Big Consulting, Agile, and Artificial Intelligence

Gillian A. Tisdale

Agile is the hot topic, the flashy idea, the fountain of innovation.

It is all of these things, but it also isn’t entirely new.

The idea of a fluid workforce, one that can adapt to shifting business strategies and market demands, is an evolution of older contingent workforce models. This isn’t an unexpected shift, but is, in fact, changing the way that work gets done.

Agile 1.0: Big Consulting

Consider for a moment the large consulting firms that still loom large, such as the ‘Big Three’ (McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting Group). These companies have upwards of 5,000 consultants apiece. While these consultants are not interchangeable — many of them specialize in particular industries or strategic issues — their organizations are structured to allow consultants to seamlessly collaborate with minimal boundaries. They gather and disperse on the basis of projects and initiatives, rather than ongoing work streams.

This captures the heart of the agile workforce — one in which employees bring together their unique skill sets in pursuit of strategic imperatives, unconstrained by silos, ongoing menial tasks, and red tape.

Where Firms Fall Short

There is one key flaw in the model of consulting firms: they are steadfastly reliant on a centralized staffing group to deploy consultants to projects as you would soldiers to missions. While this may work well for project-as-service businesses like consulting firms, it is neither necessary nor sustainable when scaled to an Agile enterprise.

While consulting firms contain a matrix of specialties, these are simultaneously more fluid and clearly demarcated than those of large organizations. Consulting firms typically have verticals (e.g., industries, markets or products) and horizontals (e.g., types of execution, strategies) which involve some degree of targeted knowledge but have significant overlap with those adjacent to them. Staffers match consultants within and across the boxes in this matrix of vertical and horizontals, paying close attention to developmental interests, team seniority, and in the case of fractional staffing, availability. This works well for an organization that is inherently fluid and centrally organized. Projects come in via clients, are categorized in internal systems via Partners and Managers, and are allocated across teams.

Conversely, enterprises looking to create a truly Agile workforce must eschew centralized systems. In order to foster seamless collaboration between diverse types of workers and renounce the desire to sanction each initiative, it’s necessary to employ a more democratic and adaptable model.

Technology is the Future

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another hot-button idea that, when joined with workforce agility, makes for a powerful combination. Enterprises searching for an independent, self-run system to easily form cross-functional connections on an as-needed basis (rather than when mandated by senior leadership) should see AI as the solution they’ve been waiting for.

Agile workforce solutions (like Catalant’s own) provide internal employees the ability to find and connect with global talent  — without the lag or bureaucracy of relying on another team to create your own. Furthermore, these solutions provide a centralized location to access not only internal talent, but external talent as well, further breaking down the boundaries of company walls. This connection to external talent adds a modern-day twist and newfound accessibility to the traditional consulting model, generating fluid teams powered by AI and overseen by dedicated professionals.

Human Meets Machine

Human oversight is, in many circumstances, absolutely necessary. We know that AI can automate routine tasks but relies on the soft skills only humans can provide. This is why top agile workforce software includes human assistance, and why staffers at organizations that are reliant on project matching (e.g., consulting firms) remain invaluable.

So: let’s save the human oversight for when it really matters. Small cross-functional projects or grassroots initiatives should be able to form and flex without the barrier of reporting to a centralized department. The opportunity for traditional consulting firms to supplement their systems using AI remains ambiguous, but one thing’s for sure: when rolling out an agile workforce, you don’t have to reply on staffers, further burdening your already stretched HR team. Instead, use technology to help people get work done.

Interested in learning more about agile workforce technology? We’d love to hear from you. Reach out at hello@gocatalant.com for more on how you can move into the ‘future of work’.

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