Consulting done better: the value of technical expertise

By Markus Rebmann | November 6, 2019

Today’s advisors must bring forward-thinking and fresh, new ideas and leading practices. They must develop and implement solutions that work sustainably. They must challenge clients to do more, faster and to stay up to speed with the demands of an increasingly competitive market.

The value of technical expertise

Recently, one of my clients framed the importance of deep technical expertise to me with a simple, but powerful analogy: defusing a bomb. Everyone knows people must be evacuated and the bomb defused, and most can develop a reasonable plan to call the bomb squad. But when it really comes down to it, someone cuts the wire. When it really matters, you want an expert with lots of experience cutting the wire.

Today’s world is not as simple as my analogy. It’s riddled with highly complex and intricate systems, critical for the safe and efficient operation of our businesses. Despite this, more often than ever, our clients report that they’re losing their technical talent at an accelerated rate and with it, the know-how of dealing with tomorrow’s operating challenges. The management consultants who are brought in to improve performance typically provide high-level advice, or short-term improvement. They can be highly effective and proficient at presenting a vision of the future organization and attaching significant value to these conceptual plans. Although this is a critical part of the journey, many lack the ability to wade into the depths of the opportunity and begin to lay out an execution plan with a high probability of success. Furthermore, the solutions offered in the market, while interesting and at times groundbreaking, are not easily deployed and often fail to deliver the promised gains. In a world in which organizations and facilities are increasingly complex, scaled, and automated, this mixture of technical skill erosion and framework-driven improvements can be toxic to business performance.

Deep technical expertise and understanding is critical to help bring about significant, sustainable improvement; superficial knowledge of past practices and consulting frameworks is not nearly enough. Similarly, a purely data-driven approach without underlying context is dangerous. Last year, I was working with a metals refinery to de-bottleneck a production line. The client was frustrated because the line kept failing, despite operating at defined suction accumulator levels derived based on advanced data analytics that had identified low tank levels as the cause for the failures. Our world-class pump expert quickly established that first the pump fails and then, in order to repair it, the maintenance people need to drain the tank, resulting in the lower levels. So, while there is a correlation, the causality is the other way around. The analytics only provide half the answer by focusing our attention. Instead of changing tank levels, we helped the client bring the size distribution of the slurry back into original specifications which immediately resulted in a step change in performance in this critical part of the processing plant.

Real results, faster

When we combine world-class engineers and digital experts with management consultants and industry insiders, real innovation and action happens. The right team allows us to deliver real results, faster. Recently, one of our clients challenged us to help them dramatically reduce their operating costs. We brought a leading process consultant to a site visit, and within only a few hours, we identified a solution with the potential to remove a milling circuit. How did we do that? We recognized that the original design of the equipment required a much higher waste-ore ratio and that we should recirculate an inert filler instead of grinding waste rock only to then send it to the tailings pond. This insight allowed us to design a new solution and reduce operating costs by double-digits.

The impact of a technically backed, multi-disciplinary approach is magnified when scaled up to the enterprise level. In another recent engagement, we assembled a global team of experts to develop and execute a detailed turnaround plan for the Board of Directors of a large steel company. Our Hatch team had deep expertise in all key aspects of the business including the global and regional market, raw material supply chain, steeling making processes and technology, economic analysis, and business transformation. Given that our technical experts design, build, commission, and upgrade steel mills and related assets for a living, their insights on the current situation and how to improve the operation truly transcend the superficial, non-technical consulting approach. The team identified hundreds of millions in EBIT improvement opportunities, rapidly built the Transformation Office and execution infrastructure, and provided ongoing implementation and technical support to the teams implementing improvement initiatives over a 16-month period.

Through thorough understanding of the process, design, maintenance, and operations of the sophisticated physical assets we find in heavy industries, management consultants with deep technical expertise can deliver insights that go far beyond general business advice. By injecting technical expertise, you acquire consultants that speak the language and walk the talk–moving you beyond the PowerPoint to solutions that work and result in sustained improvements to overall business performance.