Outsourcing

Is the consulting industry really so complex?

Fixing clients' problems can be tough, but the principles of consulting are fairly simple. So why do consultants over-complicate it? Columnist Tom Rodenhauser ponders the question.

There are varying degrees of analysis in our business: from top-of-mind riffs to bare-no-secrets probes. Yet dig down deep enough at any major consulting firm, and you realize how difficult it is to produce truly meaningful analysis.

Consulting is a complicated business. But most of the complexities reside with the client and his or her situation. Beyond the basic operating metrics of a consulting firm (utilization rates, attrition, and so on), it’s amazing how little there is to analyze. As consultants, we live a Zelig-like life that emulates clients’ needs and wants—we are what you need us to be. Maybe I’m becoming feeble-minded as I contemplate this conundrum, a condition my parents warned me of when one ponders the imponderables.

You see, my dad was the village baker. His job was very direct: Make donuts, sell donuts, get up the next morning and do it again. Consulting’s lofty premise is just the opposite: Solve one client’s dire situation and move on to another client’s vexing problem. It’s the baker’s equivalent of finding a field each morning to plant the wheat (to harvest the crop, to make the flour…).

Now, despite the world-class rhetoric, we all know a consultant’s long-term health depends on efficient reinvention. If possible, most consultants would gladly apply a proven solution across an entire industry.

I admire the simplicity of that business but am flummoxed as to why consultants seem incapable of saying as much. Press releases talk about consultants being “architects of the new economy” but fail to explain the building process.

Yes, such talk would further demystify the industry. But clients have lost patience with consultants who postulate on the “next big thing.” Consultants are indeed building the new economy, but as back-office helpers. How else to explain the industry’s reliance on straightforward technical projects, like installing widget software to manage widget inventories?

Management consulting—as the old-timers know it—is a dying business. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, maybe we analysts will now have something tangible to study.

Heard on the street
Many top golfers have opted out of Accenture’s Match Play Championship, including Phil Mickelsen. Thus, we can only wonder how Phil would have looked in his KPMG hat accepting the winner’s trophy from Accenture CEO Joe Forehand. Maybe next year?
Inside Consulting is written by Tom Rodenhauser as a free weekly supplement to The Rodenhauser Report. The report informs senior advisors and business executives of consulting trends and best practices. Subscription cost is $295 per year for 10 issues. Copyright 2000, Consulting Information Services, LLC. Reproduction is prohibited. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.

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