Metaverse, NFT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, web 4.0, virtual reality, Robotics, IoT, digital marketing, and Blockchain are terms that are getting more common. We are living in an area where the digital economy is growing at a much faster rate than the real economy. Therefore, it is not surprising that the use of digital consulting is rapidly increasing in this world of digital-first experience and widespread automation. And, this is expected to keep increasing at an exponential speed considering the fast growth of data and the introduction of new technologies.
But what is digital consulting? How does the work of a digital consultant differ from the work of a management consultant? How to become a digital consultant? And what kind of firm to work for? This article aims to answer these, and many more questions to give you a better understanding of digital consulting. Also, it might help you decide whether you want to become a digital consultant.
- What Is Digital Consulting?
- Which Clients Need Digital Consultants?
- What Value Do Digital Consultants Add to Clients?
- What Is the Future of Digital Consulting?
- What Do Digital Consultants Do?
- How to Become a Digital Consultant?
- Which Firms to Work for as a Digital Consultant?
- Digital Consultancy Firm (e.g. Accenture):
- Traditional Management Consultancy Firm (e.g. MBB):
- In-house Strategy Consulting:
- About the Author
Digital consulting can be considered as a specialized subset of traditional management consulting where data and technology are at the core of strategic development. Digital consulting is a focused form of management consulting designed to enable firms to better leverage their technology and data to enhance their business value. Digital consulting seeks to inform and enable decision-makers so they can navigate the rapidly evolving technology landscape and create a digital strategy that generates immediate and long-term value.
Due to the rapid pace of the technology space, the approach of digital consulting projects is usually more lean and agile than traditional management consulting projects. For these reasons, the pace of traditional management consulting can often allow organizations to fall behind the innovation curve, rendering many strategies moot.
Digital consulting ranges from strategy consulting on digital topics such as cloud computing and digital marketing to the implementation of these technical projects. The focus of this article is on digital strategy consulting.
A digital strategy is the core outcome of digital consulting work. The strategy is often best defined as a series of roadmaps that are built upon many individual analyses where the digital consultants evaluate various aspects of the business, technology, and operational needs. More specifically, a digital strategy could consist of a data strategy, a cloud strategy, or a technology strategy.
As more and more clients are digitalizing their business in one way or another, the list of clients that you could work for as a digital consultant is extensive. To list a few general examples of industries where digital consultants can add value:
- Digital consultants can help companies in their digital journey by making a digital strategy that includes the use of cloud and machine learning to provide data-driven personalized marketing.
- Healthcare: Digital consultants can create a digital strategy that includes the use of digital twins for complicated surgeries.
- Financial services: Digital consultants can support all types of financial service providers to ensure the safety of their data and the data of their customers by having a strong strategy in place that supports the development and maintenance of a safe and secure system that can prevent outside attacks from happening, e.g. cyber-attacks.
Some people claim that digital consultants are only for medium or enterprise businesses, but also small businesses can largely benefit from this. Businesses could bootstrap a specific vertical and try to differentiate by trying to scale horizontally, aiming for a new niche, or trying to penetrate a new market space.
Digital is not the only field that is constantly changing. The influence of social media, the fast-changing competitive landscape, and the constant emergence of innovations force companies to stay relevant and up-to-date. Digital consulting serves can help achieve this.
Many firms have highly talented employees such as designers, marketers, developers, DevOps engineers, PR employees. All of them have their goals and probably a strategy. But, it can be challenging to find the right fit to combine these ideas, goals, and strategies, to make everyone work together as one company with one vision. This can especially be difficult considering the fast-paced digitalization, the introduction of new technologies, and the enhanced importance of innovation. Both to provide a safe, secure, and relevant product as well as to keep up with competitors.
Digital consultants can help companies achieve short-term goals and align these with the strategy of the firm's long-term development. Some of the benefits that digital consultants can bring are:
- They bring broad and diverse industry expertise to similar digital projects
- They provide and set a high-end digital strategy that is well integrated into the rest of the organization
- They provide cost-effective mentorship and can amplify the client’s brand through their network
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With data growing faster than ever before, the future of technology is expected to get more interesting every day. Companies are incentivized to use new technologies and leverage machine learning algorithms as they can help achieve their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), e.g. by reducing costs, increasing revenue, and enhancing impact. But, also the ethical discussions regarding new technologies such as machine learning algorithms are expected to increase.
The regulations are expected to get stricter. And, the requests of customers to respect their privacy might increase. All these changes make the future of digital strategy consulting interesting. If all organizations were structured in an optimal way to facilitate data and analytics, if they all have the right data and analytics policies and processes in place and if the only future concern would have been to implement new technologies then the job of digital strategy consultants would not exist or at least it would have been a lot less interesting. Luckily, all these new technologies require digital strategy consultants to design industry-relevant reinventions that allow organizations to realize exceptional business value from technology.
Digital Strategy Consultants help businesses apply, improve, reimagine, and re-innovate digital technologies to business models to produce new business capabilities. They define the methodology used to create new competitive advantages. This means that digital strategy consultants connect the entire business strategy to implementation across digital fields.
