Consultants and agencies in an 'arms race' as industry boundaries blur

17 July 2018 3 min. read
More news on

Consulting firms and design agencies are converging into a common industrial arena, according to the statements of IBM iX executive Matt Candy. Speaking at an event to celebrate a quarter century of the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, Candy said that the lines between the two were now likely to blur, as an “arms race” ensues between the two sectors.

The Worshipful Company of Management Consultants is a Livery Company based in the City of London, which has helped to shape the consulting culture of the municipality for the past 25 years. Now, as it prepares to support the industry through a period of uncertainty and disruption, the group has hosted a dinner to bring together the City’s industry heads in order to share best practices, and support valuable charity work.

The event, which took place at the Honourable Artillery Company in London, was addressed by Matt Candy, Global Leader of digital agency IBM iX, who addressed challenges to the industry and how they may shape the future consultancy profession, while Immediate Past Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Sir Andrew Parmley, would later join proceedings to reflect on the contribution made by the Worshipful Company to the Civic City in light of his 35 years’ involvement in the City.

Matt Candy and David Johnson

Candy used the opportunity to address one of the key trends of modern consulting; the increasing clash between the consulting industry and digital design agencies. Amid an age of disruption, designers are thought by consultants to be at the heart of many solutions for business problems of the future, and as such Candy anticipated that the boundaries between management consultancies and digital agencies is likely to shift, blur and eventually disappear.

In line with this, in what Candy termed an “arms race to fill the skills gap” created by the digital revolution, top consulting firms broke out multi-million war chests last year in order to fulfil targeted acquisition campaigns in the design space during 2017. This saw the MBB strategy firms and the Big Four of the professional services world quickly building digital arms, alongside Accenture which made the most notable spend of $1.2 billion.

Candy, elaborated, “Standalone strategy is no longer sufficient – it now needs to be accompanied by creating and making, such that clients can touch and feel solutions, not just hear about what they could have. In consulting, we didn’t possess the storytellers, the artists, the creators and the makers.”

In terms of the agency world, Candy added that due to this trend, the sector had been forced to start to build consulting skills. This has already been exemplified by the beefing up of advertising giant WPP’s recently unified advisory organ, Kantar Consulting. Speaking at the time of its consolidation, Phil Smiley, Kantar Consulting’s CEO, had commented, “We live in a new era of consumption. Growth can no longer be assumed, yet there are more, not fewer, opportunities to build breakout brands and new lines of business. Future growth exists, but beyond the comfort zone of most organisations; it is more granular, less siloed and more opportunistic.”

Now, as design firms move toward possessing organisational change experts, process skills, and deeper technology skills, while consulting firms likewise move into the design sphere, Candy said that companies like his, IBM iX, were emerging as a fusion of consultancy and agency strengths, helping clients reinvent their business via design. He added, “Design Thinking is the science of the 21st century.”

Following on from Candy, the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants’ incumbent Master, David Johnson concurred, “We are seeing a vast amount of disruption in the world and this is being reflected in our industry… Consultancies will need to reshape their businesses to ensure they remain the disruptors and not the disrupted.  But they must not lose sight of the ethical foundations which underpin the profession and are equally vital to its future.”