New ‘open consultancy’ Riverflex racks up eight clients and 300 consultants

16 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Digital consultancy firm Riverflex is celebrating a successful first year of business, following its launch in 2018. As the freelance consulting market continues to boom, the independent model–based conultancy has expanded to more than 300 members, working with eight corporate clients on projects like the Samsung store innovation drive. Co-founders Victor Hoong and André Azadehdel spoke with Consultancy.uk to explore what the future holds for Riverflex.

The freelance consulting sector of Europe is experiencing a period of rapid expansion, as former employees turn their backs on life at firms, amid the allure of a better work-life balance and the suggestion of better pay. According to Consultancy.uk analysis based on the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), the UK’s industry alone contains a labour pool of around 5 million people (or around 15% of the workforce), having increased from 3.3 million (12% of the workforce) in 2001.

With this state of play pressuring businesses to find value-delivering consultants, the need to match demand between businesses and freelance consultants has boomed. As a result, a growing number of firms looking to support businesses in that process have arisen. This includes platforms such as Nordic company Worksome and Berlin-based Comatch, which both entered the UK market in 2018. Financial services–focused Outsized also recently enjoyed a bullish UK debut.

With digital transformation currently one of the fastest growing areas in consultancy – accounting for more than $44 billion in annual revenues – there is also a large area to be filled by specialism within the market. With 80% of respondents to a recent Management Consultancies Association poll indicating that that technological and digital disruption pose a significant threat to businesses in the coming years, there is a significant opportunity for a firm which links client demand for digital skills to freelance consultants with the relevant experience and know-how.

Fast-growing Riverflex builds community of 300 consultants in first year

Riverflex arrives

Another new entrant in the digital consulting space is Riverflex, which celebrated its first anniversary at the end of March. Riverflex sells and delivers consulting projects, but with an independent model, catering to the demand for digital skillsets, lean teams, flexibility, and experienced industry hands. The start-up was launched by Victor Hoong and Andre Azadehdel in 2018, with the former Deloitte Consulting duo looking to close the gap between client needs and traditional consulting solutions, providing an alternative option to the Big Four and MBB firms for clients and consultants alike.

Speaking with Consultancy.uk, the duo commented on the need for consulting to change. Amid huge changes across nearly all industries, they see consulting being done the same way, more than a century after its first firms were founded. For this reason they decided to establish Riverflex – an ‘open consulting firm’ consisting of high quality vetted independent professionals and small partners. In this model, professionals can join from tier one consultancies, top agencies or industry blue-chips to deliver top consulting projects.

“Digital is transforming companies at a faster pace than ever, and business needs are evolving too," Victor Hoong said. "We dreamt of a top consultancy that could match these needs, and deliver real impact; a consultancy with digital in its DNA. Connecting teams of top independent talent from the best consulting firms and industry leading companies, and enabling them to do what they love: creating real value based on true expertise.”

Andre Azadehdel further elaborated: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Victor and I have worked in consulting since the turn of the century, helping businesses become better. We love this work. Helping others deliver hard business results is rewarding, challenging and exciting. But we also saw that the gap between client needs and traditional consulting outcomes is too far apart.”

Since its launch, Riverflex has worked to set itself out as unique along four essential pillars of business. Central to the company is a willingness to foster innovation and work towards providing excellence. With businesses increasingly being convinced of the business case for diversity, Riverflex also hosts a network with a multitude of viewpoints and backgrounds, focusing on helping its members to grow in terms of professionalism, and as individuals.

“The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent. Abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path.”
– Andre Azadehdel, Riverflex co-founder

First year

In the last year a number of key steps have therefore been made. The organisation has grown into both the UK and the Netherlands, and is currently working with eight corporate clients. Meanwhile, over 300 consultants have joined Riverflex, which now boasts a huge amount of experience at top tier consultancies such as Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, advertising agencies like Jellyfish, AKQA, Deloitte Digital, WPP and Publicis, and tech companies such as eBay, made.com, asos.com and bol.com.

Stating the firm’s emphasis on diversity, Hoong explained, “The variety of skill sets and backgrounds of our consultants means we can shape teams for our clients that have the muscle to robustly drive projects, combined with the deep know-how from professionals that wear the industry business scars needed to make a real impact.”

Azadehdel added, “The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent, abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path. We believe that being independent does not mean being alone. To us, being part of Riverflex means being part of a team of top digital professionals that share methods, knowledge and insights. Providing a real career alternative.”

Keen to show the strength and depth of its growing professional network, the company also hosts a monthly blog which highlights an exceptional Riverflex member. The most recent ‘Riverflexer in the Spotlight’ focused on former BearingPoint consultant Lies de Smit. In the past, De Smit had also worked at Deloitte Consulting's Technology practice. Despite her experience, however, she still entered the independent sphere with some trepidation – something which Riverflex helped her overcome.

Illustrating the importance of a network to freelancers, de Smit commented on Riverflex’s site, “I was afraid of what consulting would be like without having a team or people to discuss problems with… Riverflex is full of knowledgeable and experienced consultants. As an independent, I feel like being able to share my own knowledge can help all of us grow as consultants.”

“We work differently to work better. Better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants, better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition.”
– Victor Hoong, Riverflex co-founder

The future

Having made such a promising start, Riverflex's leaders have already made extensive plans to capitalise on their momentum. The firm will continue to focus connecting independent specialists from the open-talent network to provide clients with the right skill sets, while also playing to the company’s strengths in rapidly providing specialist talent and interim management for the quickly shifting needs of clients.

Azadehdel said, “A year ago, Riverflex was just a dream. A year later, this is a real company, making real impact. Together with our consultants and clients, we are on a journey to build the consulting firm of the future from the ground up… Working with lean teams that only do what is needed to meet our clients goals, flexibly scaling up and down and applying digital tooling and agile ways of working to work faster and deliver effective results.”

Victor Hoong concluded, “We work differently to work better: better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants and better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition – to continuously innovate and improve what we do and how we do it, delivering quality outcomes for clients.”

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Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.