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  • Thomas Thurston

Can data science disrupt strategy consulting?

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

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 on 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.


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