Digital transformation and networking are presenting fundamental challenges
Business enterprises, the economy, and society in general are witnessing a prolonged phase of sweeping change driven by digital transformation and penetrating networks, exacerbated by converging structures, systems, and technologies. Not only is this affecting core areas of industry and key sectors within manufacturing, it is also having an impact on the public sector and services. As a result, areas such as technology services, especially technology and management consulting, are also facing new and fundamental challenges. So what are the challenges of Technology and Management Consulting X.0? Dr. Michael Ortiz, project manager of the Steinbeis pilot project Expert Network X.0, examines this question.
The first thing that is happening is that customers in the market are becoming more unpredictable and convergence is taking place. The number of larger companies now setting up their own consulting departments and the number of SMEs providing staff with academic qualifications in order to acquire scientific management and technology know-how is resulting in more firms than ever managing strategic projects themselves and implementing them within the company. Whole areas of traditional consultant expertise are thus being internalized and the knowledge gaps between consultants and the customer are narrowing. Companies are more likely than they used to be to play an active role in strategy and technology initiatives, often buying in the specific support of external experts from a variety of sources. This is inching “preferred supplier” consultants and service providers into the wings, and demand is becoming less predictable. Companies now look for the whole spectrum of specialist knowledge in the field of digital technology and also want highly specialized technology expertise, implementation advice, and – in particular – business model development. As a result, management and technology consulting is also converging in such areas, as disciplines expand and intertwine, especially as a result of new technology.
The other thing that is happening in this changing demand market is that the role models are shifting and the areas in which technology and management consultants work are moving. These experts increasingly need to act as networkers, hub managers, and mediators, as well as pioneers, quick startup initiators, fail-cheap-and-fast idea testers, and experimenters. Networking skills and lab know-how are becoming a key USP.
As companies increasingly turn to premium-value, specific, and validated tools to push forward with their tech and strategy projects, they are continuously fueling demand for scientifically sound methods and digital consulting instruments. Developing and using such tools is becoming more essential as a service and consulting product, making it part of the business model in technology and management consulting.
Other areas are also converging, and this is affecting the overlaps between companies and consulting. More and more technological development is taking place within companies with the support of experts in digital transformation, strategy, and management. There are also noticeable convergences taking place between sales and tech and management consulting. As a result, more and more companies are engaging with networks themselves in an attempt to broaden their own expertise. They want to find platforms that match the requirements of the convergence they are witnessing, especially when it comes to interdisciplinary factors, flexibility, and the modularity implications of “batch sizes of one.” Examples of this in the Steinbeis Network include Micro Testbeds and the Expert Network X.0. The challenges these networks present as platforms is that they are particularly heterogeneous in terms of the parties involved, who come from companies, consulting firms, and other areas of science and academia. Such challenges include establishing a basis of trust, making up-front contributions without a clear indication that anything will come back in return (or not immediately), how to introduce completely new operating or business models with others, how to break up areas of a business that were previously protected internally to grant network partners access to these areas and get them involved, how to break down barriers (include mental ones), and how to collaborate with other businesses.
These changes and challenges represent a major parameter shift when it comes to market competition. But they offer advantages to companies working in technology and management consulting with an affinity for collaborative enterprise, especially if they possess the ability to develop networking skills and are effective networkers. Another decisive factor will be the ability to access business platforms, especially if they can be used as labs or experimentation chambers for new business models. Ultimately, important competitive advantage will lie in companies’ ability to develop their own consulting instruments (also with others) or gain access to such instruments.
One feature of the Steinbeis Network is that its structure promotes entrepreneurship and decentralized activity in small units, and this holds tremendous potential for the network in a competitive context. It can position itself as a highly specialized technology and management expert X.0. An essential element of this is the way the network is consistently seen (and turned to) as a platform of experimentation and lab testing, to explore new business concepts and models; the way the network is extending its perception of itself and the roles played by individuals in offering modular networking and collaboration competence; and the increasing tendency for consulting instruments to develop and dissipate, not only through head office but also away from the center of the organization.