New breed of fluid and agile consultancies challenging large consultants

06 August 2018

“Large consultancy firms are fundamentally broken and they are ripe for reinvention.” Aaron Alburey, founder of boutique consultancy LACE Partners, pulls no punches with this bold opening statement, but it is one he firmly believes in, and is determined to change it.

Aaron Alburey has been working in the consulting industry for two and a half decades now. After first serving two of the largest firms in the market, Accenture and Deloitte, where he was a partner in the firm’s HR Transformation practice, in January 2015 he decided to go independent and founded LACE Partners. He remembers, “Spending 23 years in two of the most dynamic consulting businesses in the world and working on over 40 client engagements has been thrilling. And it’s been an eye opener.”

Since launching, LACE Partners – a specialist in human capital consultancy and HR technology – has grown to a team of over 10 consultants and around 25 associates. Alburey says that despite all the good things he has seen and still cherishes at the big consultancy firms, he has come to the conclusion that the large consultancies risk falling behind. “Some are fundamentally broken, the majority require reinvention.”

“The behemoths of consulting are tied into a spiral of increasing cost bases, unchecked (and even accepted) talent turnover and, most alarmingly of all, a cultural acceptance of the fact that increasing client rates every year is an acceptable solution,” he explained.

New breed of fluid and agile consultancies challenging large consultants

He points at one major force which stands at the heart of the challenge for big consultancies: the need to staff and use vast numbers of talented people who are already hired and on the payroll. “For clients, this means a push to put employees on projects at the expense of finding the best people for the work. People need to be readily available through extended networks of associates, alumni and partner organisations.”

According to data from Deltek, an provider of ERP solutions to consultants, at any given time, between 15% to 25% of fee-earning staff are on the bench. “Fruit rotting on the shelf comes to mind as an analogy… The logic says they must be utilised and sold. Only when there’s no internal fruit to draw on can the firm reach outside to find the strongest talent.”

It is this business and resourcing model which, in the eyes of Alburey, explains why clients are increasingly turning to independent networks (contractors) and/or boutique consultancies before approaching the large players. “It’s no wonder clients are getting restless. Rising rates, slow innovation and a lack of specialised talent is turning customers off. And who can blame them?”

According to recent analysis, around one out of ten projects in UK’s £9.75 billion consulting industry now goes to independent consultants. And another study, conducted by Economist Intelligence Unit, has found that cost-weary clients are increasingly eyeing specialised consultancies for best value, which includes consultancies that possess more specialist skills but also those that operate with lower fees.

The new breed

Alburey believes that a new breed of consultancy is popping up, those that are digital and virtual, able to tap into emerging technologies effectively through embracing open source technologies, but also flexible enough to keep costs at a lower level. “Fluid firms are emerging, consultancies that operate as fluctuating ecosystems of like-minded, nimble specialists. These ‘elastic’ consultancies have minimal operating costs, which means they can bring 5-10 more years’ experience to each role, for the equivalent mainstream consulting rate card. They’re also harnessing new technologies, for smarter, more efficient executions.”

“Large consultancy firms are fundamentally broken and they are ripe for reinvention.” 
– Aaron Alburey, founder of LACE Partners

He further stresses the importance of culture. For one example, in the case of the Big Four, there have been a number of high profile scandals which highlight that a company’s culture can sometimes be rotten. The mire of the Gupta scandal in South Africa, which has also had implications for McKinsey & Company is another example of how consulting’s culture is in trouble. Alburey is keen to differentiate companies in the mould of LACE, however. “The new consultancies have placed ethical working far higher in their agenda: value trust, mutual support, reciprocity, and a shared belief in and focus on doing the right thing for clients.”

“Freed from worrying about cost recovery and the staffing and utilisation of benched teams, these new consultancies are able to focus on making incredibly valuable connections through their networks, broadening and deepening their capabilities, and rapidly forming flexible teams of highly experienced top performers. That’s how they deliver exceptional crowd sourced solutions, while providing great value for money.”

Alburey added, “For buyers of consultancy services, these are exciting times. Never have the globe’s largest consulting firms been so big and powerful, but never before have they been challenges so much as today. We are part of the group of new age revolutionising the consultancy market. At LACE, we do things fundamentally differently from aging, large consultancies.”


