Future State Market Shifts
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”  – Charles Darwin

I recently read that BART, when it was originally built in the 1960s, was supposed to carry about 700,000 commuters a week. Now the average number of commuters is 1.5 million PER DAY. Change is inevitable. You can either embrace it and thrive or ignore it and fade into irrelevance. Like it or not, there is no in between.

The Bay Area is the heart of technological progress, pumping innovation outward to every corner of the world. Here, technological adoption must be implemented fast and it must be implemented holistically across an entire organization if it is to remain relevant and competitive.
Recently, Future State held a panel event with a diverse group of business leaders from the Bay Area consulting world to discuss how changes are manifesting for them, and what it means for the consulting industry in general.

An Industry in Flux

To open our panel, our moderator, Leila Lance, Future State’s CSO, asked panelists what they saw as the most impactful technological changes in the Bay Area consulting world – an important opening question that allowed us to jump right into the heart of the conversation.
Jeanne Urich, Managing Director of Service Performance Insight said that, in 2016, professional consulting, an industry with a history of economic resilience, saw its first market dip since the Great Recession. Professional Services consulting revenue growth dropped from 10% to 9%. To an outsider, a 1% drop in revenue growth may not seem like much. However, when we’re dealing with a multi-billion dollar industry, one percent is no laughing matter.
Keep reading on to learn how to stay ahead of the curve. 

The Age of Digital Consulting

Another major trend that came up during the course of the discussion is the new standard of “global organizations.” This portion of our discussion was led by two of our panelists, Deb Roemer, VP of Business Development at Sigma Technologies USA, and Julie Cecilio, Senior Director of Global Field and Partner Readiness at VMware.
Because technology has made the world so small, everyone is playing on a global field these days.
Technology keeps us all in constant connection; virtual workplaces are becoming the norm. Almost any professional services work can be done from anywhere in the world. While this virtualization makes for more convenient lives, it also poses the question, if you can do your job from anywhere in the world, why couldn’t that work be outsourced to a country with lower cost rates, such as India or Eastern Europe?
Companies are always trying to save money and outsourcing work can be a great way to do just that. The rates for consultants in the Bay Area, although they’ve remained relatively flat for the past decade, are still among the highest in the country. It seems to be the consensus of our panel members that in order to save money but still get the expertise needed for high level professional service work, a blended rate employment model is the future state of a delivery team.

The World’s Moving Faster…Can you keep Up?

The age of technology that we live in demands speed. The world is moving faster. People and organizations are adapting to change faster. Our definitions of what “good” looks like is changing. In a world of exponential progress, a world where what students learn in their first year of college may become irrelevant by the time they graduate, one can only move the needle so far on a project before something new and better comes along.
Our panelists all agreed that gone are the days of massive, inflexible projects. Professional service projects are now more segmented and milestones are assessed quarter-over-quarter. We’re seeing projects broken down this way both because of the rapid experimentation/execution paradigm, as modeled in methodologies such as Agile or SCRUM, and also by the budgets of company departments that are now only one quarter long. The need to show rapid ROI on these projects is of utmost importance. 
So, how do managers, directors and C-level workers implement long, lasting change? One quarter at a time. This has an immediate consequence for project management:
Projects need to have smaller scopes designed with quarterly deadlines. And, even in this time frame, circumstances may dictate the need for intra-quarter pivots.
How do you know when it’s time for a change? Is such change dictated by the ‘gut feeling’ of the highest paid person in the room? Not anymore. Now we must rely on clean data, both quantitative and qualitative, in order to understand the the directions of our pivots, both large and small.
More and more traditional marketing departments are being augmented with Growth Marketers and Data Scientists. The agile methodology requires a highly scientific, empirical method of decision-making in order to work effectively. And that methodology requires data.
But data isn’t simple. Anyone who’s looked at enough spreadsheets will tell you that. And, nowadays, data collection has become so granular and ubiquitous that analyzing it using “old school” methodologies such as the spreadsheet is no longer an option. It would be like counting the grains of sand on a beach by putting them into a large jar – practically impossible and jarringly frustrating (pun intended). Thus, embracing new methods of data collection and data analysis is a necessary step for any organization that wants to survive the changing tide.
The collection of large quantities of data and the establishment of proprietary databases bring new issues in cybersecurity to the surface. It is no longer a question of whether your organization needs to embrace cutting edge cybersecurity practices – it is now a question of how fast you can do it. A leak in data will not only be a hit to your organization’s competitive advantage, it also leaves you open to lawsuits if that leaked data contains sensitive user information.
Given this new reality, Future State is directing resources to implementing best practices for the collection, storage, sharing, analysis and protection of organizational data in an age of rapid technological progress.

The Consultant of the Future

Rates for consulting have pretty much remained flat for 20 years. In some places, they are actually shrinking because of global solutions and blended rates. Gone are the days of the $250/hour and above rates for most people. In terms of talent, you have to be relevant. And to be relevant, you have to embrace the workforce demand for new skills – right now those skills involve digital marketing, data competency and cyber security. But as we’ve discovered, in this day and age, the definition of a relevant skill set is volatile – it can change at any second depending on the current technological paradigm.
Thus, the superior consultant’s skills must follow the market and adapt to its twists and turns.  To do that, a consultant needs the underlying context of market trends and they need to be able to work within the variable parameters of their particular markets.
When I’m hiring consultants, I need to be able to see that adaptability reflected on their resumes and their approaches to projects. Forget being a change manager – become a change leader.

Technology Empowers Us, Relationships Define Us

Although we live in a fast paced world where it can feel like computers matter more than people, we must not forget that to get to our desired future state, we need more than ever to foster human connection. As Shoeb Shaikh, President of the Association of Change Management NorCal said “Creating strong relationships and following those relationships is key. 
The reality is, that even in a tech-centric world,  it’s the powers of relationships that will define us and level the playing field against any Big 4, Big 5 or Big whatever. Now the Big “X” isn’t going away, but relationships come with certain standards, and first impressions are everything. Being clear on your value proposition and unique offerings is required to seal the deal. Remember, it’s who you know that gets the conversation started, but it’s what you know that brings you back.

Embracing The Challenge

To drive tangible impact you must be nimble, define vision, and embrace an iterative process informed by clean & secure data. Concurrently, a great consultant never forgets that fostering meaningful human relationships is, and always will be, central to the global consulting paradigm. Stay holistic, stay adaptable and stay up to date with Future State. We have a blog for that – check it out here.