the possibility to give “feedback after each project” which “eases the evolution performance on the skills.”

Ultimately, they offer consultants the  possibility of bettering themselves after each mission they undergo. It is clear at this point that consulting firms did go through some type of digital transformation. However, there is still uncertainty as to how  they achieved such a transformation. Thankfully, Mathilde shed some light on the matter. “Capgemini Invent tried to put a new digital mindset forward which was meant for the firm to be open to new digital innovations.” The company has proposed a program called ‘Start playin’ which really helped promote this mindset. What is interesting though, is that it did not solely focus on implementing digital solutions, but looked at how it could improve the work and life at work of its employees. As Mathilde explains, the firm “tries to have a more employee-centric vision” and that is reflected in different ways such as the fact that employees are “now referred to as Talents” or the fact that the company has received an award for the first time this year as a “great place to work”. It is not difficult to find the link between the mindset and the tools Capgemini uses like “Pick Your Skills” which allows “Talents” to “express their skills and his development wishes.” Indeed, it seems that digital transformation in the sector goes hand in hand with a cultural transformation.

What then seems to counterbalance all those great initiatives is the fact that the program is rather new, having been started only about 2 years ago. It also looks like the employees still have a learning curve as they can “still improve” on the newer used tools. One area that needs to be developed, which is surely very important for consulting firms, is in knowledge management. As put forward by Mathilde, Capgemini has a tool dedicated to gathering information but they “have not found a proper way for everyone to feel comfortable” with its use.

However, maybe that will come with newer tools, but what is certain is that those won’t be developed in a consulting firm. The big problem for the players in the sector seems to be that they “do not have R&D departments.” They therefore rely on innovations being developed outside the sector. It is hard to really know what those innovations will be but even harder to know how they will impact the sector. If you ask consultants, the next innovations which will impact their world is AI or Blockchain technology. However, how those will be integrated still eludes them. But with an increasing number of consulting firms being specialized only in digital transformation and solutions, maybe such innovations could see the day, especially if bigger players acquire those specialized firms.

These are my personal views and may differ from Capgemini Invent presentation

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