Everyone should seek counseling when the path to the future is not clear and individual goals are not defined. Akin to how academic advisors provide students with many tips to succeed in school, consultants provide services to companies and even large-scale firms, proposing solutions to each business entity’s marketing or management problem. Inherently, companies want to grow and expand their business in all dimensions. However, sooner or later, they run into a barrier characterized by the complexity of market and the regulations enforced by the government. Consultants then step in and build a viable business model for companies.
So, what does consulting for a company entail? Michael Lan, Senior Manager at Jabian Consulting and a graduate of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, shared his knowledge on the topic. According to Lan, consulting consists of four parts: understanding the background of the problem, gathering information to analyze the problem, formulating a hypothesis (solution), and refining the hypothesis to either prove or disprove. In the earliest stage, the consultant wants to understand the nature of the problem. Speaking to the people within the company initiates an investigation into what went awry in the company’s operations. The following step is information gathering. Now the consultant needs to get to the crux of the problem. Any data that detail the company’s modus operandi is necessary to diagnose the issue with the business model. After researching every aspect of the problem, the consultant forms a hypothesis to fix the problem. The hypothesis is a solution combined with an improved business strategy. Generally, the consultant builds several hypotheses that are all feasible but tailored in styles. The last step is the refinement of the hypotheses. In this stage, the consultant returns to the problem with the solutions in hand. The consultant tests the hypotheses and chooses the best one to present to the client, along with short term and long term options. Lan describes the final solution as an “itinerary for a road trip;” the final solution needs to get the company from where it stands now to where it needs to be.
If consultation sounds familiar, it is probably due to the parallel that can be drawn between consulting and BMED 1300. Every consultant has to solve a problem by researching data and proposing a solution to the appropriate audience. One of the most important pieces in consulting is teamwork; nothing is achieved through a solo act in the real world, and group dynamics are integral to the success of each consulting project.
For a role that requires advising companies plans of action in both the short term and the long term, training for the consultants is heavily emphasized. A consultant’s training consists of external (course work) and internal (on-the-job) training. As if the consultant were in school, the external training demands a required 40-to-50-hour per year training designed to solidify foundation skills and professional development. The quality of internal training is contingent upon what a consultant learns from each project completed. Also, advice from a senior manager serves as a key learning tool in internal training.
Healthcare consulting is a rapidly growing subset of consulting. The current timetable for healthcare consulting is opportune thanks to the healthcare reforms enacted by the Obama administration. The healthcare mandates affect all segments of the industry, including providers (doctors and hospitals), payers (insurance companies), life-sciences (pharmaceutical companies), and support (healthcare product distribution). Unlike other industries, health care companies have to adjust to the changes resulting from the recent healthcare reform laws in order to avoid fines and reduction in subsidies by the government. In fact, Lan explains, “lots of companies, especially on the insurance side, are doing a lot of work to understand changes [mandated by the government] that are about to happen.” They seek consultants more than ever to project what healthcare will be a few years down the road and to meet the requirements set by the government.
With consulting in high demand, there is a growing number of college graduates aspiring to be consultants. Who is fit for a consulting career, then? Lan thinks that it is not necessarily business or accounting majors who meet the qualifications for the job. Most likely, it has to be someone who is able to “understand how to take something very generic and vague, drive that to a specific problem, and create a solution out of that.” Regarding soft (personality) skills, people who are comfortable speaking with new people can be good candidates for consulting. The consultants travel all across the country to meet and do business with their clients, and soft skills facilitate communication in various places. Many times, clients don’t provide much feedback to the solutions presented by a consultant. At which point, the consultant should be able to elicit more responses from the clients to help them see what is best for their companies.
With his expertise in business strategy and operations improvement, Lan consults for various industries including healthcare, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, financial services, media, and non-profit. He serves on the Board for Georgia Tech Business Network (GTBN) which is a volunteer organization that aims at nurturing Georgia Tech connections in the business world. When asked about what the best part about his career is, Lan answers that it’s the problem-solving aspect of his job, whereby he works on business problems every day that are similar in context but very unique by nature.