A small step for PwC, a double-jump for consulting?

Consultants often talk about pain points, but it’s hard to find one that’s either more painful or more pointed than Diabetesville, the name given by the media to Cameron County, Texas, where almost a third of the population has Type II diabetes.

This is why I listened with particular interest to PwC talking about an approach the firm has dubbed ‘DoubleJump’, which has brought together a range of different organisations to help tackle this multi-faceted problem. Cameron residents are encouraged to take simple tests that calculate their risk of developing the disease; those at risk can be sent information on healthier lifestyles and, where necessary, put in contact with a physician. People already taking medication can be monitored. As part of the initiative, IBM is providing a dashboard of health data; AT&T is sponsoring mobile kiosks that allow people to carry out simple health checks themselves; and Walmart, in whose store these kiosks are located, provides pharmacy advice as well as sending money vouchers for healthy food. PwC sits in the middle, facilitating the ecosystem and providing the engine for data exchange, and analytics.  All of those involved have something to gain: the patients, clearly, get earlier intervention and support; by treating people sooner, the healthcare sector saves money later; AT&T has a chance to advertise its services, IBM its dashboard, Walmart gets more people through its doors.

There’ll be some people who question the ethics of this, but it’s hard to see why this is any more commercially egregious than other aspects of the largely private US healthcare system. More interesting to me is what this might tell us about the future of consulting. There are three aspects to this:

In the first instance, it’s a good example of the type of hybrid consulting-technology ecosystem more and more firms are talking about, with the consultants bringing the process and sector know-how, plus the ability to act as an independent broker; technology firms being willing to knit their point solutions together in a way that creates a whole that’s worth more than its parts; and commercial organisations providing the funding.

Second, it shows that consultants can work in very different ways than they have done previously, as orchestrators and facilitators, rather than straightforward advisors and implementers. They can design and run a business proposition, and be movers and shakers in their own right.

But third and most importantly, projects such as this (and it’s by no means unique) show how consultants innovate. Too often, the conversation about innovation offers up just two models– consultants as inventors, and consultants as the people who borrow another’s watch to tell you the time. What this style of work demonstrates is that consulting firms are at their most innovative when they proactively approach clients with ideas, then work with the latter and others to make it a reality. Consultants aren’t innovators so much as opportunists: often disparaged, that’s something they should be proud of.