As we move into 2024, businesses across every sector are navigating complex market landscapes that are changing more rapidly than ever before. For consulting firms and professionals, this presents a significant opportunity for growth.
In 2023, we saw loud and clear that the advancement of sophisticated technologies like data analytics and generative artificial intelligence (genAI) are not slowing demand for consulting services. In fact, the opposite is true. Companies in every industry are turning to consultants for guidance in adopting new tools and integrating them into their business strategies.
At the same time, emerging trends related to workplace transformation, remote work, and corporate sustainability have proven to be permanent fixtures in the business world, bringing on new opportunities for consulting firms to lead the way in helping companies transform and modernize.
And at the heart of it all has been a clear demand for consulting firms and their client companies to become more agile, adaptable, and informed, emphasizing the need for data-driven business intelligence tools that help organizations stay on the pulse of market trends and a step ahead of their competitors.
In this article, we’ll explore these and other key consulting trends shaping the landscape in 2024 and beyond, including:
- Generative AI
- Evolving Hiring Practices and Skill Sets
- Workplace Transformation and Remote Work
- Digitalization and Digital Transformation
- Purpose-Driven Consulting
- Industry Specialization
Top Consulting Industry Trends
1. Generative AI: A Paradigm Shift
Generative AI has emerged as a game-changer in the business world, multiplying possibilities of scale as it relates to data analysis, research scope, and data-informed decision making. AlphaSense’s 2023 State of Generative AI & Market Intelligence report found that genAI is the most-utilized type of AI tool used by organizations to power intelligence research.
When it comes to generative AI in consulting, the demand is twofold. First, consultants must embrace AI as a critical resource to enhance the quality and depth of strategies they recommend to their clients. Second, they should be developing the expertise needed to help clients incorporate genAI into their own internal operating and decision-making processes.
Key capabilities facilitated by genAI in both of these applications include:
- High-volume, high-quality data analysis: Process vast amounts of complex data to quickly get to the most valuable insights.
- Predictive insights: Model scenarios and produce strategy simulations to assess various potential outcomes.
- Customizability and personalization: Use learning models to tailor strategy development and solutions to unique client needs.
- Accelerated innovation: Automate time-consuming tasks in the research process and redirect their focus toward higher-value activities, like strategic thinking and creative problem-solving.
- Enhanced collaboration: Use genAI as a platform for knowledge sharing and synthesizing expertise for cohesive solution and strategy development.
At the same time, it’s imperative for consultants to understand the ethical implications of generative AI and have the advanced knowledge to guide their clients effectively in their usage. This includes promoting transparency around the use of genAI, recognizing and minimizing biases, staying compliant with data privacy regulations, and using ethical algorithm training practices.
2. Evolving Hiring Practices and Skill Sets
Nearly four years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the traditional job market and talent acquisition landscapes, with effects continuing into the present day. Today, top candidates even in traditional business and finance fields have elevated and nuanced expectations for employers and the working environments that they provide.
As we navigate economically volatile times, consultancy firms are looking now more than ever to streamline work processes, save time, and cut down on unnecessary expenses for their clients.
Companies that want to recruit the best talent in their industries, while staying within tightened budgets, must adjust accordingly, and many are turning to consultants to help them do it. They’re looking to transform in areas such as:
- Diversity hiring: Attracting a diverse pipeline of potential talent that in turn builds a diverse workforce and inclusive company culture
- Flexible work environments: Meeting evolving employee preferences for flexible schedules and work arrangements
- Employee engagement: Keeping employees engaged and connected to the organization in order to drive higher retention rates, productivity, and employee satisfaction
- Promoting work/life balance: Providing programs, activities, and policies that promote healthy work/life balance for employees
- Attractive compensation: Developing well-rounded compensation packages that include quality benefits beyond salary (ex: tuition reimbursement, extensive PTO, premium health insurance)
- Upskilling current employees: Providing employees with opportunities to advance within the organization through skills training, additional education, and mentorship programs
For consultants, the opportunity lies in developing expertise around talent recruitment and hiring, which looks like recognizing common pitfalls companies experience that require transformation in order to attract better talent and thus yield better long-term business outcomes.
3. Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)
Corporate sustainability, ethics, and ESG may not be new consulting trends, but they couldn’t be more relevant as we enter 2024. The global market for ESG consulting is still on the rise—spending on these services is expected to more than double by 2027.
Environmental, social, and governance best practices are now at the forefront of corporate strategy, not just for regulators and investors, but also for customers and employees. Further, ethics and cybersecurity are emerging as the top ESG priorities for organizations because these are increasingly top of mind for consumers.
Organizations need experts who can guide them on evolving trends, regulations, and public expectations in this space, as well as provide industry and company-specific knowledge to inform strategy.
