M&A in consulting: Why buying change complements digital

08 April 2020 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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Digital transformation is one of the most in-demand areas of the consulting industry, and as a result deal activity in the segment is on a high. But while most of the attention of deals goes to the technology side, Will Evans, Assistant Director at Arrowpoint Advisory, warns that deal architects should not overlook the change capabilities needed to deliver digital transformation.

Whether it relates to operating model redesign to leverage automation, a customer experience overhaul via a new app or implementing a new system, the new technology itself is only the starting point. Tangible, lasting transformation requires deep-rooted behavioural and cultural change to ensure that the new technologies, tools and platforms are fit for purpose, exploited effectively and widely, and consistently adopted.

If employees, suppliers and customers do not buy into the change, then successful, sustained transformation will not be achieved – a key reason why one in four UK digital transformation projects fail to realise their desired goals according to a recent study by Econocom.

The digital revolution has seen a tidal wave of new innovative solutions and technologies becoming available to organisations over the last decade. Advice and support for embracing these opportunities is being offered by a bewilderingly broad range of service providers including IT outsourcing and managed service providers, data analytics consultants, marketing services groups, strategy houses and enterprise software providers.

Acquiring change competencies should complement digital

While these disruptive technologies and solutions have the potential to transform organisations, often the real challenge is implementing and embedding these in large ‘old world’ organisations that may be ill-equipped to embrace the seismic structural changes required. It is the service providers with the experience and methodologies to make lasting change happen that are truly benefitting clients in the face of the surge in demand for support across this unfamiliar landscape.

M&A activity

The ubiquitous nature of the digital opportunity, touching as it does every aspect of organisations’ functions and capabilities, is driving intense interest in acquiring the most capable of these consultancies among ambitious corporates and investors. While many of the major stalwarts of the consultancy space offer a digital transformation solution, not surprisingly M&A interest has focused on the more affordable and available digitally native independents.

Notable examples of these transactions include:

Moorhouse acquisition by SQS / Assystem (March 2018)
Founded in 2004, Moorhouse is one of the leading change management consultancies focused on translating strategy into successful delivery. It was acquired by software consultancy SQS Software Quality Systems, with SQS CEO Diedrick Vos highlighting that the deal “gives us the capability to support companies’ urgent need to transform from strategy through to delivery”.

OEE Consulting acquisition by Webhelp (November 2018)
Oxford-based OEE pride themselves on delivering ‘change that works’ across client organisations. Their acquisition by KKR-backed Webhelp (a provider of a technical consultancy, customer experience and business process outsourcing) saw OEE merged with Gobeyond to create an industry leading customer experience transformation services business.

Gate One acquisition by Havas (December 2019)
Gate One is one of the fastest growing challenger consultancies with a track record of delivering ‘change that counts’ across a range of FTSE clients. The acquisition by French creative group Havas
 highlights the increasing demand from clients for integrated digital, marketing and transformation services and saw Havas adding a management consulting capability to its established roster of advertising, marketing, communications and market research services.

Investors and strategic acquirers continue to court high-growth independent digital service or data analytics providers as potential targets. However, if those targets lack the critical capabilities to implement digital change programmes effectively – through combining traditional business process re-engineering with a profound understanding of the transformative potential offered by new technologies – the value of these consultancies is meaningfully diminished.

At a time where nobody can hide from the disruptive influence of digital, consultancies with ‘old fashioned’ change management capabilities are as important – and valuable – as ever.