Traditionally, consulting organization, in particular in IT, have been focused on specific technologies. As a result, we have seen a lot of services and offerings around a specific stack, with a very defined platform and skillset.

This approach is very efficient, and allows organizations to maximize resource allocation. The clear focus on a particular platform allows for the creation of a highly skilled workforce, very good technical resources with the ability to handle complex situations in a very dynamic way.

Is this the way to go? Is this what the market really needs?

The advantages of platform and/or technology focused teams is undisputable. From the ability to handle complex situations, to the ability to deliver complex projects in record time, it is a great win for both consulting organizations as well as customers. But the market evolves at a very rapid pace. We are seeing more projects where not only requirements evolve during the project evolution, but instances where the market dictates evolutionary changes. The increased level of customizations and options in various products requires rapid adaptability and an increased interaction between multiple platforms. What used to be a very focused solution now can easily span multiple technologies, with various degrees of integration complexity.

The focus now becomes how to communicate and position an engagement with that level of complexity. We are boxing ourselves in when we have a platform focused discussion with a customer. There are a few different aspects to be considered now. The discussion starts with the focus on the business. For technical people, many times, it is difficult to disconnect yourself from the technology and listen to the business need alone. Making abstraction of the underlying technology solutions is even harder when the consulting organization is structured around technical platforms and skillsets, and the commission is based that particular sale.

We need the ability now to stand back and look at the big picture. We need to focus primarily on the business, the processes, and the ability to influence substantial improvements. This will lead us sometimes on the path of solving a more complex problem, and providing better return on investment.

The way we tackle these discussions has the potential to define us as trusted advisors for our customers. We can bring to the table years of experience when it comes to various technologies, but we need to appreciate more the years of business knowledge the client brings to the table. The best solution is a solution that blends both. And also, a solution that is not focused on a single platform where we might be experts at.

We should strive to become experts at piecing things together like Lego blocks. We also see that approach with many solution providers. In the Microsoft ecosystem alone, during the last few years, we are seeing how platforms are starting to blend together and function as one. Selling a SharePoint engagement, or a Dynamics CRM project, or any other type of project is a simplistic way of looking at things. Too often we have to begin by looking at how the business performs, and what are the top features required for that particular organization. We can then start extrapolating, and looking at a generic overall solution that encompasses various processes and functions. Only when that picture is clear, we can start looking at what pieces fit the model.

With the advancements of cloud, that story becomes easier to tell. A lot of new features now rely on communication between all these components. We see a re-focus around Azure and Office 365 working with SharePoint as a background service more than anything else. We can use these features now in Dynamics CRM and Dynamics AX to an extent. We can use 3rd party solution like the ones from KingswaySoft or Scribe for integration to other platforms. This gives us the flexibility to step outside of the Microsoft ecosystem, and integrate now into other SaaS platforms. Custom Azure APIs allows us to tap into pretty much any other system. What used to be traditionally a Microsoft owned shop now has the ability to become a blend of the best tools for the trade, no matter the source. And Microsoft understands this. We have seen this over and over, with opening the office tool set to all platforms, with the increased adoption of open source and embracing Linux, and more recently with SQL on Linux. It becomes harder to ignore the trend.

As consultants, our responsibility now also increases exponentially. We now have to understand multiple platforms, and we need the ability to make the right decision on which tools apply better to a particular engagement. We need to see the bigger picture, and we need to be able to advise and guide our customers towards the best possible outcome. This could be a solution that might seem at first more complex than needed, but it gives our customers the ability to grow and expand as the business evolves. This could be a modular solution, that allows adding and removing components as needed, allows changing business processes on the fly at no or minimal cost to adapt to change.

The Value Proposition now takes into consideration all these aspects, and the potential client now trusts you enough to award you the project. It is as much of an elevator pitch as it is a process to understand and educate customers.