Digitally Enhanced: CohnReznick's Paul Gulbin sees the digital revolution as a driver of growth

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Accounting, Tax, and Advisory firm CohnReznick has been aggressively bolstering its Technology Advisory practice. So aggressively, in fact, that its digital business unit has been doubling in size for several months. A recent key hire is Paul Gulbin, who joined the firm as a Managing Director of the practice. Gulbin sees both the ongoing and coming digital revolutions as a significant force multiplier for growth. Consulting sat down with him to talk about the changing consumer landscape and how companies embracing technology to keep up is just getting started.

Consulting: What are some of the biggest ways digital has transformed the business landscape over the last decade?

Gulbin: The biggest ways are around customer engagement. Digital is allowing the consumer to take charge of the conversation, make informed decisions to basically drive the way they want to do business. If they can’t they’ll typically move to a competitor. I see it as really centered around the whole customer engagement process.

Consulting: It seems like personalization is the order of the day…

Gulbin: It is. I think what’s happened is that personalization has been around for many years but people are having a hard time executing in those particular categories. What we’re finding is that companies typically start out in the back office or with a point of sales transaction or ERP data. We’re having a lot of conversations with our clients around front-end data capture, areas such as customer identity and profile management, so you could link preferences and attributes in order to execute a personalization or a one-to-one strategy. Essentially they’re starting at the wrong end of the line. They’re starting in the back office with transactional data, which basically gives insights for purchase history. With data capture happening at the front end, for example, capturing Facebook or LinkedIn data could identify attitudinal behaviors or affinity to provide more targeted marketing, personalization and a better overall customer experience.

Consulting: What do you see as the big consulting opportunities digital is creating?

Gulbin: I think companies are looking to up their overall digital strategy and their digital approach to engaging customers. What we see is that there’s been a lot of early adoption of a website or usability across a mobile device, and there’s some basic adoption happening within the enterprise. I think where the next stage is going to go is to an efficiency and effectiveness type of play. Companies are going to look to very quickly transform their business models, reduce costs and find new ways of engaging with customers. What we’re seeing in the marketplace is a wide gap between the pace of traditional digital transformation and the execution of digital innovation. For example, some of the larger firms have methodologies that incorporate four to six different areas of focus. It’s just too broad, too time consuming and too expensive. The problem with this approach is it doesn’t align with how business functions or runs. Business is a continuous process with markets and customers changing all the time, so by the time your strategy is completed and socialized and it started to be executed it’s already outdated because digital is so fast and industry imperatives are moving at record speeds.

Consulting: What are some of the biggest imperatives for a successful digital strategy?

Gulbin: Bringing a lab environment into the consulting framework is critical for success going forward. In the past you had frameworks and probably domain and industry expertise. We look at many different factors when doing a digital road map or transformation strategy. It incorporates bringing in an ecosystem of vendors, provides frameworks, compelling research, learnings around disruptive technologies so people can learn together, there’s alignment, and then there’s agreement on what can be launched quickly and how the road map is going to play out from a continuous innovation approach. It drives huge volume and speed and is very cost-effective.

Consulting: What are some of the hurdles companies undertaking digital strategies are facing?

Gulbin: The biggest one is change management. We see a lot of companies that have “shiny new toy” syndrome. They get a decent website or a basic functioning mobile application and they think it’s done. The issue with changing customer demand is it constantly changes. It’s not a one-time event, engaging with the customer is a constant action.

Consulting: What industries are poised to benefit from this enhanced customer interaction technology?

Gulbin: Many industries are typically late adopters to digital. If you look at some of the traditional industries like manufacturing, distribution, even a lot of retail has a way to go. We do a lot of work in commercial real estate. If you look at one of the largest elevator companies out there, there’s a huge Internet of Things (IoT) play around identifying preventive maintenance using devices and sensors. That’s going to be the next wave: how do you establish business relationships as well as relationships with things and devices. If you think about the basic platform of customer relationship management, it’s going to be extended into a relationship with a device or a wearable.

It’s going to create tremendous opportunities in IoT. For example, think about life sciences, something like adherence management for medication for a pharmaceutical company, or perhaps extend that technology into a digital car. It’s really not just a change in commerce or the way you engage with a customer, I think it’s going to bring about change in way in which lives are saved. It’s going to impact life overall. The last 10 years have been all about ensuring usability and customer engagement, now it’s all been about adoption, interactions and mobility. I think the next phase is going to be seamless experiences across integrated channels, IoT, and then finally we’ll get into that real-time optimization of behavior and personalization.

Consulting: What are the changes we’ve yet to see?

Gulbin: There are now differentiated best practices, there are tried and true technologies; cloud has matured, mobility is here to stay and the mobile platforms are maturing. The clutter and the noise is actually being reduced right now. We see a lot more viable solutions and options for the middle market firm to perhaps incorporate an omni-channel type of solution or a collaborative platform via the cloud with R&D and then with partners worldwide. Companies are going to have extensions and be able to utilize these digital technologies to modify or transform business models.

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