Once upon a time, technology used to be a distinct subset of a company's business dealings—something that was seen as necessary on some level (all those workers need desktop PC's), but definitely something that could be left to the tech guys. The core of business, after all, is about making money, while maintaining technology tends to be about spending it.
Increasingly, however, companies are coming to realize that technology is their business—regardless of the fields that they actually operate in. Amazon, for example, is a retailer, while Netflix is essentially in the entertainment business, but they're both entirely dependent on their tech platforms.
The need for compelling digital strategies and world-class execution doesn't stop at online firms, however; even companies that existed in the pre-digital age have had to diversify just to stay relevant. And there are few takers on any kind of bet that the pace of change is likely to slow down any time soon.
None of that will come as a surprise to anyone who's even remotely well informed about trends in business and technology. What is surprising, however, is that digital strategy is only beginning to be recognized as a core business issue in many corners of the corporate world. Sure, companies have been talking about the challenges of keeping up with technological changes for most of the past decade. But when it comes to considering them as a core business problem, and integrating them into a firm's overall strategy—that's a trend that is only beginning to take shape, and it's bringing a number of career opportunities in its wake.
So where's the evidence of digital strategy's brave new future? Well, aside from the arrival of titles such as "Chief Digital Officer" inside companies, the consulting firm Booz and Co. delivered a fairly strong signal last week, when it announced the launch of Booz Digital—a move that came about when L.A.-based digital advisory team Axon Advisory Partners joined the firm. Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing the launch:
“Creating the right digital solutions affects every aspect of the value chain. Booz & Company has a unique mix of strategic and functional expertise. By combining strategy, design, and execution, we believe Booz Digital is a fundamentally new approach, and the first global premier strategy consulting firm, to deliver end-to-end digital solutions,” said Jeff Schumacher, founding partner of Axon Advisory Partners, former Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, and Chief Strategy Officer for Sports Authority, and former partner at McKinsey & Company.
To find out more about the implications of that move—and particularly the career angle, I spoke to Schumacher and Booz & Co partner Matthew Egol last week. While both were enthusiastic about the launch and extremely knowledgeable about their chosen field, they were particularly illuminating when discussing the corporate landscape of the future, and the skills that would be required to thrive in it.
The key difference in Booz Digital's approach, according to Schumacher, is the end-to-end nature of it. As he put it "previously, consulting firms would write strategy, but hand it off to be built." Within this new unit, however, consultants will work on every aspect of the project from strategy and design through to "standing it up for the clients". That's a move that will require consultants to have a much broader range of skills and knowledge—a pattern that will likely spread throughout the industry in years to come.
As for the specific skills required, Schumacher pointed out that the unit is "like a mini-startup" because each of the projects is essentially exactly that: an opportunity to identify and build a product or solution from the ground up. Accordingly, there are roles within the group for both engineers and strategist—and ideally, people who can do both. Indeed, Schumacher noted that "we call our managers 'product managers' because of the end-to-end management"—a job title that is more commonly found in start-ups and web companies.
The true test for the future of the digital strategist's role will be the level of interest and uptake in services like those offered by Booz Digital. If successful, it won't be long before other consulting firms rush to try to meet the need as well. If Egol and Schumacher are to be believed, that might not take too long. As Egol put it, the decision to start the unit is "a game-changer, which is where consulting needs to go."