Further, consulting firms will be in high-demand to help companies identify ESG-related opportunities and deliver comprehensive, data-driven ESG reporting that helps clients meet external requirements and enhance their public brand reputation.
Even despite the continually growing prioritization of corporate ESG, companies still encounter challenges and even public backlash related to ESG strategies. This is particularly prevalent in the financial and insurance services sectors, where more than a third say they have experienced some type of ESG backlash.
And while percentages are lower in other sectors, 61% of all businesses expect ESG-related backlash will continue to increase in the future, suggesting that demand for consulting services to help navigate these challenges will also grow in the coming year.
4. Workplace Transformation and Remote Work
The post-pandemic demand for workplace transformation remains a challenge for businesses in 2024— one that often demands external consulting services and expertise. Companies are still adapting to new operating models driven primarily by digital tools and platforms, which are changing the way they communicate internally, measure productivity, engage clients, and more.
According to McKinsey, 90% of organizations have embraced hybrid work models that allow employees to work off-site either some or much of the time, and business leaders expect that remote work will continue to become more prevalent in the future. The same research reports, however, that only 15% of leaders say they’re totally comfortable leading hybrid/remote teams, which has poor effects for their employees.
This is a clear opportunity for consultants, who can help guide strategy, lead best practices, train leaders and employees, and tailor workplace transformation solutions to unique company needs.
At the same time, consulting firms themselves must look inward and consider if their current service delivery models align with how clients now aim to operate in a modern business world. In other words: is your consulting firm leading by example when it comes to workplace transformation?
It’s critical for consultants to have options for easy remote communication, collaboration, reporting, and ongoing engagement to have the widest new client reach possible.
5. Digitalization and Digital Transformation
The effort to digitally transform is nearly ubiquitous in every part of the business world, but success is still elusive for many organizations. Deloitte reports that only 44% organizations have high maturity, and just 34% of the Fortune 500 (34%) show signs of being strategic about technology investments.
The takeaway: consulting services in digitalization and digital transformation may not be as saturated as many assume, and a real need still exists to get even the largest and most successful companies over the hump to yield real strategic value from their digital investments.
Notably, organizations in most cases are looking less for technical experts to implement new tools in a silo, and more for strategic partners who can guide a more holistic approach to digital transformations like cloud migration/modernization or the transition to remote work models.
This means consultants don’t always need in-depth or system-specific technical expertise in order to deliver digital transformation services. Instead, they must excel at working with internal IT teams who do have that expertise to develop resources that drive action and outcomes, such as implementation roadmaps, business cases for IT investments, and effective employee training programs.
6. Purpose-Driven Consulting: Beyond Profit
Today, every organization is expected to be a purpose-driven organization—one whose brand, offerings, and actions are aligned with the core values and mission they publicly share. Accountability in this area has never been higher.
Not only do customers want to buy from purpose-driven companies, but the sentiment is unanimous among leaders and employees that purpose should indeed be paramount. A mere 7% of executives say they don’t believe social goals should be prioritized, and 82% of employees say a company’s purpose is important (and three-quarters say it’s more important than profit).
But companies need guidance in getting business models to match purpose-driven intent. As a result, high demand exists for services that help companies refine their mission and values, and develop business models that reflect them authentically.
This trend reflects a deeper change in how businesses view their role in society, and it necessitates a new consulting paradigm that balances economic success with societal impact.
7. Industry Specialization: The Need for Niche Expertise
As business environments become more complex, there is a growing trend toward industry specialization in consulting. Clients are looking for consultants who not only understand the nuances of their industries but can also offer bespoke solutions tailored to their specific challenges and opportunities.
This trend toward specialization is pushing consulting firms to develop deeper expertise in specific sectors and for certain scenarios—today, 77% of professional client services organizations choose to specialize in specific industries.
Looking ahead, it’s worthwhile for consulting firms to assess their current client bases to identify the types of clients they’re organically attracting, then lean into additional business opportunities they can gain from targeting more intentionally and/or capitalizing on specialized areas of expertise.
Consulting Industry Outlook for 2024 and Beyond
In our technology-driven world, no industry or business ever stands still, and consulting firms are no exception. The most critical takeaway we can gather from looking at these consulting trends collectively is that consulting firms must be just as agile and adaptable as they aim to make their clients.
Technologies like generative AI and cloud computing will become increasingly fundamental to the way organizations operate, and consultants must know how to leverage and integrate them into the solutions they develop and the strategies they recommend.
As they help clients navigate the changing landscape of generative AI and digital transformation, it will be essential for consulting firms to also uplevel their own delivery models and methods for engagement.
Finally, the key to growth for consulting firms won’t lie in casting a wide net but rather in honing in on the types of businesses, industries, and scenarios they are best equipped to navigate based on experience and expertise. Only then can they successfully guide clients in achieving pivotal goals such as mission and values alignment, digital transformation, ESG impact, and more.
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