When you recall the atmosphere of uncertainty and fear that seemed to cloud over much of last fall, there were few industry gatherings that projected more bare-knuckle optimism, perhaps, than Kennedy Information’s Consulting Summit 3.0.
Of course, when you fill a room with nearly 200 management consultants, the unavoidable chest-pounding will more than likely drown out any large sighs or gloomy forecasters. And so it was in NYC in late November, when the collective clatter steadily escalated as the profession’s minions met to debate, network, and listen to a roster of speakers representing the profession’s premier firms.
First up was Boston Consulting Group senior partner George Stalk, who told the gathering to momentarily forget about the limits of present-day technologies and enter a world of infinite bandwidth — a place where information can be accessed anytime, in any form, anywhere, at zero cost.
It’s a destination where strategists can roam free, and Stalk wasted no time in shepherding his audience across its many peaks and valleys. Next up was IBM’s vice president of technology and strategy, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who shared his outlook on Grid computing — a computing vision that much of the research community describes as the next evolutionary step in the development of the Internet.
Strategy for dinner and technology for dessert. At least, that’s how the Summit’s attendees dined during Day One of the conference. On Day Two, they enjoyed a more regimented diet of practical consulting know-how and insight when Cap Gemini Ernst & Young’s Chris Meyer kicked off the morning by challenging attendees to rework their organizational thinking and embrace the dictums of “the adaptive enterprise.” And, if anyone was looking for the exit before noon, consulting live wires Don Libey, Barry Libert, and Dean McMann stopped them in their tracks. For those of you who weren’t able to contribute to the Summit’s ever-escalating clatter, here’s a glimpse of what you missed. And for those of you who were there, please remember: You were warned about the photos, and about our methods for making you talk.
Insights and Sound Bites
George Stalk, senior vice president, Boston Consulting Group:
“Of all the enterprises, we found only one thinking on the dimensions of infinite bandwidth, Progressive Insurance. Progressive Insurance was among the first to use mobile technology in a fleet of trucks to get to the accident scene as soon as possible. The value of that is that they can settle the claim on the spot. The risk of liability is substantially reduced. This has enabled Progressive to be the most profitable provider of high-risk insurance in the U.S. auto industry.
“More recently, Progressive has been working with companies like Ford Motor Company on something that has come to be called telematics. This is a combination of wireless communications and GPS positioning to make it possible to tell where the vehicle that they have insured is, and to tell how fast it’s going and the rate of change of the vehicle. They have all of the information they need to decide the risk profile of the vehicle. The experiment that Progressive has been conducting is: Can we make it possible to provide insurance that has been priced by the minute, depending on how you drive?”
Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Ph.D., vice president of technology and strategy, IBM Corporation:
“When we put all the major forces together — the market demand for the Internet to be an extremely efficient, reliable, flexible infrastructure; the need to absorb all the technologies coming our way; and the cultural standards that are allowing to more and more integrate all the pieces — where does that leave us? It leaves us with an Internet that is itself becoming a computing platform, as is already manifest in the research community. It’s called the Grid, and you will, I’m sure, hear more and more about it over the year. … The community that is developing Grid computing thinks its biggest impact will be the ability to develop virtual organizations that come together around this infrastructure and all its resources.”
Mohan Sawhney, fellow, DiamondCluster International:
“Every consulting trade book begins with the line ‘Everything you knew about X is wrong.’ Start from scratch, re-engineer the corporation, and so on. I say, ‘No. Keep those silos. There is a good reason you’ve got product silos and functional silos — because you want functional excellence and you want product excellence. But, you also want customer excellence. You can have your cake and eat it, too.
“I believe that all of strategy, if you want to boil everything down, is the resolution of half a dozen paradoxes. If you can resolve these six paradoxes — centralization vs. decentralization, standardization vs. customization, silos vs. solutions, customer excellence vs. product excellence, scale vs. speed, diversification vs. focus — that’s it. That’s strategy. What I take particular pleasure in is trying to resolve some of these paradoxes and saying, ‘Guys, this is a false dichotomy.’”
Maureen Broderick, president and CEO, Broderick Associates:
“We are recommending to our clients that they rethink the rainmaker model. At least, don’t rely upon it exclusively as a way to bring in business to your organization. Of course, when the economy is booming, it’s much easier to generate business with this model. But it’s a different story now.
“In every other industry outside of professional services, sales is an integral part of business. I’m sure most of your clients couldn’t imagine being in business without a sales and marketing team, yet in our industry sales is frowned upon and considered inappropriate. We really believe that moving forward, our success and even our survival — particularly in an economic downturn — is going to be determined by embracing the ‘S’ word.”
Michael Wolf, senior partner of McKinsey’s global media and entertainment practice:
“Consultants need to be like Colombo, and sniff around until they can find a solution. Clients want to know the future, not today — they want to know what it will be like in five years. A client’s consultants need to lead them into the future, and find ideas that are on the edge. We have to be good at not just identifying the problem, but at fixing it. Consultants have to deliver value that clients have never imagined.”