Future of business consulting

Consulting: trends, specializations and the future of management consulting. An interview with Frank Braun

Frank Braun is a consultant for management consultants and head of marketing at the software and consulting company CSB System. He has been in the consulting market for more than fifteen years. As an author, he writes regularly about the consultancy market, including on his blog.

Mr. Braun, what are the three most important trends in the consulting industry?

The main trend is clearly that digitalization. It has had a significant impact on the industry for decades and this development will only increase. A second megatrend is that consultants no longer only work out strategies, but also process changes in the company as well as the implementation accompany in IT. Finally, with these two major trends comes a third: the Commodization. The commodity ›Consulting‹ becomes interchangeable. Consultants are no longer just strategy advisors for management. Today, external consultants work very closely with the customer's employees on many operational projects. This trend has massive effects on the market: it is growing faster and consequently the need for junior consultants is also increasing.

That sounds like good news. Which specializations are particularly popular with young consultants?

In fact, the need for junior staff is so great that specialization only plays a subordinate role. In the beginning there is still a lot of competitive pressure among the applicants for the consulting firms. As soon as young consultants have spent two to three years in the company, however, they are very well trained - with the larger consulting firms thanks to special training programs, with the smaller ones due to the fast, intensive involvement in projects. With such a wealth of experience from the first two to three years in their professional life, prospective consultants are sought-after employees regardless of their specialization. Because what counts much more than the thematic orientation are the soft aspects: The candidates should therefore show a high willingness to travel and have the mental flexibility to adapt to different companies, projects and contact persons again and again.

So do consultants no longer have to specialize today?

It depends on how you want to work. The companies, i.e. the employers, differ in their focus. The big management consultants and auditors have grown over decades, position themselves strongly through strategy consulting and are primarily looking for generalists. The smaller companies, on the other hand, have usually looked for a niche when they were founded and are therefore dependent on specialists. Graduates with strong thematic knowledge and the desire to continue to focus on it should therefore ideally apply to the latter.

Is it possible that the consulting market will soon stagnate given the large supply of consulting firms?

On the contrary! The consulting market is growing very strongly in general. And I believe that the need for consultants will always remain at a high level as long as the pressure to change is high and companies can only react quickly to new circumstances with the help of external consultants.

Are the large, long-established consulting firms threatened by the newer, specialized ones?

I wouldn't speak of a threat. In such a rapidly growing market, the question is rather which company can grow faster. Competitive questions that are now emerging are very exciting, namely: As a company seeking advice, do I get the individual resources from a classic management consultancy? Or do I prefer to use marketplaces, networks of consultants or appropriate intermediaries for consultants? So companies are increasingly looking into the question of whether they really depend on traditional management consultancy or whether they do better if they put together their own consultants.

Generation Y attaches great importance to a good work-life balance. How do consulting firms meet this?

Of course, nobody in consulting will have a regular nine-to-five job, which is unrealistic in project work. Nevertheless, consultancies have reacted to the demands of their applicants and created more flexible working models. After all, they want to lure the highly sought-after experienced consultants to them.