Disruption within the Consulting Industry

How is disruption affecting the disruption experts?

Diverse innovations and cultural trends are affecting the consulting industry. Like many sectors, it is facing upheaval from such changes, standing on the cusp of its own disruption. Upstarts are offering business models that are challenging even the most well-established consulting firms. Often, these larger firms are countering these startups with their own innovative, flexible offerings to clients; yet lesser established consultants lack information resources to match the major firms. One irony remains: consultants advise other organizations on the same disruptors affecting the consulting industry. Who will consult with the consultants?

Experts are directly accessible

A vast collection of online expert marketplaces are available for clients in almost any industry. A client can post a project on these sites or click a few radio buttons in order to select an experienced consultant within a given discipline. Budgets and time parameters are agreed upon and the given expert can immediately begin on a client project. Decades ago, such quickness and convenience was not available to most firms. The ease of these sites may make some clients prefer the transactional, efficient way to hire consultants via an electronic portal rather than through a contract-laden, multi-year professional relationship with a big consulting firm.

Expertise cannot keep up with innovation

As the rapid development of technology continues, even large, established consultancies may not have in-house expertise for newly created needs. For example, a large medical device warehouse company may want to implement artificial intelligence within their stock selection workflow, but the available experts on such implementations may be hard to find. This scenario goes beyond just finding an expert in artificial intelligence. In fact, this particular client may also want an expert in medical devices, warehouses and one who is aware of the given country’s regulatory environment. Accordingly, consultancies may have to seek outside expertise for obscure client assignments.

Freelancers make the on-demand economy pay off

At one time, clients chose consultants solely based on academic pedigree or the cachet of a consulting firm’s brand.  Now, many clients are seeking alternative solutions from readily available freelance consultants or bootstrapped startups. The prestigious background of a given professional or consultancy is becoming less important than the value that can be provided to the client by skilled and professional interactions and deliverables. In effect, clients are becoming more solution-oriented rather than partner-oriented.

Business and billing models evolve

Clients increasingly want flexibility among their consulting partners. For example, a client may request that a given deliverable be posted on a public website in a PDF format with the client’s branding, not the consulting firm’s branding. An established consulting firm may balk at such a request, whereby a freelance, independent consultant may be more amenable to such a requirement. Clients are also increasingly requesting that they pay consultants based on proven return on investment milestones. Due to repercussions of the Great Recession, compaines are still concerned with showing real, measurable results from their expenditures on services.

Artificial intelligence enters the scene

Artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies like cognitive computing and natural language processing are increasingly important in the world of consulting. Whether an “Alexa the Consultant” will ever be developed is not certain. AI technology, however, is being used for new purposes seemingly every day. For instance, there is investment advisory services software that is powered by AI and allows a client to set parameters to get specific financial advice in return.  Such interactive technologies could become available for other advisory services as well.


As consulting firms advise other industries about disruption, disruption is occurring in their own industry. Consultants have been conferring with clients about trends like digital transformation, the gig economy and AI for years. Now these trends have come back around to affect them. Just as doctors need to be careful because they often make the worst patients, consultants would be well advised to apply what they know about disruption to themselves. Disruptive innovation is inevitable, so having a team to monitor for it will allow consultants to avoid its potentially catastrophic risks while continuing a rewarding career.