‘Consulting itself is getting digitised’

Nick Ringrose, Director of Consulting at Atkins, says that 2015 has been a big year for the Group. “Atkins has been engaged in major transformation. Our half year results are strong, with significant growth in the UK and Europe, strong performance in the Middle East. And results in Asia Pacific, where we’re broadening our regional focus out from China into Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, are on track.” Acquisitions, such as Terramar, a Norwegian consulting firm, and the Projects, Products and Technology (PP&T) segment of EnergySolutions point to the success of Atkins’ global energy business, and exemplify the firm’s ambition.

“That success has been mirrored in the consulting practice, though our focus has shifted.” Public sector consulting has not yet reached the volumes pre-Election activity suggested. “We’re still doing interesting stuff. But many departments are waiting for the results of the Spending Review.” However, growth in defence, security, transport and infrastructure more than compensated for this. As did diversification. “We’re moving increasingly into infrastructure advisory, Digital, Cyber, strategic asset management, and managed services, as well as annuity and IP-based models, which shift consultancy away from time and materials commercials.” Atkins’ transformation and these new capabilities offer additional growth prospects. “Consulting will operate further upstream in the infrastructure value-chain. Work on finance and business cases will help incubate delivery deals for the wider business and provide clients with value through continuity.”

Nick believes this diversification also helps resist commoditisation. “Some areas like security and defence may get more competitive, through cost-driven combinations of ‘in-housing’ and commoditisation of project skills. But that’s an opportunity. The more our industry differentiates itself from gap-filling contractors, by providing scarce capabilities to support client goals, routinely transferring skills and leaving clients more effectively equipped, the better. For me that’s the essence of the MCA’s Consulting Excellence initiative. To do it, we at Atkins will continue to develop our offers and help our people stand out from the crowd.”

Nick says 2016 looks positive for the Consulting team. “We will continue to grow in 2016, potentially by acquisition, but also with the public sector returning as departments seek advice on getting even more for even less. Some of this is also about Digital. Our Digital practice is working with Atkins’ global IT business to catalogue new options for clients. But consulting itself is getting digitised. Supply chain diagnostics used to be done by analysts. Now they can be done automatically. That will keep happening. It brings challenges and opportunities. We can create automated solutions for clients that pass learning from one project to another. We get scalability. Clients get accelerated knowledge acquisition and competitive pricing. And they may still need advisers to interpret results.”

Consulting firms working in infrastructure can support growth directly, Nick suggests. “We can help to leverage finance – from sovereign wealth funds, from China. In everything from multi-modal transport strategies in the Middle East, to major domestic projects like HS2, we focus on delivering significant ROI. Atkins works in a mature infrastructure advisory chain, sometimes collaborating with other consulting firms who undertake more strategic financial advisory roles in projects. That’s a good model for getting infrastructure right for clients and supporting growth, from strategic intent through to high-quality execution.”

Atkins also sees CSR as growth-enhancing. “I’m passionate about the social implications of consulting. So we invest in education programmes, supporting STEM attainment for instance. It’s partly enlightened self-interest. We need those skills. So do our clients. But it’s also about doing the right thing.

“In any case, the changing face of the workforce means it makes sense. Young people want to make a difference. CSR projects matter to them. By making CSR central to what we do at Atkins, investing resources to allow our consultants to do pro bono work, we do the right thing and make ourselves more attractive to graduates and young hires.”