Consulting: the next generation

Gilly Bryant, a management consultant and member of Accenture's UK and Ireland leadership team, and Andrew Poppleton, Managing Director of the technology business, tell Finbarr Bermingham about how the two areas interact to transform businesses

Technology is an essential consideration for modern businesses. But how do technology and management consultants work together for clients? And what does this technology-centric business landscape mean for a career in consulting? Here's Accenture's guide to both kinds of consultancy, and how they affect businesses today.

Why do clients use consultants?

Consultants are experts working with clients to transform their businesses. Clients may have challenges, which they don't have the resources to fix in-house. Or the business could be performing well, but they may wish to make it more profitable. Whatever the situation, when a client wants to implement change within their business, they turn to the experts. Accenture has a huge roster of consultants with expertise in a wide range of areas - from supply chain and human resources processes, to analytics and cloud services - but all with the skills and experience required to transform a business.

What skills do all consultants need to have?

There are a number of different career paths available within consulting, and Accenture people tend to work in one of two main areas: management and technology. While the focus may be different in each one, consultants on both sides of the business need to have similar skills. They need to be strategic thinkers and to have a deep understanding of business. They must have excellent communication skills and the ability to build and manage relationships with clients. While staff in each division of Accenture will specialise in different areas, they are united in their aim of delivering business transformation through the work they do.

What does it mean for you?

It doesn't matter which area of consulting you work in - an understanding of technology is essential. For this reason, Accenture asks all graduates to be able to show an interest before they join our Analyst Consulting Group. Technology will feed into every part of your work, and even if you're not working in technology you need to have an understanding of its implications for businesses - which can't operate successfully without it.

How similar are technology and management consulting?

When either management consultants or technology consultants are approached by clients who need support, they'll send in a team of people who'll follow similar overall processes. They'll assess the position of the client's business and see which areas they could improve upon, or what issues they're experiencing. They will look at what changes need to be made in order to achieve the outcome the client is looking for. They will then decide what work needs to be done and build the team of consultants best placed to deliver the change required by the client.

Technology consulting

Technology today is not a support function; it's an essential component in any business, providing the infrastructure on which everything depends. As such, the technology used by a company will have a huge, direct impact on its performance. Technology is now one of the most important areas of a well-run business.

Our technology consulting teams help our clients to bridge the gap between business and technology. Working closely with the client, they look at the performance of the business' technology, analyse the challenges they're facing and advise on the best solutions, which could be anything from a new software tool for a human resources department, the introduction of an exciting iPad app for pilots, or the development of a cloud computing solution marketplace for an online retailer. Quite often, the technology consulting team will develop, design and implement a new system. They typically won't build the system (this is normally done by Accenture Technology Solutions), but they need to have an understanding of how it works. Which is why, when a graduate joins our technology team, they receive all the training needed to do the job. When they're working with clients, they need to know what they're talking about!

Case study: How do consultants collaborate?

It's essential for consultants from across the business to work together to create solutions for our clients' needs, which are often highly complex. For example, a few years ago, we were working with a large bank that was losing market share because its mortgage application process was taking too long. Our consultants worked with the client team to get to the bottom of the problem. They identified the need for a brand new automated solution that would deliver faster, more efficient mortgage application services. The project would be delivered by our technology consultants, but first they needed to work with the client to define the exact requirements, understand the current systems in place, and work out how to integrate the new system. The team then managed the design, build and implementation of the new system. Getting the bank ready for it was a combined effort - with consultants from both technology and management consulting involved. It's still one of the most cutting-edge systems in the UK banking market today.

Hot topics in technology consultancy

Cloud nine

What is cloud computing? Cloud computing is the storage and processing of data on a remote server, via the internet. Google Docs is a great example of cloud computing in action.

  • Cloud computing is one of the biggest developments occurring in business technology today, and an area in which we often work with our clients. For businesses, this technology has huge implications, and we think it will revolutionise how our clients operate.
  • Cloud computing is delivered as a service over the network. It avoids the need for clients to have dedicated infrastructure in their buildings.
  • Cloud computing allows companies to avoid the large initial costs of servers and software, replacing this spend with smaller regular payments to cloud providers.
  • Maintenance should also be cheaper and easier for businesses. Servers don't need to be repaired in their offices, and applications are upgraded centrally by the cloud provider, meaning users are less likely to experience interruptions to their service.
  • When utilised with mobile technology, cloud computing offers the chance to access your data from any location with an internet connection which, in the age of broadband and widespread Wi-Fi, is just about anywhere.
  • Our clients have only started to scratch the surface of cloud computing - the real benefits have yet to be derived!

The pocket revolution

While mobile technology is not a new thing, its rapid and continuous development means there are still plenty of benefits to be gained.

  • Mobile technology includes laptops, palmtops, mobile and smart phones, GPS devices, wireless payment terminals, Wi-Fi networks, mobile communications and data services, and mobile networks.
  • By using these intelligently, businesses can reach their end customers directly, interacting with them, and making their services more responsive.
  • Mobile computing is converging across industries and we're seeing direct links emerging, for example, between telecommunications companies and banks. Over time, mobile phones will replace bank cards and cash, and users will be able to pay for things without the need for wallets.