Difference between digital strategy consultants and management consultants
Management consultants provide a holistic strategy to help businesses to reach their goals. Digital strategy consultants focus on technologies. Management consultants could therefore look at the entire business, whereas digital strategy consultants would focus on an area of the business that is digital or that could benefit from a digital solution.
The work of management consultants and digital strategy consultants is fairly similar, both will spend the majority of the time providing solutions to complex business problems. Also, at both, you are expected to have meetings with the C-suite executives. A difference could be that a digital strategy consultant is in closer contact with the implementation team.
To become a digital consultant you need to be able to work in a structured way and be able to build a good approach, you need to know various aspects of the digital world and you need to be able to understand the client’s needs and offer the right solution.
Many digital consultants have both a technical and business background. A classic example is someone that did a technical bachelor’s degree, obtained technical work experience, and then realized that he/she rather work as a management consultant. Depending on the background of this person, he/she can try to apply directly for a position as a digital consultant or first obtain a relevant master’s degree or MBA. Another option could be someone with a business background who tried to specialize in business analytics/data science or a similar field during their minor/major and/or work experience. There are many options to become a digital consultant, but having a business understanding, understanding of digital technologies and the ability to work in a structured way is relevant to becoming a digital consultant.
Relevant skills and qualifications
Many skills of digital consultants are similar to the relevant skills of traditional management consultants, such as:
- University degree from a prestigious university
- Relevant leadership experience
- Analytical skills
- High problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills
But, as a digital consultant the importance of having relevant digital expertise and being eager to keep up with new technologies. A few relevant skills/qualifications could be:
- University degree in a digital field, e.g. data science, digital marketing, or artificial intelligence
- Cloud certification of one or several providers, e.g. Azure, AWS, and/or GCP
- (Work) experience related to technology
Digital strategy consultants could consider freelance, or working for one of the many firms out there looking for digital consultants. You could consider working as an in-house digital strategy consultant for a large firm, e.g. a retail company. Or for a consultancy firm, ranging from a boutique, a traditional management consultancy firm, or a digital consultancy firm.
- Advantage: Everything in the firm is related to digital ranging from online training (e.g. about metaverse), to clients and projects. Also, these firms have often close relationships with digital providers like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. Furthermore, most fellow colleagues will have an interest in digital which can boost your knowledge and your career. If the firm also does implementation then this might also help you boost your knowledge.
- Disadvantage: Even though the learning opportunities on the topic of digital can be great, the focus on traditional management consultancy skills can be less depending on the firm. Furthermore, the employee benefits can be lower than some traditional management consultancy firms.
- Advantage: Working for the MBB brings many advantages such as learning opportunities and employee benefits.
- Disadvantage: Even though you might have interesting training worldwide, the focus on technology innovations can be missing. Also, usually as a digital strategy consultant, you might be part of the digital practice, this could mean that you would be treated differently than traditional management consultants, e.g. the compensation and benefits could be different.
- Advantage: If you have a strong interest in one specific company and you want to grow your career in this firm. Then it could be great to start working as a digital strategy consultant in this firm as you will be able to learn a lot about the different departments of this company.
- Disadvantage: Even though you work as a management consultant, exit opportunities can be more challenging than of consulting firms. Also, you will only be working in one industry which might limit your learning and growth potential.
- Advantage: Flexibility is probably the biggest advantage when working as a freelancer, and your salary is in your own hands. If you like it, then it is great that you can do everything from a to z, from business development, sales, and the strategy to potentially the implementation.
- Disadvantage: It might be more challenging to find people to learn from, and you probably need to put in more effort in non-digital consulting aspects such as sales. Furthermore, it might be challenging to find large clients to work with.
The use of digital consulting is rapidly increasing in the world of digital-first experience and widespread automation. Clients are reaching out to consultants to help them get an understanding of the new digital technologies and to be part of the change. And, this is expected to keep increasing at an exponential speed considering the fast growth of data and the constant appearance of new technologies.
Therefore, consultancy firms are constantly looking for smart individuals that are eager to learn and that can help clients in their digital transformation. For these individuals, it is important to be aware of relevant digital trends. In addition to this, it is important to show the ability to learn and adapt to changes as it is highly important for consultants to stay ahead of all new technologies as they are the ones that help clients to be frontrunners. Working for a traditional consulting firm is not the only way to work as a digital consultant e.g. one can also freelance.
The work of traditional management consultants and digital strategy consultants is similar, however, I would say that the work of a digital strategy consultant is much more diverse and challenging. Note that the CV selection and the case interviews are generally different from traditional management consulting. Therefore, make sure that your CV is targeted to a role as a digital strategy consultant and that you practice relevant digital cases in preparation for your case interviews!
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Sharona Boonman is a digital strategy consultant at Accenture. She has a background as a data scientist but shifted her career to management consultant on digital topics after she realized the importance of this field to clients. She is passionate about machine learning, marketing analytics, and future tech.