London: The US management consulting market grew by 8.5 per cent between 2011 and 2012 to $39.3bn — making it by far the largest single consulting market in the world.
This is one key finding published in a new report today by Source Information Services, the specialist consulting research firm.
Source says that from a consulting service perspective the highest growth rates in the US market are in marketing and sales (a 25 per cent increase), operational improvement (11 per cent) and technology (10 per cent).
From an industry sector perspective the hot areas are healthcare, increasing over 18 per cent to $3.5bn, energy and resources (12 per cent up) and pharmaceuticals (10 per cent up).
Consulting firms will take encouragement from Source's conversations with clients on expected expenditure. The Source report finds that the news is generally very good: 82 per cent say that the amount they spend won't fall, almost half (42 per cent) say it will increase, and 5 per cent say it will increase by more than 50 per cent.
However, the report says that while strong growth may tempt consulting firms into thinking that the US has pulled clear of the malaise still affecting European consulting markets, many of the underlying trends (in terms of what clients think about consultants and how they want to use them) are remarkably similar on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, a very similar proportion of consulting clients in the US said that their organization had either an unofficial view, or an official edict, that expenditure on consultants should be reduced, as said the same thing in Europe.
Fiona Czerniawska, Founder of Source Information Services, who is in the US presenting findings of the report, said, "The reality is that growth right now is being fuelled, as much as anything else, by clients trying to do a lot and not having enough people to do it. In other words, by bodyshopping. This might keep the consulting market buoyant for some time but it's not the foundation on which a sustainable future for the consulting industry is going to be built.
"The big opportunity in the US is about digitization and — through it — transformation. American clients are the only ones we've surveyed in the world that say a technology-led approach to business would persuade them to buy more consulting. Where the rest of the world talks about globalization, America talks about digitization."
Future predictions by consultants and clients...
While shaky confidence amongst clients led to a soft start to the year, most US consulting firms appear to be reasonably optimistic about growth for the immediate future.
Clients expect to increase expenditure, particularly where growth and technology agendas are concerned. The report also says that issues such as pressure to keep headcount as low as possible will continue to stimulate growth in consulting in the short term. As a result, the Source forecast is for continuing high single-digit growth across the market as a whole. But it says that the greater opportunity almost certainly lies in a combination of the large amounts of cash being held by cautious clients and the mounting pressure they're feeling to transform their businesses, particularly as the opportunities to do so through digitization start to become more concrete in their minds.
Fiona Czerniawska said, "The digitization agenda will give rise to the possibility of a new breed of megafirm emerging; firms which we call the digital giants. The three firms currently leading the race to become the digital giants of the US consulting market are Deloitte, IBM and Accenture."