The new market of insurgents in UK's consulting industry

24 January 2019 5 min. read
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Since Arthur D. Little – the world’s oldest management consultancy, was founded in 1886 – firms have repeatedly executed a similar model, striving to land it in a better fashion than their predecessors and competitors. According to Ross Robinson, a Director at “challenger consultancy” Ignata Consulting, the business model of management consulting has basically not changed in more than 100 years. Below, Robinson reflects on how new market insurgents are reshaping the industry.

Although an industry now worth over £180 billion globally, of which around £10 billion sits in the UK alone, the consulting industry is now becoming subject to significant displacement and challenge. Facing an array of new threats, ranging from technology advances to the controversial Brexit, the traditional consulting model as we know it is now full of uncertainties, and in turn has left itself wide open to disruption. 

As I and many other consultants and clients witness, project after project, cracks in the facade are starting to show. Gradually but surely, the traditional consulting model we had all come accustomed to is becoming more fragile than agile. With a sea of sameness and entrenched in longstanding, outdated and over-bureaucratic structures, it now faces a number of new challenges, one of the largest of which, starts from within… The individuals and expertise that once formed its backbone and drove its lucrative revenue streams are dispersing, in-turn creating market of insurgents. Such network organised firms or groups of independent consultants consist of highly-skilled individuals who are able to offer clients a more dynamic, versatile and value-driven engagement style.

The new market of insurgents in the consulting industrySome refer to these ‘rebels’ as the white collar gig economy. Until recently the gig economy was often associated with low-paid, insecure work, with millennial hipsters and brands such as Uber and Deliveroo springing to most minds. However, a ‘professional gig economy’ is thriving in the background and, although very much in stealth mode, it is changing the face of management consulting as we know it, with an increasing number snatching work from right under the noses of the industry giants. In the UK economy alone, it is estimated that over a fifth of UK management consulting projects are attributable to independent consultants – accumulating in a sum of over £2 billion and growing.

This untapped and often overlooked opportunity, which many would argue is hiding in plain sight, is gaining traction at pace, with business leaders seeing it as a welcome alternative to the over-political, body-shaped, partner models that had come too accustomed to. With a growing independent workforce of highly experienced, and often entrepreneurial professionals [the UK counts 2 million freelancers], these leaders can now tap into an increasingly dynamic, effective and value-driven talent source, which ultimately provides them with greater control, flexibility and an increased ease of contracting – pulling in exactly the right expertise, as and when they need it. 

This changing dynamic also presents new opportunities for the individual practitioners that are fuelling this movement. As specialists, high in knowledge-capital, and usually ones to demand autonomy and flexibility, they now find themselves in a market where opportunity is rife, however having spoken with a wide array of people in this position, fighting down the doors isn't always that easy and they face a number of early-market obstacles.

How do clients source independent consultants?

Leaders lack confidence or familiarity with this new market

To fully embrace these on-demand independents, business leaders need to be sure they are getting the right skills, at a competitive price. But increasingly important is also ensuring they are the right fit for the organisation. At present, according to Source Global Research, quality control is the number deterrent for using independent professionals – with business leaders sometimes viewing this route as high risk. 

Leaders face red tape and outdated policies

Many organisations lack agility across their hiring and resourcing functions, with outdated processes and complicated hiring arrangements. Leaders often tempted to challenge the norm face significant red-tape. This in-turn means effort over reward becomes questionable. Unfortunately for those keen to rock the boat, evidence then shows in order to limit risk they constrict their search to their immediate network – in turn comprising their opportunity to get the very best person for the task in hand.

Independents & their sales pitch often lack shazam

Although independents are responsible for their own success, their go-to-market strategy often lacks the conviction, polish and content it needs to subtly catch business leaders attention. Whether down to lack of time, research, preparation or creativity, independents need to remember they are often up against larger entities, existing relationships and are playing into a hugely competitive, and very new market. To grab attention and deter leaders from their normal habits they need a serious lump of Shazam!

Like all market evolutions, there are some growing pains, however this changing dynamic means those organisations who are willing to kibosh the red tape and capitalise quickly on the insurgent market, unlock the opportunity to dramatically change the way their organisations utilise talent to operate. With access to undeniably the biggest on-demand talent pool available, they have the potential to dramatically transform the way their organisations do business.

Related: Firms concerned about growing competition from boutiques and independents.