We are dealing with a strange occurrence in the consultancy industry. The consultants must continue advising their clients to invest in digital transformation.

These companies' adjustments are mostly superficial, and every second consultant acknowledges that the digital strategy has yet to help them land additional clients. This acknowledgment prompts us to conclude that the consulting industry still has to improve its use of modern technology.

The benefit of digital transformation in consulting firms

"No business success without digitalization" has long been the mantra of consulting professionals. Digitalization is a necessity, as consulting firms benefit significantly from it. It enables them to identify options in business fields and possible organizational structure quickly changes for their clients. In addition, digitalization accelerates the implementation of strategic decisions.

When asked about digital transformation's benefits, the consultants' most popular answer was innovation and business model change, followed by improved customer experience. In the next paragraphs, we will discuss different changes that digital transformation entails for consultancy businesses.

The Future of Consulting

The book Digital Transformation in Consulting Industry predicts that within the following years, consulting business and delivery models have to be re-designed and partly re-invented. Technology-based consulting solutions will inevitably gain more ground. This will result in the rise of the importance of IT and associated qualifications, and the war for talents in consulting will get even more challenging than today.

It is also foreseen that the competition will get more intense because of digitalization and decreasing customer loyalty. To meet the client's needs, the firms must be ready to integrate aspects of strategy-, process-, and IT consulting with design challenges. The clientele will expect the consulting services to be unbundled and more modularized, which is easier to purchase according to their specific requirements.

On the positive side of this disruption, there are new models, like crowdsourcing-supported or self-service consulting, new tools for data- and process mining, and the maturing of AI that allow the consulting providers to complement and optimize the existing service portfolios.

Benefits of AI and Automation for Consulting Businesses

If harnessed correctly, traditional consultancy firms have much to gain from new technologies. AI and automation could enhance how these firms operate and augment the number of services they provide.

The tangible benefits of AI and automation are clear. For most businesses, they mainly break down into three main benefits.

Data collection is the most significant and most apparent advantage of AI technology, its ability to process, handle and analyze massive amounts of data far more efficiently and faster than a human. This could provide more accurate insights into many business areas, including sales, operations, supply chain, etc.

Such information is precious for the consultants as it can augment their offerings and services and enhance clients' ROIs. This means that, on the one hand, AI and automation can help to consult firms to increase their own business, while, on the other hand, it helps them to deliver better results to their clients.

For example, information on sales channels, customer journeys, and client behavior provides marketers and consultants tasked with sales with the insights necessary to identify new opportunities and develop more effective strategies for advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, partners can use AI to streamline the delivery of projects and achieve more effective resourcing and prioritization in the process.

  • Streamlined admin tasks
    For a consultant, processing routine paperwork (client invoices, payrolls, progress reports, etc.) is the dullest part of the job. Apart from that, it takes up a considerable amount of time that could be put to better use to grow a client base or create new opportunities for the firm.
    As it happens, robots are much more efficient regarding routine admin tasks. Robotic process automation, also known as RPA, can help companies with many admin tasks. Consultants would gain in time by automating the creation and delivery of invoices and all the record-keeping. The high-end AI devices can even act as decision-makers as they can make more logical and consistent business decisions or ensure regulatory forms are completed to avoid non-compliance fines.
  • Improved productivity
    Streamlining day-to-day processes with financial software or removing responsibilities such as scheduling meetings, making restaurant reservations, recording conversations, etc., from junior staff members' workloads translates into higher engagement and productivity. Having more rewarding tasks on their plate will also motivate junior staff members.
    There are various tools available for consultants interested in automation to boost their operations and performance, for example, or If This Then That (ITTT), Google Drive, GSuite, MailChimp, etc.

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What about Automated Consulting Solutions?

Consulting services are famous for being expensive and far out of budget reach for many small and medium enterprises. However, the consulting market opens up with new digital tools as new automated, low-cost solutions surface.

Could this result in traditional consulting firms losing their clients? Not, as the segment of clients to reach out for an automated solution would have preferred a different firm in the first place.

Despite the predictions that self-service consulting will gain more ground thanks to new digital platforms, we have also heard skeptical proclamations such as "We'll have self-driving cars before we have self-driving marketing platforms." So the question remains: Where do we stand regarding automated consulting?

Automating consulting comes with its challenges. AI loves predictability, and today's markets aren't exactly known for that. Real-life conditions in digital marketing are very complex. Most of the time, there are many ways to judge business success (from customer loyalty, revenue generated, long-term growth, etc.) Which makes the process of getting there multifaceted and full of variables.

The second barrier to fully automated solutions is the need for a comprehensive repository of past consulting data. AIs do better after training with data from the past. Still, if there is little available, as different companies have dramatically different data storage practices and data management needs, AI has no way of developing its analytical skills.

We conclude that for a consulting AI to work, more than a highly comprehensive and flexible intelligence system is needed; it also has to incorporate fields outside of AI to solve the problems of unpredictable human behavior.

Tools for digital cooperation

Automation facilitates the everyday work of consultants: it makes teamwork more accessible, the preparation of information faster, and documentation and verification tasks less time-consuming. And it does not require costly or time-consuming investments: even simple digital tools such as Statista make everyday consulting work much more accessible. It supplements empirical knowledge with up-to-date facts and figures.

Many digital tools provide additional services and have been particularly useful during the COVID-19 crisis. As internal consultants, we are particularly good at pioneering these tools and then "whetting the appetite" for them throughout the corporation. Our teams, for example, were able to quickly get on with their work without any significant interruptions because they used modern video conferencing tools (Zoom), enterprise messengers, project management tools (Trello), and chat tools (Slack). These allowed them to continue their work despite home office and travel restrictions seamlessly. All consultants and client representatives have access to the same information. This makes communication more accessible, as everyone can look up any information anytime.

Other digital tools provide additional features for collaborative work, such as the brilliant cloud service Miro. It transfers familiar work tools, such as magnetic boards and moderation cards, to a virtual whiteboard. The tool facilitates teamwork and makes it possible to hold workshops with customers.

Long trips to the offices of client teams or business trips are, therefore, less necessary than they used to be. The many positive experiences with these tools have made it clear that digital collaboration is here to stay. It was especially us consultants, who usually travel halfway around the world, that were able to adapt to the digital world very quickly and continue our work with client teams.

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Finally, AI and automation have massive potential in the consulting industry. The consulting firms shouldn't pass on the excellent advice they give to their clients and up their digital game as soon as possible.

Even if there's still much work and research to be done regarding automated self-service consulting, all consulting firms should incorporate AI and automation into their processes at some level to grow their client base or increase customer loyalty through increased efficiency.

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