Difference Between Generalist and Digital Consulting Roles


The differences between generalist and digital consulting roles are important to understand because they will impact your career growth strategy. In this article, we’ll review the evolution of consulting as it relates to these different roles and how these roles operate within the industry at different firms today.


In the past, consulting was a fairly traditional industry, where the primary goal was to provide guidance for companies as they set strategies to help them succeed. Guidance and recommendations were based on detailed analysis and domain expertise in a specific sector. As teams grew larger, they began to include additional offerings such as implementation support. These new teams were more focused on the technical details of topics rather than the general strategy initially offered by consulting firms. Consulting has become more specific in many ways, and that trend continues today. 


In recent years, the amount of data available for analysis has grown considerably and many projects now incorporate data scientists. Data science teams conduct analyses that were not previously possible with traditional tools like Microsoft Excel. Therefore, consulting firms began to hire data scientists and consultants with experience in advanced analysis and digital topics. These teams are called digital teams. While some are separate companies that operate as subsidiaries of the parent consulting firm, digital teams can be employed either by the parent company or the subsidiary. McKinsey has QuantumBlack as a subsidiary, while BCG has GAMMA.


Differences Between Generalist and Digital Consulting Roles: Roles and Responsibilities


While the titles may differ, digital teams have a similar team structure to traditional consulting teams. They have a partner leading the case, managers guiding the team, and analysts conducting the analysis. 
The differences lie in the nature of the work and the team concentrations. Digital teams are more complicated, and, therefore, are required to be more focused on specific technical areas.


Digital consultant teams include consultants focused on data and digital projects that bring together business problems and analytics solutions. The team’s main task is to identify the client’s problem and interpret the results of a detailed analysis to find solutions to that problem.


Data science teams, on the other hand, consist of data engineers who manipulate data and data scientists who build machine learning models. As mentioned previously, BCG has a data science unit called GAMMA, while McKinsey acquired a company called QuantamBlack that initially started by implementing data science in Formula 1.


IT consulting teams assist clients in their digital transformation. This includes all possible steps of that transformation, from design to the implementation of their IT infrastructure. In addition, the consulting arm advises clients on the adoption of new ways of working, such as agile. In comparison to their data science equivalents, IT consulting is considered a much older business unit in most firms. To illustrate this fact, consider that BCG launched Platinion in 2000.


Though it may not sound relevant, some consulting firms founded investment arms under the name of venture capital. These firms invest in companies that may strategically help them in their consulting services and create value for their clients. As an example, BCG launched BCG Digital Ventures in 2014. 


Differences Between Generalist and Digital Consulting Roles: Career Paths


With the information we’ve shared, it’s clear to see there are two possible paths for you to take as a consultant. One will involve digital roles and the other more generalist roles. 


When choosing your path, consider your background and strengths. If you have a background in data analytics or computer science, you’re likely to be a good fit for a role in the digital subsidiaries of consulting firms. On the other hand, if you don’t have expertise in such technical topics but have had exposure to tech-related work in the past, you can still apply to be a part of the digital consultant teams. In that case, you can serve as a bridge between the technical teams and the client. 


If you don’t have any relevant experience but wish to work in digital topics, apply to generalist consulting roles and actively seek out digital projects to take part in. This will help you determine whether or not you enjoy digital work and can succeed in a digital role in the future. 


As you plan your career, consider the opportunities we’ve discussed and how the nature of work varies within generalist and digital roles in consulting.