Andy Tinlin, Managing Director of Accenture Strategy, describes 2014 as a volatile year. The trend towards consulting spend continued. “However, we’re seeing a polarisation in the market, with clients making either low-cost commoditised purchases or investing in high value consulting expertise,” he observes.
Some of the consulting activity, Andy notes, concerns new propositions. But some of it is about orientating organisations towards growth. “In financial services, retail and energy there have been huge disruptions. Bank regulation, the shift of power towards digitally capable consumers, the collapse of the oil price. While businesses spent the period after 2008 focusing on cost reduction, now they have to look at their business models to see if they are equipped for a period of growth.”
That growth, Andy observes, is restless, uncertain, even anxious. The disruption of Digital, reducing supply chains, collapsing boundaries between industries, lowering barriers to market entry, reducing the cost of innovation, while at the same time increasing its urgency, is creating intense competition. In retail the competitive pressures have been huge, with discounting on price reaching dog eats dog intensity.
“In truth, what we are seeing is the end of incumbency. No one is safe. As the period of intense price competition exhausts what it can achieve, businesses will need to think hard about what they are for and transform accordingly. Many investor meetings are characterised now by discussions about what corporations are actually for.
“We as consultants need to be prepared to help decision-makers answer these questions.”
Andy suggests that consulting, a young industry, has been subject to significant pressures itself. He highlights the commoditisation of the last decade and thinks it is time for consulting to resist this.
“If we are to help firms achieve complex outcomes, we need to challenge customs and orthodoxies. That is very difficult for the hired gun of a contractor or interim to do. But teams of expert consultants can provide that extra value.”
Indeed, commoditisation and the purchase of expertise are flipsides of the same coin. “Clients can choose to buy individual and cheap commodities – project managers, lawyers, accountants. But that just fills organisational gaps. It does not necessarily provide answers to complex problems or achieve strong outcomes. The purposive buying of expertise is different. It’s about securing a mix of strategically integrated and managed expertise that is exclusively focused on the achievement of the outcomes the client requires. Here, consulting comes into its own.
“Some of this is classic consulting – high value, independent expert advisers. But some of it is new. The trend towards consultants being required to advise and deliver is intensifying – to the degree that we are now being asked not just to devise new solutions, but to prototype and test them.”
This mix of classic and emerging value in consulting is something that Andy believes the Consulting Excellence project and the work of the Consultancy Buyers Forum can promote. “But our industry also needs to take clear responsibility for stating what consulting is for, how that is different from what contractors and interims provide, and how closely it aligns with what clients need. Relentless study of those needs and the development of leading edge propositions are plainly central to this.”
Andy Tinlin was interviewed for the MCA's report 'UK Consulting Industry Statistics 2015', and as part of the MCA Year of Growth.