Tools vs Solutions: When does our core offering need to change?

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, recent posts have focussed on digital – content, products, pricing etc.

I’ve also been immersing myself in the digital design process (next step: learn code?) and earlier this month I attended a workshop by a leading digital design studio. While most of the session was devoted to their own particular design methodology (basically, UCD with some fancy footwork) it also revealed that in developing tools to help customers undertake their own design projects, they have become a subscription software business. No doubt, they will continue as a design consultancy, but clearly the core offering is changing.

This shift echoes an analysis of McKinsey Solutions by the Harvard Business Review in late 2013. Basically, it suggested that rather than providing an all-in-one solution (based on black box consulting methodologies and processes), consulting firms are having to unbundle their offering, allowing them to remain relevant and move to more defendable positions in the value chain. In the case of McKinsey Solutions, embedding analytical tools at client sites is a cost-effective way of delivering services, while gaining insights on their customer needs, which in turn allows them to develop enhanced tools.

So it raises the question: Do consultants need to re-think their offering – rather than being solutions providers, should they focus on being enablers? This may seem overly disruptive (and potentially disenfranchising) for the consulting industry; but in the long run it should mean clients become more reliant on value-added solutions that deploy tools that they know, understand and trust (and can use for themselves). It should also mean that clients will want to retain access to these tools as they evolve, because they will be more invested in their development and use.


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