Consulting has always been an IP and knowledge-driven business, mobilized by frameworks and structures and led by data-science. However, COVID-19 has helped establish the fact that consulting is first and foremost a people’s business. Their new habits, inter-personal relationships, the openness of communication, and comfort with the new practices brought on by the pandemic could make or break the next successful consulting business.
In this article I take a look at the likely next normal for consulting through the lens of my experience, to predict and prepare for the permanent changes ahead.
The accelerated shift towards remote teams
Consulting relied on global distributed teams long before the pandemic and the frameworks for remote-working were already robust. Easy access to video conferencing, accessibility of data, structured reporting, and a global talent pool may have made the switch seem inevitable, but COVID-19 made it urgent.
After a brief period of adjustment, most consultancies recovered with a high degree of productivity. The recent sought-after tools such as whiteboard-based remote brainstorming sessions have been the norm at consultancies for a while. Tools such as Miro, Stormboard, and Epoch have been a part of the workflow and the teams continue to report a good degree of productivity despite the lack of a physical presence in brainstorming sessions.
According to a report, the move to working from home has had only a small negative impact on productivity – an average reduction of 1 %. More than 40 % of workers would prefer to work remotely full time in the future.
It was obvious even before the pandemic that remote working was a cheaper alternative, however, the current scenario has dispelled persisting doubts about productivity.
Reduced expenses and greater opportunities.
In the immediate and long-term, in-person meetings could be viewed as stressful, unnecessary, and even dangerous experiences that require high expenditure and involvement. For every meeting, cumbersome social distancing and sanitation measures will have to be followed involving a high amount of coordination. Moreover, travel and quarantine restrictions could make in-person meetings a relic of the past. Just like businesses decided to cut down on printing so will they consciously work towards traveling less. For consulting companies already accustomed to distributed teams, this is a blessing in disguise.
The clients are also beginning to recognize the benefits of this new world. The capability to deliver a large scale engagement 100% remotely has become a major credential for consultancies today. In fact, clients are refusing onsite personnel and building the remote-working clause right in their ‘requests for proposals’.
As you travel less, the budgets for traveling, lodging, and commuting will shrink and could be allotted to upskilling and reskilling of talent or into the development of digital infrastructure.
Further, the time saved by avoiding travel could lead to initiatives that lead to higher engagement. It will no longer just be the ‘physical’ presence that defines productivity but the approachability, flexibility, and availability of the people involved.
In essence, consultancies will go from ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to ‘out of sight, but not out of ideas’
The ‘productization’ of consulting
As remote teams become the norm, the consulting business will evolve to increase the ease of doing business in new ways. Consultancy services will start becoming more ‘productized’ with a high degree of transparency and few hidden features.
An ‘Amazon-like’ marketplace where consultancies and consultants alike are rated and categorized based on various attributes could be the new reality of consulting.
These attributes could be capability, affordability, availability, and so on. The demand to go remote will tear down the constructs of the consulting industry that have made it relatively hard to access.
When it comes to explaining the new reality of consulting, an anecdote comes to mind from the NBA. In the 2010s, analysts and teams realized that despite the smaller probability of scoring, the 3-point shot was worth taking. Until then, the norm was to rely not on shooters, but big players who would get a high-percentage shot close to the basket. Similarly, the long-held practices of consulting have transformed overnight to new beneficial ones. The realization that traveling less and relying on remote teams might actually be good for business might seem obvious, but it took a pandemic for the industry to take notice.
One might argue that the impersonal and distant set up of remote working is like treading uncharted waters.
If consulting goes down the path of being entirely virtual, segmented, and standardized, will businesses lose what makes individuals and their ideas unique? What effect will that have on the business? For now, these questions remain unanswered as we find our way out of these unprecedented times.
Inder N. Dua
Partner, Infosys Consulting
Inder has been with Infosys Consulting for 14 years, in which time he has worked in a number of roles across the organization. Overall, he has nearly 20 years of experience in defining strategy and implementing large-scale programs in the areas of digital marketing, process re-engineering and managed services. He has helped clients build strategic business cases, develop new organization design models and drive growth initiatives. As part of his management consulting journey, he has also led various programs around optimizing business processes, conceptualizing value realization framework and establishing program management offices to run large change projects. Inder has served as an adviser on implementing IT strategy roadmaps and setting up a foundation for the chief customer officer function. As a partner, Inder is focused on our life sciences vertical with competency alignment on regulatory compliance, managed service operations and data-driven decision making anchored in digital and automation. He is a champion of diversity, with 47% women team members and is a steering committee member of the DiveIn initiative in India.