As business scrambles to profit from a barrage of data, talent is being called upon to bulk up the service lines of consultancies like Accenture and BCG.
Consulting recruitment was up by 16% last year, according to statistics from UK-based Management Consultancies Association. Digital has been the engine of this surge.
The flow of business into the tech arms of professional services firms has been gaining pace over the past three years but is now coming to a crescendo.
Harry Gaskell, managing partner of advisory at EY, says the UK economy is being bolstered by a “pent-up demand to invest in and leverage the potential of new technology”.
Technology is now the fasting growing service line, up by 7.7%, according to figures compiled by Source Information Services, which writes specialist research on the consulting market, and in 2013 accounted for a quarter of firms’ income, according to the MCA.
Digital work has been the tide that has lifted consulting firms’ recruitment numbers beyond the growth of areas like financial services – which his grappling with a stringent regulatory environment.
Conrad Chua, head of careers at Cambridge Judge Business School, says: “Clients – they want to know how to use technology to understand big data – even McKinsey is building that capability – and that opens up opportunities for MBA students to work.”
Businesses are investing more in digital technologies and advisors that can map their implementation. This is good news for budding consultants – many of whom now graduate from top-tier business schools.
One of a growing number of teams within the top strategy firms, Accenture Digital now has more than 28,000 employees, and is the industry leader for digital services, according to HfS Research, an analyst group.
Mike Sutcliff, chief executive of Accenture Digital, says the firm was launched to better integrate and further expand capabilities in digital marketing, mobility and data analytics.
He says: “The application of digital technologies has created an entirely new set of opportunities and challenges for our clients.” But he adds that the shift to digital is still in its early stages.
The Accenture group has invested heavily in developing its next generation of leaders, spending $1.5 billion in training and professional development over the past two years.
“It’s an exciting time at Accenture, as we tap the potential of digital to create exceptional learning and career opportunities,” says Ellyn Shook, chief human resources officer.
Accenture is now having to compete with professional services firms for digital talent, as the big four auditors gear up to move further into advisory work, which can be more lucrative.
The big four are investing in in-house consultants to compete with the likes of Bain & Co and McKinsey. Deloitte has been one of the loudest. Its technology team – Deloitte Digital – has expanded quickly, in 2014 amassing more than 400 employees in a year.
Deloitte Digital is pioneering a move into promising tech services such as social media, digital marketing, sales automation and analytics.
In a recent interview with BusinessBecause, Paul Thompson, partner at Deloitte Digital, said: “We believe digital isn’t just going to become another channel – it’s becoming fundamental to the way businesses operate.”
He added that the group is hiring “aggressively”: “We are looking at talent from industry, agencies, other consultancies, graduates [and] business schools.”
It is a similar story at KPMG Digital and Analytics – the fast-growing wing of the big four auditor that will triple in number by the end of 2015, according to Mazhar Hussain, director of the group: “We’re looking for talent in the right markets – and internally.”
Analytics has been one of the most prosperous consulting areas, as companies look to mine revenue and insights from their data. “In some cases it’s that they just don’t understand the impact of the whole range of digital disruptors – from cloud to social media and analytics,” says Paul Connolly, director of the MCA Think Tank.
He adds: “We’re seeing across the industry more appetite for recruiting people with core digital skills… To meet what is seen as a very significant client need.”
Stephan Weidinger, corporate development manager at HEC Paris, says that younger MBA graduates can bring new mind-sets and an understanding of digital contexts into consulting firms.
“Knowledge of digital services will be a must-have requirement for all consulting jobs,” he says.
Beyond the big four and the large strategy houses, there is growth in job opportunity at mid-tier consultancies such as LEK and AT Kearney, and boutiques like Anchura Partners. “There’s going to be opportunities across the range,” says Conrad at Cambridge Judge.