How Sia Partners is preparing for the future with its Consulting 4.0 strategy

31 August 2018 7 min. read

At the start of the year, Sia Partners announced its new five year growth and innovation strategy. Under the banner ‘Consulting 4.0’, the management consulting firm, which has 1,200 employees globally across 20 offices, aims to be prepared for what is touted as the largest shift in the history of the consulting industry. According to Sia Partners’ CEO Matthieu Courtecuisse, “not since the company was founded in 1999 has such a fundamental strategic direction been made.” 

The world of business is changing fast, as companies look to navigate numerous challenges, from digital disruption to flagging consumer confidence and shifts in geopolitical stability. Ultimately, the embracing of technology and agile working practices has emerged as the most popular mechanisms for adapting to this constant atmosphere of alteration – and in the case of the consulting industry, it seems no different. Client perceptions are reshaping consultancy, as pressures on pricing and a demand for quick responses call for new solutions.

Consulting 4.0, the augmentation of business advisory services with automation and artificial intelligence, is seen as the answer to this demand, from the perspective of French-origin consulting firm Sia Partners. The firm has been going through a succession of rapid transitions in recent times. In the process, Sia has positioned itself as a global thought leader on the matter of consulting 4.0. The consultancy for instance recently hosted an AI conference in Dubai, with 60 executives and specialists in attendance, including delegates and speakers from Etisalat’s Smartworld and tech educators Udacity.

Importantly, however, the Consulting 4.0 evangelicals at the firm not only preach but practice the concept. As part of Sia’s new growth strategy, the firm contends that Consulting 4.0 is being used to redesign the profession of the consultants at the organisation. In order to ensure that technology can enhance the analytical and intellectual capacity of the firm’s people, and improve the performance of the consultants on their assignments, Sia has designed a training programme for consultants with the objective to develop them toward working as a ‘Consultant 4.0’.

Siapartners - Consulting 4.0 strategy

For success in this aspect, the consultancy emphasises three key aspects with its programme, says Robert Jan van Vliet, a partner in the firm’s Dutch organisation. First, consultants must boast the ability to select and find the right client cases. This means that consultants do not rely on simply knowing technology like RPA, blockchain, data science, etc. on a one size fits all basis. Instead they should be able to tailor the appropriate solutions to the right client cases, in order to avoid innovating for innovation’s sake, and tying solutions to genuine business needs.

Secondly, consultants need to be mindful of the re-usability of the knowledge domain of a client case. The sharing of knowledge obtained and applied via technology is one of the key elements in Consulting 4.0, and will help team members to learn quickly from one another. Finally, Sia’s vision on the matter emphasises scalability, and the ability to scale within the client sector or even outside will be one of the new capabilities that requires development. Though humans are not easily ‘scalable’, machines or bots are, thanks partly to technical features but also because a machine can operate 24/7, doing the heavy lifting for the thinking, with 'feeling' consultants in turn to apply data post-analysis.

Beyond training, Sia Partners also highlights how it built an innovative ecosystem for services and collaboration over the past few years. Robert Jan van Vliet elaborated; “Investments in an innovative ecosystem are mandatory in order to be able to ‘drive and thrive’ Consulting 4.0. To mention some main pillars of our eco-system, we have: 1) a technology lab with expertise in IoT, RPA, chat-bot technologies; 2) a Center of Excellence for Data Science consisting of around 50 data scientists and lab technology; 3) digital platforms like collaborative and productivity tools; 4) A design thinking Lab; 5) Future-proof offerings in the area of digital transformation such as digital trends observatory, digital due diligence, data monetisation; 6) An incubator arm (named ‘Studio’) that now has participation in three start-ups; and 7) an Ideation team which helps train and nurture the innovation culture within our company.”

Van Vliet went on to clarify that each pillar is represented by a dedicated team of consultants, working across a broad range of industries. The firm has also acquired a number of consultancies in recent months to further bolster its adoption of the new strategy. Following the bolt-ons of E3 in North America and ShiftIN Partners in the Middle East, the consultancy strengthened in its home-market of France with the pickup of digital agency Fove. “Combined, this is how we at Sia believe that a successful Consulting 4.0 model can ultimately be achieved.”

“The launch of our Consulting 4.0 strategy marks the largest strategic shift since the company was founded in 1999.”
– Matthieu Courtecuisse, CEO of Sia Partners

Staying up to date

From this solid base, Sia is now looking to expand its capacity for Consulting 4.0, and for methods to stay ahead of the curve, in a swiftly evolving market driven by new innovative digital technologies. According to Robert Jan van Vliet, one of the mechanisms to ensure this is the development of a constant culture of self-evaluation.

He explains; “We should train to develop a basic understanding to be able to identify possible application areas of new technologies... 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.”

One example the Partner points to is how Sia has identified a number of key experts to help take the firm to its next stage of growth. Sia Partners has reportedly identified data scientists with skills in programming, as well as those with a focus on organisation and capability building. These include RPA professionals and blockchain experts with technical and with process design oriented skills, and data prediction experts to help make the most of each technology and to realise its most appropriate applications.

Despite being developed for consulting in particular, Van Vliet concludes that his lessons on the matter can be more broadly applied to other industries. He remarks; “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.”