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Letting your clients pick you: Tweaking the digital transformation center model

“Start with a new space, furnish it with funky chairs, nontraditional work spaces and all the latest technologies. Recruit creative talent, mixed with some data scientists and wonder-tech folks, plus seasoned strategists. Bring in current clients and consult on digital transformation.”

The last time I talked about getting leadership right at digital transformation centers, I made the comment above and also mentioned three other critical elements: client selection, talent management and technology partner cooperation. I’ve seen the steady evolution on client selection, but an event last week showed me how much room exists for consultancies to play around to find a winning formula. IT services vendors, led by consultancies, initially designed these centers to cement relationships and expand their footprint with existing clients, often by demonstrating capabilities and services beyond the current engagements. For example, PwC’s supply chain management clients learned the firm also offers cybersecurity, and companies contracting Accenture for BPO could immerse themselves in that consultancy’s digital marketing services. Because initial investments drove the need for cost justification, most consultancies began by opening their doors to any and all clients, with predictably mixed results.

Consultancies learned the most efficient use of these centers included only clients on either end of a simple digital transformation spectrum, forcing the firms to spend additional sales time and effort ensuring clients came prepared. Consultancies stopped wasting half of a one-day workshop resolving a client’s internal political dysfunction or just beginning to scope core business problems and cemented processes around client selection and preparation.

Which leads me to what I saw last week. We will soon publish a special report, but it was strikingly different from every other event, as the consultancy intentionally stayed in the background — a self-described footnote at its own event — allowing clients and non-clients the space and time to collaborate, share cross-industry struggles, innovate and, in many cases, realize the combination of confidence in the ability to change and ambiguity about how to do so led to epiphanies around the need to hire a consultant. Very likely the one who had been in the room for the last two days. Subtle, smart, maybe possible only because the event was off-site for everyone and intentionally a mix of Fortune 500 companies and small to midsized enterprises.

So, a curious twist. Instead of centering on existing clients and ensuring the right ones come to the right collaboration/digital transformation center at the right time, this consultancy allowed clients and potential clients to self-select how much more advice they needed. I don’t expect a wholesale adoption of this by other vendors, but believe I will see elements of this repeated as everyone continues learning what works and what doesn’t, always looking for what’s best for the client and what starts returning some investment on these centers.