Time to transform: how Baker Tilly is growing its global Digital practice
Client demand and the pace of change has seen the US firm triple the size of its Baker Tilly Digital team in two years, with a series of acquisitions and talent choices that are now supporting service delivery across the globe.
Practice growth has been driven by the almost universal need of clients to address, upgrade or transform their legacy digital models, as well as the ongoing adoption of emerging technology.
While the firm had long offered technology consulting as part of its service delivery mix, it has developed a new Baker Tilly Digital Brand — sensing the opportunity offered by the pandemic, mass transition to the cloud, and new interest by companies in areas such as automation.
“Shortly after announcing the Baker Tilly Digital brand, we went on a journey of pulling together a conglomerate of our technology-related services under the Digital umbrella, for a couple of reasons,” says Ann Blakely, managing partner of the US firm’s Baker Tilly Digital practice.
“One is that it allows our clients to index into a full end-to-end transformation, all the way from identifying they have a business problem — maybe they are unable to grow, they have technical debt, they need to work remotely — through to implementing whatever the solution might be.
“By pulling all our capabilities and services together it becomes easier for a client to understand that breadth.”
A second reason was to accelerate growth and capacity of employees with digital skills.
We wanted to get to scale quickly and infuse our Baker Tilly Digital team with additional capacity
– Ann Blakely
“To be together on a team with individuals who have similar skill sets has elevated each of us, because we are able to work alongside someone who might have complementary skills,” Blakely says.
“That allows us to create more innovation for our clients, provide more flexibility and interesting career paths for our team members, and enable people to cross-train on technologies and capabilities.”
Blakely says the new brand has leveraged the strong management consulting arm of the Baker Tilly business, where advisors work alongside clients to identify problems and solutions.
“We joke that we are the wingman of the firm, because we have all these capabilities that can support even traditional tax and audit services,” she says.
“A client may have some compliance issues where auditors have to comb through millions of lines of data to understand where they may have issues or face a risk from an audit standpoint.
“We can come in, be part of that project and create data stores and ways to mine that data in a more efficient way.
“We’ve organised ourselves to be a capability rather than an industry specialisation but we have conduits into the industry specialist teams who work directly with clients to build tailored strategies.”
To scale the solutions capability required, Baker Tilly US embarked on a series of high-value acquisitions, including Vanilla — a specialist enterprise resource planning (ERP) consulting firm with offices in the UK, US and Sri Lanka.
Vanilla is an IFS Gold Channel Partner, one of the leading enterprise resource management systems in its class.
“We took a step back and asked, ‘where are our clients’ biggest pain points’,” Blakely says.
“What are some of the industries that are most challenged? Where do we think that we can really get to scale and grow? That’s where we targeted some of our acquisitions.
“We wanted to get to scale quickly and infuse our Baker Tilly Digital team with additional capacity, to acquire some really deep, unique skill sets within a particular industry and then embed the team, all the while organically growing our business.”
The tech consulting space is a crowded marketplace, however, and Baker Tilly Digital has needed to carve out a niche that differentiates its offering from platform and technology-based competitors as well as the host of accounting and engineering firms jostling for market share.
“They’re either coming at it from one end or the other,” Blakely says of the consultancy competition.
“Maybe they’re building a very grand digital strategy, with digital personas and doing a big assessment, but not leaving the client with the actionable plan.
“Clients want to know, how do I execute? What order? What sequence? How do I prioritise? How do I roll up my sleeves, get started and fail forward?
“Or you have consultants who are starting from the very technical end, where maybe they’re putting in a giant data warehouse and but it’s not clear to the client how they value from that.
“How do you put it in context of the actual problems and issues that leaders within an organisation are having?
“So where we play is this really great sweet spot where we can take the strategies, or we can take the technical infrastructure, and we can put it in context of what it means to our clients’ day-to-day process.
“We can help the individual person in finance or in HR or in IT engage in adopting these technologies to work differently, create different outcomes and look at data differently.”
Something like 30 per cent of the projects that we have across digital have an international component or element
– Meghan Loomis
Although Baker Tilly Digital began as a brand within the US firm, it has grown to be a strategic market for members of the network across the globe, with growing international engagement in projects.
The global approach reflects not only the large number of multinational clients serviced by Baker Tilly firms across nearly 150 territories, but also the value of diverse technical expertise depending on the client’s location.
Digital privacy is an area advanced by firms in Europe, for example, while the Canadian Baker Tilly firm has specialisations in areas such as the metaverse, AI and digital assets.
Baker Tilly Digital director Meghan Loomis, who leads the international digital strategic market, says collaboration across borders and firms drives innovation.
“Something like 30 per cent of the projects that we have across digital have an international component or element,” she says.
“The clients happen to have largely US-based headquarters with global operations, and we are well-practised at driving large global transformations for our clients.
“I think that has given us some insight and context in terms of the broader trends and where we can bring additional capability.
“We have also forged relationships with a handful of offshore vendors, whether it’s through joint ventures or as extensions of our team, to allow us to scale in a way that we can then start to provide support to more organisations and more team members throughout our network as well.”