Digitalisation's impact on the consulting sector

26 February 2020
Article written by Elise TREGOU, Grande Ecole Programme Student

The consulting industry has experienced many waves of change over the years. There are plenty of examples; from the scientific management of the second industrial revolution to the development of new tools with computer systems. However, if there is one thing that is no longer to be demonstrated, it is that this sector is prone to change. Given this information, we can ask ourselves what can be the next wave of change that will impact the industry?

What if the solutions was hiding under the word "Digitalization"?

In general, digitalization is seen as the road of moving towards digital business and digital transformation. However, it is easy to get lost in these fancy words. In all this cacophon, a company can legitimately ask itself whether it should prefer digitalization, digitization or even digital transformation?

If in France in the 2000s, we were not yet talking about digitalization in the sense that we use it today, many transformations were already under way. The public domain is not exempt from this phenomenon. The relationship between public authorities and data, particularly those intended for the public, has been constantly changing. This requires a reflection on open source and the implementation of platforms for the public. A concrete example is the digitization of tax returns that were completed only by hand a few years ago. In both cases, the purpose of the consultant will be to support companies in the changes related to digitalization.

One thing is certain, digitalization is revolutionizing and will continue to revolutionize many sectors. From the private to the public sector, from small businesses to large structures. These technologies have the potential to have a real impact on our societies. The stakes are therefore professional but also societal. As part of the study of this subject, contact was made with Christian Moinard, a former consultant, now professor at Audencia who worked for 8 years at Ernest and Young, to help identify the major issues related to this transformation.

Digitalization, a new el dorado for consultants.

According to Christian Moinard, the phenomenon of digitalization is viewed by the consulting sector as a potential market opportunity. However, it would be unlikely that the consulting profession would be significantly transformed by the digital tool. It is and will remain, first and foremost, a contact profession. Digitalization for them, is more of a support that they will be able to sell and with which they will have to work. On the other hand, what it does transform are professions such as auditors who see their practices disrupted by ever higher-performance tools.

When we look at these new technological waves, we see a form of dilution of technicality that makes these technologies more and more accessible. Computer science is a classic example. At first only researchers like Turing were able to master this knowledge. As knowledge became more democratized users no longer needed to know what was in the heart of the machine to be able to use it. On big data and artificial intelligence the same pattern can be expected.

To be fully prepared for this wave, it will be essential to advise all people who want to work with such tools to review their mathematics lessons. Indeed, data flows will become tremendous. It will be required to be able to determine whether the given sample is representative of a more global reality. On the massive amount of data collected, a simple average will no longer have the slightest meaning.

Obviously, the idea is not to become mathematicians or computer scientists, but to understand the basic foundation. If we don't master these key concepts, there is a risk of being manipulated by the machine. In other words, to be manipulated by those who produce the machine. Indeed, let us not delude ourselves, there is always a human intention behind such a thing.

We have to keep in mind that it is the use of technology that transforms things. In other words, it is the interrelationship between organization and technology that enables change. Technology itself is nothing, it only exists because it is activated by the organization or people. The role of the consultant will be to support companies in this transition.

The consultant, guarantor of transition

According to Christian Moinard, with each technological generation we observe a certain form of “technocredulity”. Which means saying or believing that the technology is neutral. But this is far from being the truth. A chatbot, for example, is fed on the information we want to give it. The example of the chatbot Tay, launched on Twitter by Microsoft, illustrates the fact that we must be careful with artificial intelligence in order to avoid "slippages" as far as possible.

Companies will probably need a guarantor to verify that the organization is consistent with the information system in place. This will be one of the consultant's missions, which will focus especially on processes and workflows. Its role will be to verify that the organization is always in line with the information systems and to prevent potential discrepancies. This will be especially necessary as organizations are increasingly mobile, as well as information systems that are constantly reinventing themselves. This is also the objective of machine learning and AI. These allow a permanent reinvention of the information that is produced and the analysis that results from it. This requires an increasing verification of information.

How to cope with these changes

The best way to anticipate these changes is to train and strengthen mathematical skills. It is also and above all necessary to think about ways of reinventing oneself as well as the organizational structure in the light of the technology one wants to put in place.

At the moment, we can only observe realities that are being built rather than having something definitive. One thing is certain, these technologies have the potential to have a real impact on our societies. Therefore, if they are not used consciously there is a real risk. If we delegate responsibility for decision making to the machine and leave the human aspect of organizations behind we will face real dangers.

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