Technology was once a specialty that corporate executives mostly left to their IT departments. But the upheaval in work practices during the pandemic and the acceleration of the shift to online business have placed digital transformation firmly on the boardroom agenda.
“Our customers aren’t so much the IT department, our customers will be the CEO or the C-suite,” says Gitte Ganderup, co-founder of consulting and data firm Arca Blanca.
Rising interest from business leaders has created a growing demand for technology consultants to help companies overhaul their systems, strengthen cybersecurity, and improve analysis of customer data.
The UK technology consulting market grew by more than 9 percent in 2021, according to data provider Source Global Research.
“We don’t have enough capacity to meet demand,” said Anne-Marie Malley, Managing Partner for UK Consulting at Deloitte.
Consultants have guided organizations in the public and private sectors in adapting to remote working and updating business models to meet the needs of customers looking to deliver more products and services online.
According to Steve Watmough, managing director of Mason Advisory, a small IT consultancy based in Salford, the trend is rippling across the economy, including “banks, insurance companies, police forces, central government agencies, lawyers, retailers — almost every single industry.”
According to Watmough, companies often ask his firm to identify ways to improve their technology and identify the skills needed to deploy the new systems. Solutions can include hiring in-house teams, purchasing cloud-based services from companies like Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, or Salesforce, and bringing in large IT consulting firms like Cognizant, Accenture, or IBM to manage the implementation of large technology projects .
Technology was a growing focus for company bosses even before Covid-19, but consultants say projects now cover an entire organization rather than a single department or function.
A survey by KPMG last year found that the majority of clients are planning large projects to introduce technology into their organizations, notes Adrian Clamp, head of digital transformation in the UK.
“Covid has accelerated trends that were already there [such as] the need for businesses to truly reinvent themselves around their customers in a more connected way,” says Clamp. “Many of the big technologies span the entire enterprise.”
Part of the motivation for investing in technology is to make it easier to respond to changes in the future. For example, integrating cloud technology into a company’s supply chain can enable faster information sharing and help the company prepare for disruptions caused by a shock in China or Brexit-related issues, says Clamp.
Consultants are also customizing their own companies to meet the demand for technological skills. Once a specialized subset of the industry, technology consultants have become ubiquitous across the industry in recent years. “That distinction no longer exists,” says Malley.
Consulting firms even compete for recruits, especially candidates with technical know-how. “There’s a hot recruitment market on the data science side,” says Arca Blanca’s Ganderup.
In response, some companies are increasingly hiring in the UK’s regional cities to tap new – and cheaper – talent pools. PwC invests in technology centers in Belfast and Manchester. Accenture plans to create 3,000 tech jobs over three years, with half of the jobs based outside of London in cities like Newcastle and Leeds.
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“The development of the talent in these locations is quite important to us,” says Allan King, head of Accenture’s technology center in Newcastle. On the one hand, it is intended to help meet client demand, but also to attract candidates who may not have considered working for Accenture in the past.
Consultants also enrich themselves through acquisitions. EY’s deals in August included the purchase of Seaton Partners, a small East Midlands firm specializing in Microsoft applications. Accenture announced seven acquisitions in the UK last year, including BCS Consulting, a company with around 250 employees and offices in London and Peterborough.
Acquiring smaller companies can help consultancies “supercharge” their technical skills, says King. “I’m pretty sure we’ll keep looking at this because it’s been successful for us lately,” he says.
However, competition for smaller companies has made some deals expensive, putting buyers at risk of overpaying.
“I think it would be fair to say that the multiples you have to pay for tech companies have never been this high,” says KPMG’s Clamp.