Can data science disrupt strategy consulting?

A provocative HBR article hit my Inbox yesterday by Clayton Christensen, Dina Wang and Derek van Bever. It talks about how traditional strategy consulting (think McKinsey, Bain, BCG) is being disrupted by several forces… including data science. Could this be true? Can lowly data science pose a disruptive threat to the mighty titans of consulting?

There’s certainly a persuasive case to be made.  I, myself, went robot typingon the record saying as much in 2009 (although the article wasn’t published until 2010). It won’t surprise most people to think strategy consulting, like any business, is subject to the forces of disruption. Yet it may surprise you to learn how many leading strategy consultants – even those intimately familiar with disruption theory – believe staunchly that their industry is somehow immune. “It may apply to everyone else, but not to us.”

What do you think?  Is strategy consulting somehow different?  Is it immune from disruption?  Moreover, if strategy consulting is disrupt-able, will data science play a big role?  Over the decades data science and technology have, indeed, broadened in scope to engulf many of the things strategy consultants were once hired for (ex. automated analytics have replaced many human analysts).  This trend has been widening and accelerating rather than narrowing or slowing down.  Yet there will probably always be room at the top for heavyweight consultants.  It will be interesting to see how the scope, nature and capabilities of traditional strategy consulting grapple with data science, technology and disruption in the years to come.

Or… as some consultants have tried to persuade me… perhaps nothing will ever change.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Martin

    Executives need the advice of skilled professional consultants in strategy formation and planning their business future. I don’t see how this could ever be done by other means.

  2. Janice

    I think technology will keep blowing our minds and taking share from human centered activities, consulting included. We’ll see things in just a few years that we could never imagine today. It’s only a matter of time.

  3. Edward

    I run a data science team, strategy consultants are not immune to this practice. They can have all the charts and graphs they want but when I walk in with my data visualization, game over. It has happened more than once.

  4. Paul

    If we insist on marketing ourselves as “Strategy Consultants” and relying on a business model of 1:1 advice, we’re at serious risk of disruption and – dare I say it ? – ignoring our own advice

    Clients don’t care what we call ourselves – they only want to know that we can remove their pain. An absence of a strategy isn’t a pain in itself. It arises from some other need such as falling sales and profits or the arrival of a new competitor.

    So what happens when we re-state our business as “I help clients that need *** and *** in order that they can **** ? I achieve this by *** and **** ”

    We may find that the answer that meets the client’s needs is in fact the data science. The answer that meets OUR needs might then become a partnership with its provider. This would enable us to sell products/services at different price levels including our original 1:1 services at the top end

    As a result, we’ve turned the threat into an opportunity

  5. Yousef

    Bearing in mind I haven’t read the HBR article (I will get round to it), I do think strategy consulting is facing an obstacle (perhaps an understatement)! Traditionally, strategy consulting has been based on supplying insight borne out of experience. With the advent of big data, processing power and (generally) the faster-moving pace of corporate life, data science can (and will) be certainly disruptive… Insight from experience alone is no longer viable.

Leave a Reply