As Fortune 500 companies across industries face current or looming disruption, consulting firms must adapt to help their clients succeed.

To understand disruption in the consulting and services industry, one first needs to consider some broader scale changes. 50 years ago, the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company was about 60 years. In 2010, this lifespan decreased to 18 years. Some other estimates say that by 2020, three quarters of today’s Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist.

Influencing factors include access to technology, increasing customer expectations (driven by native digital experiences customers encounter every day) and a spike in competition from digital native companies that move swiftly to meet customer needs. Many companies today that are looking to consulting firms are approaching the challenge from a different angle: understanding the customer’s’ digital journey, and promoting a culture of innovation in order to survive in the constantly changing business world.

As a result, the focus of the consulting engagements is shifting. Companies who succeed are no longer IT-centric; they’re customer centric. Consulting companies who are disrupting the industry are scoping engagements such as the synthesis of business objectives, user needs, design, and technology—a marriage of the rapid, creative innovation seen in Silicon Valley startups with the rigorous analytical and strategic frameworks of traditional consulting.

FOCUSING ON THE USER

Disruptive consulting companies follow the process of understanding the “user,” whether that’s an individual customer or an employee using an internal product or platform. They help companies develop personas, lead with user motivations and needs, create customer journeys, and find ways to optimize and simplify their journeys with digital technology. Disruptive consulting companies don’t look just look to the touch points they control, but strive to understand how their relationship with customers fits into the hundreds of other interactions and thoughts the customer will have on any given day.

WHERE INNOVATION MEETS TRADITIONAL BUSINESS

Disruptive consultants also understand how their Fortune 500 clients differ from startups that might be addressing the same customer journey. Acknowledging that longstanding companies will have legacy systems, potentially complex operational workflows, and large teams with distributed subject matter expertise — disruptive consulting companies pair user-centric front-end innovation with backend expertise and the ability to simplify workflows and synthesize data structures and systems.

DESIGNING AGILE NEW PROCESSES

Disruptive consultants respond to the unique needs and attributes of Fortune 500 companies by designing new processes meant to capture the innovation and customer centricity of design thinking, the interactive agility of agile design and development, and make it accessible for large companies with distributed subject matter expertise. Examples of this process include rapid prototyping, digital co-creation, and even overnight hackathons. These methods enable traditional companies to imagine, test, evolve and socialize concepts—allowing them to move rapidly from ideas on a whiteboard, to funding, design, development, and going live in the market.

The structure of these consulting engagements is evolving to match the accelerated innovation of startups as well. Companies disrupting consulting are eschewing standard long-form engagements with smaller agile ones. These engagements are focused on results and iteratively achieving incremental success that culminates in products, programs, and strategies that will have a major impact on the client’s business.

PROVIDING CROSS-INDUSTRY SKILLS

Another attribute of companies disrupting consulting is a cross-industry “innovation best practices” approach. In traditional consulting, an industry-specific approach or subject matter expertise was applied to each engagement. However, new advances in technology and user experience design have made it clear that certain effective models can be replicated, regardless of industry, to drive meaningful user experiences and positive business outcomes. The result is that disruptive consultant companies are no longer just an expert in any one field or industry, but they are constantly attuned to successful business models and user experiences and technology implementations across industries, ready to re-apply them for clients in unexpected ways.

Synthesizing all of this, consultants have re-imagined their processes, teams, structures, and output to be in line with the latest challenges faced by Fortune 500 clients. Following their own design-thinking approach, these disruptive consultants will continue to evolve by listening to and understanding the needs of their users (clients across industries) and deliberately designing consulting engagements and experiences that meet these needs.

(Originally Published on the Centric Digital blog // June 6, 2016)