Kodak was once a dominant player in the photography industry leading all players in the film and camera market by a seemingly insurmountable lead. As digital photography – which they invented – took over film, Kodak had difficulty developing a profitable strategy to compete. As a result, they now find themselves in bankruptcy on the brink of failure.
Similarly, Borders Books operated 256 retail superstores as recently as 1999. Strategic missteps and inability to respond to online competitors resulted in their liquidation in 2011.
The same argument is made of manufacturers of buggy whips and horse-drawn plows. The automobile and tractor came along driving the lower technology items out of the market.
The first consulting firm that I worked for was a rapidly growing custom software development firm with about two dozen locations across the US. They partnered with IBM to assist in the sales of mid-range computers – yes, IBM was once a hardware company – and in return, IBM would refer our firm to their new customers for IT services.
The missing consulting skill
At some point IBM recognized the opportunity they were giving away and decided to enter the services market and keep that business for themselves.
With clients no longer handed over to us, it didn’t take long for my firm to file for bankruptcy. Within a year after that, they were no longer in business.
We’re all familiar with examples like the ones above. Technology advances have allowed startups like Amazon to leapfrog industry leaders and send household brand names into oblivion.
Consultants and consulting firms have always been the experts that organizations turned to for help when they couldn’t solve a problem by themselves.
For instance, years ago, if an organization needed someone with a specific skill, they would turn to a placement consulting firm. These firms had expansive networks with the ability to spread a wide net in order to find someone with the appropriate skills. The internet has enabled organizations needing a specialty skill to find the right people without the need of the network once held by placement firms.
In the same way, the advice that organizations turned to consultants for in the past is often readily available online as free content.
Just a few years ago, consulting for search engine optimization (SEO) was a specialty consulting skill for which firms would hire experts. Today, it is quickly becoming the cost of doing business for a consultant.
For instance, if a consultant is hired by an organization to assist on a cloud computing implementation, the consultant needs to have some level of expertise in SEO to provide advice to the client in that regard.
Whether you are in independent consultant, a small boutique consulting firm or a large management consulting firm, in today’s market you need to be able to add value above and beyond what is available through a Google search.
As technology and business strategies continue to evolve, the need to retool occurs more and more frequently. As an individual consultant – independent or an employee of a firm – you risk losing clients or your standing in the firm if you don’t keep your skills up to date, remain abreast of the latest trends and continue to provide value to your clients.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and discussion items.