What makes you stand out as a ‘Digital Consultant’?
Despite the growing number of digital consultant platforms, I was surprised to see how little understanding there seems to be of what a digital consultant is or does.
Simplistically defined, a digital consultant helps clients to know how, where and why their businesses should exist digitally. But it is more complex than that.
I liked a Deloitte job description, which explained the role of a digital consultant is to "Develop disruptive solutions and state-of-the-art processes for clients in an environment where the worlds of business, creativity, and technology intersect."
It might be useful to clarify what we mean by digital, starting with the differences between digitization, digitalization, and digital transformation. It may seem purely semantic to distinguish between these terms, but understanding them helps separate some of the activities that might be undertaken by digital consultants. These concepts are obviously closely related, and one will quite often give rise to the next.
What is digitization?
Digitization is the conversion of analog to digital and is also sometimes referred to as process transformation.
It is about the implementation of technology and is generally concerned with optimizing processes – e.g., work automation and reducing paper. The goal is to lower costs, reduce cycle times, or improve quality and customer experience. Online banking or shopping are good examples. Websites and Facebook pages have replaced traditional marketing. Blockchain has radically changed supply chain processes where tracking and verification are done in minutes rather than days or weeks.
In essence, your business remains the same, but you have optimized sections of it through technology.
What digital consultant skills are needed?
Generally, the essential skills here are technical. The consultants who will stand out will be those with high levels of experience and expertise who also stay up to date with new technologies and digital innovations. They should also clearly define their niche – for instance, procurement optimization, e-commerce, advertising strategies, growth strategies, and the like.
Typical educational qualifications will be in ICT, Commerce, Marketing, or Engineering.
The best-known role in digitization is that of digital marketing consultant. Many of the definitions of a digital consultant are really about digital marketing only. Digital marketing knows how best to connect a company's brand with customers through social media, web and mobile environments, and omnichannel commerce. An important skill is the use of data analytics to determine a company's marketing performance. All of these can be specialized areas of expertise for digital experts.
What is digitalization?
Digitalization is "the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business." (Gartner's glossary)
Two types of fundamental change can result: business model transformation and domain transformation. There is a place for digital experts in both, and this is where the "worlds of business, creativity, and technology intersect," as described in the Deloitte job description.
Business model transformation
Business model transformation happens when technology fundamentally changes how value is delivered in an industry. For example, Kodak learned to its cost that customers preferred digital cameras to the old film versions. Netflix changed the way videos were distributed, and Uber and Airbnb transformed the taxi and hospitality industries.
Platforms are transforming business models. For example, the traditional consulting world is being disrupted by the rise of freelance consulting platforms, digital consultant platforms, and the online consulting marketplace.
Platforms have existed in the past – malls have linked consumers and merchants, and newspapers have connected advertisers and subscribers. But technology makes this much easier, and platforms introduce other players in an ecosystem of cooperative partners rather than a network. The most typical example is how developers have been able to link with the Apple platform via the App Store. The platform's primary purpose might have been to sell iPhones, but it has grown its sales and its customers by making the apps of its external partners an integral part of its model.
What digital consultant skills are needed?
An essential skill for digital consultants is realizing that they don't have to be the technical experts at everything. The digital consultants who will stand out are those who can create ecosystems of sources of technology and can reach and leverage this innovation to benefit their clients.
What is digital transformation?
Digital transformation is about people rather than technology. It is also called cultural or organizational transformation.
The economy has shifted due to digitalization, and companies now need to develop new capabilities and have new infrastructure in place. Different mindsets and skills are required to support these changes. Although hard technical skills are a requirement, they are easily and quickly outdated. Increasingly the skills needed are the soft skills of adaptability, curiosity, and flexibility. (These skills are required by both company employees and any digital expert brought in from outside.)
The success of digital transformation is also leadership-driven – research shows that up to 50% of the variability in group or unit performance can be directly attributed to the individual leader. Successful technology transformation, therefore, requires top leadership talent. It also requires that digital consultants work with the top echelons within companies.
Digital Consultant Platforms
Clients are no longer looking just for pure strategy or business implementation – they want strategic technology. They want consultants who can build applications, implement technologies, manage and analyze data, and provide advanced insights and actionable outcomes. They are looking for consultants who embody the technological characteristics that they are hoping to achieve in their companies.
Traditional consulting firms have to play catch-up, convert their legacy systems, and set up digital practices. They are hiring fewer MBAs and more developers.
Digital Consultant Platforms, on the other hand, are well-placed to deliver what clients want. They bring together digital experts and companies needing assistance on their digital journeys. Freelance digital consultants on these platforms can create technical ecosystems and collaborate in formal and informal ways to deliver full solutions, thus competing with the largest traditional firms.
The Future of Digital Consulting
Despite an enormous surge in the introduction of new technologies as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns, there is still a long way to go to transform companies into digital entities.
Digital experts are optimally poised to tap into the vast amount of work that is undoubtedly on the horizon if they have honed their skills and become part of technical ecosystems by aligning themselves with digital consultant platforms.