Recently we were asked by a major global FMCG company for a specialist to help two leading category teams figure out how best to use the mountains of customer data each was producing. Market research based on buying behaviour from millions of customers is all very well, said the company, but we need to understand what it means for the business in terms of strategic pricing, market opportunities and positioning.
And there you have it. Deep data mining of tons of data and translating it into commercial outcomes is high priority, however the business has an internal capability and bandwidth constraint. They could hire a mainstream consulting firm to do the job for them, but this is an expensive option, and the large pyramid structure was not appropriate. Similarly hiring a permanent person doesn’t sit well with managing costs in a tough economic climate. The solution? Bring in an independent consultant to work alongside management and internal teams, specifically on this project.
Beyond the gates of this FMCG company are thousands of other businesses facing similar challenges. Almost every company right now is generating vast amounts of data and almost all of them need help to figure out how to make best use of it. This isn’t just a matter of specifics, like adjusting pricing strategies, but creating a vision and strategy for a more digital, connected, big-data driven world.
Changing Business Models
At the same time, organisations are revising their own cost structures and looking to re-shape for a more digital future. Already most rely on access to external professional support. “This organisation would cease to function if we couldn’t bring in external help,” one Chief Operating Officer recently told us.
Little wonder that data analytics, technology innovation and digital transformation are among the fastest-growing areas of demand for consultants globally.
This came into sharp relief recently when our firm asked Source Global Research to interview senior executives at 250 leading European employers. More than one in five (21%) said they hire independent consultants to help exploit new digital technologies – and this is set to grow even more. An even higher proportion, almost a third of hiring organisations, expect to increase their use of independent consultants in data analytics and digital technology in the next three years (31% and 29% respectively).
The need to access professional skills has always been there, helping the professional services industry to grow exponentially in size and value. Source estimates that in 2016, the professional services sector generated work worth £215bn in the UK alone – of which around one fifth went to independent professionals. And, they say, it’s the independent sector that’s best positioned for rapid growth as we continue through economic uncertainty.
Employers Most Value Flexibility
The primary requirement of employers right now, it turns out, is flexibility. In the process of overturning their own business models at every level – including how they use people – they want maximum flexibility from highly-skilled professionals working across their businesses.
The Source study however, found that in addition to giving greater flexibility, independent consultants score as or higher for quality of work in almost every specialist area asked about – and notably those in greatest demand around data analytics and technology.
More than one in five organisations (21%) said they hire independent consultants to help exploit new digital technologies – and this is set to grow even more. An even higher proportion, almost a third of hiring organisations, expect to increase their use of independent consultants in data analytics and digital technology in the next three years (31% and 29% respectively).
For consultants highly skilled in areas like this, a gold rush is just beginning. The Source study further revealed that employers’ main reservation about hiring consultants who work independently is that it’s hard to find them, and also apply quality control. When you buy in professional support at the top level, it’s expensive and requires the right level of quality assurance.
This is why we set up Odgers Connect – bringing the rigours of assessment common in executive search to the independent consulting market. As the consulting arm of Odgers Berndtson, one of the world’s leading executive search firms, we have applied best practice in assessment and selection to our own network of independent consultants, all of whom have previously worked for the world’s leading consulting firms.
The idea is to give peace of mind and, according to the Source report, new ways to provide this to employers is urgently needed. Their appetite to find independent professionals to work across a wide range of challenging business issues is strong and, once the quality control issue is more widely addressed, is set to explode. This is what the future of professional services looks like. We’re all entrepreneurs now.