Adapting to survive - Consultancy firms face the challenges of digitalisation

26 May 2021
By Lucas Bellegarde & Matthis Cournut, Audencia Grande Ecole students

The consulting sector is challenged by a context of innovation and continuous improvement. This era of great digitalisation is considered to be the fourth industrial revolution. If these consulting companies are unable to keep up with technical developments, they will be unable to support their clients in this shift. Clearly, consulting firms must transform themselves to stay in the race. In order to face this changing environment, which can cause their loss, companies are doing groundwork on several pillars that will be discussed in this article. This article is based on an interview with our interviewer, Roland Combes. Having worked at Sopra Steria for nearly 18 years, he has enriched our thinking with his experience and expertise, developing each pillar that can help consulting companies adapt to the challenges that await them and that will enable them to accompany their clients in what we might call "the world after".

Anticipating trends

Consulting firms must be aware of trends and potential client needs upstream of an assignment. Roland emphasises the fact that it is essential to be able to advise the client before the client asks. To do this, it is essential to be up to date with the latest technological innovations with continuous information monitoring. The need to advise customers taking these innovations into account is a question of survival: if companies are unable to keep up with technical developments and help their customers in this shift, they will be out of date: this is therefore a necessity. As Roland says "in the consulting world, you don't have to follow or be at the same level: you have to be ahead of the innovation". Moreover, given the enormous amount of data collected, we will have to learn how to handle it in the right way. Without becoming mathematicians or computer scientists, consultancy firms and especially consultants will have to acquire fundamental knowledge. Without mastering these key concepts, companies will be overwhelmed.

Collaborative work

The 21st century has seen the development of the collaborative economy. Benefiting many players, this trend has proved its worth and has spread to consulting firms. Indeed, this collaborative aspect has greatly accelerated and generalised over the last ten years. Let's take the example of Sopra Steria: the company has set up a technical innovation department with the implementation of “digifabs” and “digilabs” available to clients. On the one hand, the digifabs allow users to make models in collaborative spaces, on the other hand, the digilabs allow customers, via showrooms, to go and see the services and solutions brought by Sopra Steria to other client companies. As a result, the implementation of collaborative work brings added value by allowing the various stakeholders to benefit from these synergies. As a result, clients benefit from additional services in addition to Sopra Steria's current missions.

Relations with the various stakeholders

Consultancy firms are faced with a twofold problem: on the one hand, the intensification of competition and, on the other hand, the increasing demands of the market. As Roland points out, "customer requirements have tripled or quadrupled, which is not the case with the price of services". Demands have increased on features such as performance, cyber security and timing. In order to meet these demands, it has become all the more essential to take care of relations with the various market players. Firstly, the sustainability of relationships with customers: it is no longer a question of providing a simple consultancy service, but of supporting them over the long term. Roland insists on the fact that "we are no longer talking about subcontractors or consultants, but about partners". Secondly, collaboration with other consulting firms, which allows them to benefit from complementary skills. Large firms can benefit from the niche expertise or agility of smaller firms, for example, or on the contrary, smaller firms can take advantage of the strike force and the ability to take on responsibility of large companies. As Roland points out, "we should not be one against the other but one with the other".

The ability to show agility

In today's era, it is a necessity for firms and consulting companies to be agile. Partnership plans, training, watchfulness: these are all things that leading-edge consulting firms put in place to be always in tune with the times in which they are evolving. Our contact person assures us that at Sopra Steria, projects are destined to last longer but will never be restarted from scratch if modifications are requested by the client: they will transform them as they go along so that the evolution is coordinated with the client's desires and needs. The transformation projects are stored in the cloud by Amazon, Google, etc). Agility is going to be a very important part of the equation, and consulting firms will have no choice but to be agile in order to make projects evolve according to their clients' needs...

Changes in the recruitment of consultant profiles

Digitalisation is having a considerable impact on the human resources policies of consultancy firms. Recruitment is a real challenge. What type of profile should be hired? Young graduates from business schools specialising in consulting? Or young graduates from engineering schools, capable of working with cutting-edge technologies? This interview with Roland has given us the beginnings of an answer. Indeed, the trend is striking: consulting companies are recruiting more and more numerical profiles, and this is no coincidence. Indeed, it is this type of profile that will support consultants with a more "classic" background (engineer/manager or business school). Digitalisation presents a challenge for consultancy firms: that of improving collaboration between these two types of consultants, whose complementarity will make it possible to meet the challenges of digitalisation. In addition to the so-called purely technical skills of these consultants, other personal skills will be very important in order to meet the new challenges of the sector. According to Roland Combes: "Tomorrow's consultants will have to listen to the world and be at the cutting edge of demand". Clearly, our generation must not rely on the fundamental knowledge we have because it is never enough in a world where new technologies are transforming business models at a speed no one could have imagined. More than ever before, we will therefore need to demonstrate a genuine intellectual curiosity that will enable us to better understand this world full of change and innovation.


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