To understand disruption in the consulting and services industry as result of rapid digital transformation needs, one must first consider some broader scale changes. 50 years ago, the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company was about 60 years. In 2010, this average life expectancy was only 18 years. Best estimates suggest that by 2020 three-quarters of today’s Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist.

Factors influencing this shift include widespread access to technology; increasing customer expectations, driven by the native digital experiences customers can, and do, access daily; a spike in competition from digitally-native companies that move swiftly to meet client needs. Many companies today that partner with digital transformation consulting firms is approaching the challenge from a different angle — understanding the customer’s digital transformation journey, and promoting a culture of innovation to survive in a constantly changing business climate.

As a result, the focus of consulting engagements is shifting. Companies who succeed are no longer IT-centric — they’re customer-centric. Disruptive consulting companies are scoping engagements by synthesizing business objectives, user needs, design, and technology — a union of the fast-paced, creative innovation seen in Silicon Valley startups to the rigorous analytical and strategic frameworks of traditional consulting.

Focusing on the user

Disruptive consulting companies begin the process of understanding the “user,” whether an individual customer or an employee using an internal product or platform. They help businesses develop personas, lead with user motivations and needs, create customer journeys and find ways to optimize and simplify their journeys through digital technology. Disruptive consulting companies operating under the realm of digital transformation don’t just look to the touch points they control but seek to understand how their relationship with customers fits into hundreds of other interactions and thoughts the customer experiences on any given day.

Where innovative digital transformation meets traditional business

Disruptive consultants also understand how their Fortune 500 clients differ from startups that may face the same customer journey. In acknowledging that long-standing companies will have legacy systems, complex operational workflows and large teams with distributed subject matter expertise, disruptive consulting companies combine user-centric front-end innovation with back-end expertise, in the process simplifying workflows and synthesizing data structures and systems.

Platforms

In the past, consulting companies have relied on in-person readouts and power-point slide ‘decks’ to provide their services. These static outputs are often outdated within weeks of their distribution and are no longer sufficient in a constantly changing digital environment. How does an enterprise incorporate a fresh technological development or the arrival of a disruptive startup that arrives weeks after the engagement is over?

Disruptive consulting must leverage cloud technologies and adaptive approaches in their delivery. Digital transformation consulting firms using platforms can provide real-time flexible information that clients can manipulate, adjust, and strengthen even after the engagement readouts are concluded. As soon as a new technology arrives it can be incorporated into roadmaps or user journeys via the live platform.

This also gives consulting companies the advantage of having a continuous point of contact with their clients, allowing for more informed up-selling that results in wins for both parties.

Designing agile new processes

Disruptive consultants respond to the unique needs and hallmarks of Fortune 500 companies by designing new processes meant to capture the innovative customer-centricity of design thinking and the interactive adaptability of agile design and development, while making them accessible to large companies with distributed subject matter expertise. Examples of this process include rapid prototyping, digital co-creation, and even overnight hackathons. These methods enable traditional companies to imagine, test, evolve and socialize concepts, which allows them to move rapidly from whiteboard ideas to funding, design, development and going live in the market.

The structure of these consulting engagements is evolving to match the accelerated innovation of startups as well. Companies disrupting consulting are replacing standard long-form engagements with smaller agile ones. These engagements are focused on results, iteratively achieving the incremental success that culminates in products, programs, and strategies that will have a major impact on the client’s business.

Providing cross-industry skills

Another attribute of companies disrupting consulting is a cross-industry “innovation best practices” approach. In traditional consulting, an industry-specific approach or subject matter expertise is applied to each engagement. However, new advances in technology and user experience design have made it clear that certain effective models can be replicated, regardless of industry, to drive meaningful user experiences and positive business outcomes. The result is those disruptive consulting companies are no longer expert in any one field or industry, but instead are constantly attuned to successful business models, user experiences, and technology implementations across industries, and are prepared to reinforce these insights for clients in unexpected ways.

The days of semi-informed opinions and tangentially relevant experience being the foundation for consultants’ recommendations is behind us. The availability of modern data collection and analytics across all industries and business silos demands a more quantitative approach to consulting. Any modern recommendations and business strategy must be built on more than interviews and workflow charts – it must use digital to obtain analytics and back up recommendations with hard analysis. Data from social channels, web analytics, internet of things, customer experience interactions, consumer trends, and more must all be incorporated into a quantitative benchmark for clients. This benchmark can then be supplemented with necessary qualitative analysis to provide complete and defensible recommendations to clients.

In synthesizing all of this, consultants have re-imagined their processes, teams, structures, and output to be in line with the latest challenges faced by Fortune 500 clients. Following their own design-thinking approach, these disruptive consultants will continue to evolve by listening to and understanding the needs of their users (clients bridging industries) and deliberately designing consulting engagements and experiences that meet these needs.