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Consulting 4.0 Sia Partners’ new growth strategy redesigns the profession of the consultant

In the past decades there have always been disruptive technologies that helped change the activities of the consultants. The era before and after the internet, the period before and after Google, industry specific developments like assessing data from sensor technologies (IoT), and app ‘developments’ for mobile workforce with the rise of the smart phone. In April 2015 the Harvard Business Review presented a document sponsored by Microsoft about The Digital Transformation of Businesses. It stated 4 megatrends that fundamentally changes companies, businesses and how people are working individually and together in teams; 1) cloud computing 2) social media 3) big data and 4) mobile.

Those four industrial megatrends are still very much alive. However, they have been complemented with some other technological advancements like Robotics Process Automation (RPA), data science and more specifically artificial intelligence applications that can have such an impact on the work-floor and the daily lives of people, we can only conclude this is a fundamental change. How the life of a normal citizen can look like in the near future is very nicely depicted in the recent article of the Harvard Business Review, of March 2018 on Artificial Intelligence applications ‘Marketing in the Age of Alexa’. [1]

THE AUTONOMOUS CAR dropped Lori at her home and then left for its scheduled service at the dealership. It would be back in time to take her to the airport the next morning. On the way into her house, Lori gathered the drone deliveries from the drop box on her stoop. The familiar voice of Eve, a next-generation smart assistant like Alexa, greeted her in the foyer and gently reminded her of the travel plans for her upcoming conference in LA. Lori hadn’t bothered to learn the details, since Eve had taken care of finding the best flight, seat, and hotel room that her company’s expense policy would allow. As she unpacked her grocery delivery, Lori saw that Eve had adjusted her weekly purchases, omitting perishables and adding travel-size toiletries and sunblock. Calculating that Lori was running low on detergent (and aware she’d be coming home with laundry to do), the bot had ordered more but switched to a new, less expensive brand that was getting good consumer reviews. And, knowing that Lori wouldn’t want to cook, it had arranged for her favorite takeout to be delivered upon her return.

So imagine the fundamental change that will happen on the work-floor. Any consultant needs to understand this in order to keep performing. In one of our assignments we have been working on a bot that helps clean data before it is actually processed for analytics purposes which improves the quality and effectiveness of the work of the data scientist on the same assignment. An augmented data cleaning exercise. We see in many of our client assignments the requirement to work smarter and eliminate as much repetitive or routine activities as possible. Preferring a smart and lazy consultant capable of improving the process over a hard working routine seeking professional?

What have we done in our company?

Early this year we announced the new growth and innovation strategy Consulting 4.0. Not since the company was founded in 1999 has such a fundamental strategic direction been made. A direction that will involve investments in different domains; technology, companies (start-ups mainly), hiring of expertise personnel and training of the installed base of consultants. It is occurring at a speed that Sia Partners has not experienced before. Mainly because technological developments have accelerated over the years.

Consulting 4.0 is fundamentally different from traditional consulting because with all new and upcoming technological innovations the impact to the consulting profession is enormous. Technology can enhance the analytical and intellectual capacity of people in order to improve the performance of the consultant on his assignment. We are speaking about a cognitive leap.

It also has its impact on any consultancy’s business model(s), how its business is run (operating model) and how people in their corporation work with each other (way of working). We believe that those consultancies that have the ability to develop this cognitive leap by adopting the right enabling technologies in the right client cases, will be the winners for the future.

We have designed a training program for our consultants with the objective to develop them towards the augmented consultant 4.0. In order to succeed three elements will be important:

  • The ability to select and find the right client cases: The strength of our expertise should not only reside in technology (like RPA, blockchain, data science, ...) but also in the ability to make a translation to the right client cases. Will it be an adoption to optimize a process, or to create something new, to predict better or to be able to make better decisions.
  • Reusability of the knowledge domain of a client case: Once a right client case has been identified, it will be important to not only show the strength of this new augmented approach, but also to build a knowledge domain from it which can be quickly adopted for other client cases. Reusability of both obtained knowledge and applied technology is one of the key elements in consulting 4.0.
  • Scalability: Ability to scale within the client sector or even outside will be one of the new capabilities that requires development. Though man is not easily ‘scalable’, machines or bots are. Not only because of ‘technical’ features, also because a machine can operate 24/7. This is the essence of the cognitive leap we develop with the augmented consultant.

Within Sia Partners an innovative eco-system has evolved over the past few years. Investments in an innovative eco-system are mandatory in order to be able to ‘drive and thrive’ Consulting 4.0. To mention some main pillars of our eco-system: 1) we have a technology lab with expertise in IoT, RPA, chat-bot technologies, ... 2) a Data Science excellence center consisting of around 50 data scientists and lab technology 3) digital platforms like collaborative and productivity tools, MOOC’s, a design thinking Lab..) 4) developed offerings in the area of digital transformation (like digital trends observatory, digital due diligence, data monetization..) 5) set up of an incubator Studio now having three participations in start-ups, and lastly 6) an Ideation team which helps train and nurture the innovation culture within our company.

Each of the pillars are represented by a dedicated team of consultants that is committed to bring Sia to this next exciting stage of ‘augmented consulting’.

In the coming years we will develop bots for different client cases and we will monitor how many and for what purposes they are developed. Our data science excellence center developed lab-technologies that support the data analytics activities in different industry segments. There is for example an Energy Lab environment, an analytics (Lab) tool supporting for the Insurance sector a.o.

Now how can we keep ourselves up to date?

The speed of entry of new technologies and innovations has increased to the extent that it is impossible for the average consultant to absorb. In my opinion the skills to be developed should not be related to technology only. We should train to develop a basic understanding to be able to identify possible application areas of new technologies. How the cognitive leap will be able to help

you stand out from the mass. Every consultant should develop this capability and one could speak about the augmented DNA of the consultant. Of course in addition to ‘learning to apply’, each consultant should focus on one or two expertise areas in this new Consulting 4.0 landscape as we call it within Sia Partners.

For example we have identified data scientists with skills on the programming side and those with a focus on organization and capability building, we have identified also RPA professionals with a technical and with process design oriented skills, and we have blockchain experts and data prediction experts.

Lastly, as mentioned in the success factors of designing a Consulting 4.0 working environment, the company has to learn how to reuse and scale its client cases. According to us this is the leadership challenge. From an organizational design perspective workforces should be established that work across the typical hierarchy of the company. The more agile the company becomes in adopting the right ‘augmented consulting’ approach, the better it is capable to reuse and scale!

It brings forward also the potential to change the traditional business model from per hour charging to subscriptions for a service on an identified domain. Already many articles have been published on this topic; we recommend to read the recently published book ‘Muurtje Factuurtje’ from our business partner Jan van de Poll, or with a free translation in English ‘Consulting from the Tab’.

An employee in any company can be viewed as a ‘consultant’. We believe that the process we are undergoing applies to any (innovative) company. Designing an innovative ecosystem like we have done within Sia Partners is a challenge for many. With our expertise we are certain we can contribute to any company with innovative ambition to achieve its next level of performance.

About the Author

Robert Jan van Vliet is Partner within Sia Partners, leading the Dutch Energy & Utilities team and responsible for the office Sia Partners Netherlands. Before he has worked for Accenture in the Energy & Utilities domain and has been General Manager for a consulting firm in Energy related services with 35 employees.


[1] Harvard Business Review, Agile at Scale, 2018 

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