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Low Code Development Platforms and Continuous Delivery

23 November 2018

Low Code Development Platforms can compliment Agile Methodology delivery, supporting collaboration and transparency throughout the application development lifecycle. First Consulting has worked with a range of organisations in the UK on the implementation and application of Low Code Development Platforms. 

Low Code Development Platforms (LCDPs) provide an environment that individuals can use to create application software through graphical user interfaces and configuration, instead of traditional computer programming.

First Consulting, a consulting firm that specialises in business and technlogy, is an expert in implementing LCDPs and building associated applications to deliver benefits for their clients, in partnership with Mendix, a leader in the field. These platforms enable the business to engage a wider range of stakeholders in the application’s development, including those without formal programming skills or experience. This facilitates collaboration and sharing of information between business users, as well as improving the transparency of the process. Ultimately this enables the accelerated delivery of an optimal business application which realises benefits faster.


DevOps, on the other hand, is a fundamental value-adding delivery methodology for LCDP solutions and underpins modern Agile development; it promotes closer collaboration between lines of business, development and IT operations to improve agility and reduces the response time to customer feedback. The term DevOps has emerged from the combination of ‘development’ and ‘operations’ engineers, working together throughout the development process and into production support. 

One of the main benefits of DevOps, and the origin of its speed to market, is the use of Continuous Delivery. Continuous Delivery is a software development practice championed by First Consulting in the use of LCDPs: any changes that are made are tested, pushed to a non-production testing environment and are then ready to be released for production at any time.Continuous Delivery - the eight principles

Continuous Delivery: the eight principles

Based on the firm's experience in the field, experts at First Consulting provide eight principles for roll-out:

1. Repeatable and reliable process for deploying software
In order to ensure easy deployment of the software, it is important that the same release process is used in all environments to help maintain consistency in a highly fragmented deployment process.

2. Automate everything
Manual processes are commonly time consuming, prone to human error and less efficient. It makes sense for organisations to create automated processes that can perform repeatable processes faster, with greater reliability, accuracy and consistency.

3. Keep everything in version control
A key aspect of continuous delivery is to store all development, deployment and testing aspects of the application in versioned storage. The use of strict version-control ensures a stable foundation for creating processes, with each iteration used to focus on performance and efficiency.

4. If it hurts, do it more frequently, and bring the pain forward
It is important to deal with the time-consuming or error prone tasks first; the repeated application of these problematic procedures will enable faster detection and repair of the underlying issue.

5. Build in quality
The underlying feature of continuous delivery is to identify and eradicate errors within the code as quickly as possible. Short feedback loops to developers ensure bugs are detected as soon as they appear, enabling faster production of quality code.

6. Done means released
It is vital for continuous delivery that there is always a clear definition of what the final version of the software should be for production. This removes any ambiguity and improves communication, helping everyone to reach and deliver the agreed upon final version.

7. Everybody is responsible
One of the greatest changes in recent times to software development is the mitigation of the conventional ‘silo’ way of working. The boundaries between the processes and development departments are no longer visible, with everyone working alongside one another. The old common saying of “it worked in my area” need no longer be relevant, with everyone involved taking full responsibility and accountability throughout the whole process.

8. Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement is the most important principle that prevents you from falling behind with the ever-evolving advancements and changes in technology. Continuous improvement ensures that you constantly monitor change and improve your processes to match it.

Realising the full potential

"At First Consulting we help our clients achieve the full potential of Low Code Development Platforms by working with them to build their own ‘Continuous Delivery’ capability. We ensure that there is alignment across the goals of the project and the business strategy, and that the solution is solving the ‘right’ problems," explained Jon Nelmes, Managing Director of First Consulting UK.

He continued, "We look at process design and optimisation to ensure that there are no barriers to communication and that everyone is clear on their responsibilities, which helps to maintain the most effective ways of working throughout the project. Utilising our Low Code certified consultants, we are able to build and test applications in an exceptionally collaborative way, and then provide the training to help clients become autonomous in running their own sustainable capability. These services help us to lower the initial cost of setup, improve training and accelerate delivery of applications for our clients."