Why consulting as we know it is sure to die (1) Subtle signs

Mainstream consulting as it has existed for the last 30 years is bound to die. It is still alive, but already in assisted living mode in some areas… and it is only getting worse. There are signs in the US, Europe and Asia. Having worked in all three regions for the last 15 years, I can see this as a trend. Obviously, the industry will not die as a whole tomorrow, but it will be profoundly transformed. And the dinosaurs will die. As usual.

At this point, you probably have two questions: (1) what do you mean by “consulting as we know it is sure to die”? And (2) what makes you think it will? Let’s take one question at a time.

  1. What do I mean by “consulting as we know it is about to die”?
    I mean that consulting has been a very rewarding business for the past six or seven decades, and it is changing rapidly. Other industry segments were fatally wounded (newspapers, video rental) or profoundly transformed (retail, electronics, airlines) by their changing environment in the past. Consulting is about to be transformed; and the consulting firms who don’t transform will disappear, dramatically shrink in size, be absorbed by others or become cut-throat commodity sweat shops. It will materialize in different ways:

    • Traditional strategy firms without a strong network will lose and leave the game
      Only the biggest players, and some entrenched niche players will thrive
    • Traditional operations/technology consulting firms are the biggest losers
      They have the weakest cards of all, and no easy way to get a winning hand
    • Other providers have good cards in hand, but they are not easy to play
      It is unclear how they can organize together to play a key role at the table
  2. What makes you think it will?
    The tell-tale signs are many. Here are a few:

    • The service offerings have been considerably commoditized
    • The mass transfer of talent to clients reaches a breaking point
    • A profound change in the client base redefines the client-consultant relationship

In the next posts, we will look at each of these groups, see what history tells us, and discuss some of the ways consulting firms can transform themselves to help their client better and remain relevant.

In the mean time, I would love to have your opinions about the signs you see… or if you have a very different opinion and why obviously!

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