I have had the good fortune of building a career in the professional services world as a management consultant, an analyst, and more recently, an internal auditor. It has been fascinating to see the changes in the advisory world as business undergoes radical transformation. This transformation has led me to believe that professional services experts, or advisors, must completely redesign and redefine their skills for the digital age.
Clearly, the move to digital is no longer a trend but a reality in the modern era. Many professional services, such as financial consulting on the shift to an online business model, creating an IoT strategy, or conducting an internal audit of a digital transformation roadmap, illustrate the shift to digital adoption. Though these services are advisory in nature, the skills advisors need today have changed. Advisors today face both a challenge and an opportunity to transform themselves to stay relevant and provide value for their clients.
While traditional hard skills, such as understanding a client’s business strategy and financials and conducting expert interviews with executives, are not going away, what is changing is the need for more creative solutions and faster implementation of those solutions. For example, when the next Uber threatens to disrupt another industry, can an advisor think of newer ideas for that disruptor? How quickly can they come up with ideas and strategies? What can an advisor learn from other digital engagements that may be useful for new businesses? Those are just a few examples of how advisors must think to succeed in the digital age.
There is also an increasing trend of clients being very digitally engaged, with easy access to many solutions and to in-house experts who handle internal business challenges. Hence, it is a major investment for a business to bring an advisor on board as information is increasingly commoditized. And while the traditional thinking is that the client knows their business better than the advisor, professional services experts can add value through their robust understanding of businesses across industries and their ability to see patterns in diverse digital businesses and quickly adapt best practices from other engagements. That is how learning, combined with real business outcomes in diverse client situations, can provide stickiness to advisors.
What is most intriguing in professional services is the penetration of advisors into the operations side of a client’s business. The CEO, CFO, CMO, or CIO of the client organization will always be the top priority for any professional services engagement. However, an increasing number of engagements require advisors to “get their hands dirty” and learn about the business in more detail. That is fast becoming a necessity as advisors play a bigger role in the digital world.
What does all this mean? I believe that we may see a new crop of extremely specialized advisors emerge in the coming years. Some will focus on specific aspects of the digital business, such as fintech and cybersecurity; others will serve as startup specialists, hybrid advisors (relating the old economy to the new), etc.
This does not mean the current crop of advisors will disappear. Rather, they will need to stay 3-5 steps ahead of the game as markets and business models change at a rate never seen before.
The demand for professional services is unlikely to diminish, and need for new digital skills will only increase. Professional services firms are already seeing the need for digital expertise drive new streams of business. It will not be easy to find such experts, and this will create a great opportunity for those who can redesign their existing skills.
I believe that despite the migration to a digital world, contextual intelligence will always be the forte of professional services experts. It is up to us to adapt, develop, and learn to implement these new skills in the new world. Exciting times lie ahead for this talented group of experts!
For more insight on digital leaders, check out the SAP Center for Business Insight report, conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics, “SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study: 4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart.”