Introducing the Digital Consultant of the Year 2015 – Sean Mahdi, PwC

Sean Mahdi, Digital & Emerging Technologies Leader at PwC UK, was announced as the Digital Consultant of the Year at the 2015 MCA Awards. He spoke to the MCA about how digital is changing the consulting industry and gave an insight into his work. 

Congratulations on being awarded the MCA’s Digital Consultant of the Year. Can you give us an insight into the awards process and your journey?

I was nominated by a partner on our leadership team in recognition for the great work and investment we were making in the digital space and to raise awareness of our offering more widely in the marketplace. The judging process was quite enjoyable, I reached out to two of my clients who I had worked with over the last couple of years who were happy to endorse me which made the process easier.

It was a real pleasant surprise to win on the night. I thought I had a good case but digital is obviously a competitive area with a lot of people doing great work. I now have more followers on Twitter and get a lot more interest in what I do as a result. It certainly has given me confidence that the work I am doing is of real value and is appreciated.

Your application focused a lot on your work in the digital transformation of a global bank. Can you give us an insight into your role?

The case was about helping the client figure out what they could achieve with the help of digital. They knew they needed to change but they weren’t sure where to invest.

I devised a rapid strategy and innovation project to help them visualise their digital future through their client’s eyes. We identified almost 100 new digital concepts in a two-day workshop that set out the content for the strategy. Creating concepts that they could interact with made them feel engaged and helped them see results more quickly.

You have used video a lot when working with clients. Can you tell us how you use it and why you think it’s effective?

For me it is about about getting people to understand and commit to the journey. Video can really bring a vision to life and I have used it many times.

In this case it was something conceived and articulated with the Head of Digital of the bank. We put the video together with third party support and targeted it at the Board members of the bank. The five minute video showcased the bank’s future through the eyes of the customer. It went down really well, resulting in the approval to fund the move from strategy to implementation.

What is your philosophy when devising a client’s business strategy?

A lot of organisations think of digital as something that is separate to their business. My philosophy is that you don’t need a digital strategy but you need a business strategy for the digital age.  

Your business goals are not different from what you want to do in digital. In fact, digital should enable you to reach those goals more quickly and open up new possibilities.

Leading PwC’s Digital Impact Practice, you have been instrumental in securing investment by the firm in people, tool, technology and facilities. How have you achieved this?

I put together a business case for investing in digital as a firm, just like I would with a client’s senior business stakeholders. The Board recognised that digital impacts everything the firm did so they agreed that it needed to be a business unit. Without their support and investment it would have been impossible to develop the practice.

A key part was the Digital Masterclasses. For the business to succeed we needed everyone in the firm who interacts with our clients to understand and to be immersed in digital and know the opportunities. I developed and lead the events to help embed digital across the firm. I have probably done close to 1,000 full-day classes for partners, directors and senior mangers all over the world.

How important are digital skills for a consultant?

Digital is absolutely a must have skill for modern consultants. It has forced through systems of co-creation, prototyping, design, agile delivery and visualisation. It is not enough for a consultant to be naturally used to working in digital, they need to know how to construct digital systems.

We have recently stopped checking UCAS points in our graduate recruitment so that we can focus on recruiting people who are creative as well as technical because you need those skills in the digital context. We have also changed our foundation programme to include more digital prototyping and training.

You are recognised as a digital thought leader. What tips would you give other consultants looking to be thought leaders in their field?

Whatever you say it must be authentic and easy to digest. I think the use of social media is really important, whether that is publishing your own articles or commenting on others. This is especially the case in an organisation’s internal social media channels.  The senior figures within an organisation are not necessarily the thought leaders who are getting the most engagement.  This breaks the hierarchical network creating new networks inside the organisation.

What tips would you give to a young consultant starting out in the industry today?

Try to get involved in transformational projects that you will see from start to finish.  Seeing a project through its whole life cycle and watching the impact of decisions throughout is really valuable.

The other thing is to be really open-minded. Be prepared to work in lots of different areas because that’s the best way to learn. To be successful in the modern world of consulting you must be constantly learning and looking at new ideas. Developing the technical skills around digital world is key. Whether that is learning to programme or prototype, it will allow you to get out there and do more interesting roles.

What impact do you feel digital will have on the consulting industry as a whole?

I think there will always be consulting services but I think the definition of consulting is broadening. PwC is certainly moving beyond purely providing good people and getting paid on a time basis to a focusing on outcomes and getting paid on delivery. Modern consulting is about being able to bring in assets that can accelerate delivery, reduce risk and ultimately reduce the cost to the client. If we are not prepared to do that stuff then the industry will disappear under our feet.