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What does the 4th industrial revolution mean for strategic consultancy?

September 28, 2016

The 4th industrial revolution has many definitions – what we are using it to mean is:


What do strategic consultants do?

Strategic consultants may specialise in IT, HR, law, finance, marketing, M&A or foresight, but the essential roles in relation to their client organisations are generally thought to be fourfold:

  • Thought leadership. This was defined in the late Laurie Young’s book ( as “the deliberate creation of ideas to help businesses succeed,” This is the province of management consultancies and gurus, who provide a conceptual or organisational framework to help their clients think about their strategy. The competition for mindshare through thought leadership is extensive and deep, and there are algorithms to measure the quality of the messages and their articulation.
  • Providing an unbiased partner of sufficient seniority and experience to facilitate discussions within the organisation. This is much harder to evaluate but may have more value to the client than eternally provided thought leadership
  • Support organisations by bringing deep industry or other knowledge. Of increasing importance is the role of experts from other domains to the client organisation who can use parallels with the industry of the client, or can introduce ideas about the directions from which change – threat or opportunity – may come: providing a backdrop to the formulation of thought leadership. This type of deep knowledge is important during the data gathering/horizon scanning stage of the strategy cycle and may also contribute to Sense Making and “Setting Priorities”.
  • Implementation – when client resources constrained or inexperienced in type of project, or when there is a need for efficient, effective “horsepower” able to manage organisational politics

The strategy cycle is at

How will these roles change due to societal and economic factors?

Some of the forces at work on aspects of strategic consultancy include:

Thought leadership becomes more important with the increased influence of the virtual world and social media, leading as it does to wider coverage of ideas.

Unbiased partner becomes more important as strategy moves in many cases to division or business unit level. Here the managers are often MBA informed and have expectations of sharing sources of advice; they are used to thinking about data correlations. However these managers are often asked to think strategically as just one of their portfolio of responsibilities: and strategy loses out to more “urgent” tasks. As a counter to this the role of the unbiased partner is to provide legitimacy to time spent on strategy, and reputation to frame senior level discussions.

Bringing deep industry knowledge of the companies domain: this is reducing in importance for two reasons: first, the wide availability of services for competitive information by industry or geography; second, the volatility of industry boundaries as the 4th industrial revolution sweeps in behind the second and third. Experience across industry sectors is increasingly important.

Implementation: an increased role as central strategy units are small if at all, and time there is often seen as a training or development stage of a career.

How will this change due to 4th industrial revolution?

Thought leadership: the main new factor is the need for strategy consultants to be able to think “in the new world”. This requires judgement to mediate between hype and “it will never happen”.

Unbiased partner: the partner will increasingly use social media and analysis tools to provide support, backed up by virtual meetings. Effective communication at a distance is facilitated by shared values.

Deep industry knowledge: this is increasingly being mediated by search engines, and is the area which will be most affected by augmented and machine intelligence.

Implementation: during implementation it is often to introduce new tools into an organisation – these are increasingly IT enabled, and will become more so as machine intelligence reaches more corners of work.

Written by Gill Ringland, CEO and SAMI Fellow and David Lye SAMI Fellow.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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