Digital mountain

Javier A. Baldor, chief executive officer of digital solutions company BST Global, explains why a comprehensive data strategy can redefine the way consultancies are run — and embed ESG at the core of business models. Javier will be taking part in a panel discussion at Environment Analyst’s Global Business Summit (23-24 August, Denver).

EA: What role can project management, productivity solutions and utilization tools play in helping environmental & sustainability consulting firms develop the ESG opportunity?

JB: Releasing spare capacity from existing resources is an area of focus and importance; however, there is an even bigger opportunity. The big prize is in unlocking and unleashing the passion of your professionals. They are, after all, taking on one of the greatest challenges mankind has faced: climate change. How can we empower them to focus on their passion? The answer lies in giving them more time to do what they love by ensuring they spend less time on administrative tasks. It’s all about efficiency and their experience.

We have interviewed hundreds of consultancies across the world over the last couple of years. What did we learn from those conversations? Project managers (PMs) and teams fundamentally do not use their firm’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and business systems. Instead, they use Microsoft Excel for everything, which is extremely inefficient.

Why is this?

  • ERP systems are too complex
  • The systems are convoluted and extremely poorly designed
  • The tools that PMs use are all reactive in nature, with only a rear-view perspective on how the project has performed based on accounting outcomes.

This is why, according to the Clarity Report, in 2005, utilization stood at 61.5%, and 16 years later, it had actually gone down to 58.5%. According to SPI, the Best-of-the-Best Performance Advantage (Top 30) travel at 74.5%. This is a prize of more than 15%.

I also believe that things have not materially changed in the way projects are estimated, managed and staffed in the last three decades. We need to "think differently" and foster a modern, data-driven experience for today’s digital-native professionals by eliminating friction and inefficiencies. Ultimately, the opportunity to live one’s passion fully on great projects will improve retention, satisfaction and outcomes for the consultancy.

Javier Baldor "I believe in the notion of the data-driven consultancy of the future — one that embraces big data, AI, machine learning, intelligent automation and anomaly detection"

EA: What key ‘future of consultancy’ trends and disruptors do you expect to define the industry in the next five to ten years and how will they impact the evolution of business models?

JB: I believe that we have a fundamental opportunity to redefine the way a consultancy is run. More specifically, I believe in the notion of the data-driven consultancy of the future — one that embraces big data, AI, machine learning, intelligent automation and anomaly detection in a simple, consumer-grade experience. That type of consultancy will unlock the efficiencies and predictive capabilities needed to help teams manage projects better and materially impact profitability.

In short, we need to move from the notion of principally accounting for projects, to a new way of fostering a "smart," data-driven consultancy, centered on leveraging project intelligence.

Consider how Waze transformed the way we all get somewhere. I believe our industry should have a "Waze for Projects" that leverages digital signals coming from a consultancy’s data to empower their projects teams with predictions, powered by AI and machine learning. Project teams can leverage this project intelligence to change the trajectory of their projects and deliver better outcomes.

EA: In order to fully develop the ESG opportunity, consultancies are having to develop and invest heavily to develop their capabilities. M&A activity is on the rise again but this brings challenges in uniting legacy structures and systems. In your experience supporting clients in this space [such as Cardno & ERM] what are the biggest mistakes that companies make when they integrate acquisitions, and how can this be avoided?

JB: I believe that many consultancies get very excited about the growth and synergy possibilities with their M&A activities. Once the transaction is finalized, the real work begins on the integration front — spanning system conversions, and change and process management, to name a few. This is often well-managed by the larger firms that have dedicated integration teams. However, in some cases, we are brought in after the fact with little or no advance notice to help a firm define its data-migration strategies and drive best practices on the process front. We often hear that the acquiring leadership team wants this done in a specific time period, which is often unrealistic. If there is one thing to share, I would stress that one should expect it will take twice as long and cost more than you initially think. A few things come to mind from our experience that will pay significant dividends:

  • You will need strong executive sponsorship and leadership, as there are often significant change management and policy-related impacts when integrating the newly acquired company into the parent company
  • You should ensure a proper planning process is undertaken upfront. There are often significant competing initiatives in motion that need to be coordinated and navigated as well. Planning properly will help in setting and/or managing expectations with internal leadership regarding the timeline.
  • You should decide very early on how the new company will be "ingested" into the parent company. Will it be coming over as a single entity or is it being broken up into pieces and integrated into various parts of the parent company? This decision will have a substantial impact on your data-conversion strategy, your reconciliation next steps and your change management plan.

Lastly, a comprehensive, transparent and consistent communication strategy is paramount. People won’t look back and remember the cutover/integration deadline date — they’ll remember how it went — good or bad. The adage "go slow to go fast" is always the best course. Understand what you are doing, where you are going and why. And be sure to clearly define the mission, scope and what success looks like before you step on the accelerator.

EA: BST Global offers support and solutions to help consultancies improve project management to drive efficiencies and profitability within their businesses. Are your clients starting to ask for non-financial metrics to be included within your solutions and tools? For instance to bring visibility of carbon, diversity or equality metrics into projects aligned to the ESG agenda?

JB: We are seeing firms heavily invest in their data strategies, not only with traditional financial metrics, but with non-financial metrics related in support of the ESG agenda, for example. This begins with a thoughtful, big-data strategy that can unify data from disparate sources, secure it and leverage AI/machine learning to make the data smart and predicative.

In concert with this, I believe we also need to fundamentally change the historical data paradigm, whereby data only flows one way up from staff to leadership for management reporting. This should be replaced with a smart, data-driven model that democratizes data for all. Professionals at all levels in this new paradigm personally benefit more from the data they are being asked to enter and have the opportunity to be empowered by this smart data. I truly believe that democratizing your data is the key to successful "digital workforce of the future" initiatives.

BST Global

Hear more from Javier at the Global Business Summit (23-24 August, Denver), where he will be joining a panel discussion on ‘Embedding sustainability and ESG at the core of consultancy business models’ alongside panelists Josh Nothwang, global sustainability advisory director at Arcadis, and Mark Hall, SVP, environmental advisory services at Montrose Environmental.