COVID-19 | Update for 7th May 2020

We're all facing unprecedented challenges in the next few weeks and months, in our daily lives, in our communities, and in our businesses. But we're already seeing evidence of how, if we work together, we can make a difference.

It's in that spirit of collaboration that Source has put together an estimate of the impact we think COVID-19 will have on the global consulting industry during the course of 2020. We're very grateful for the input of a wide range of firms from around the world who've helped us do this, providing up-to-the-minute information on how we should adjust our existing model of the industry.

While based on the best information we have at the time of writing, our forecast and commentary are intended to be directional, providing guidance for future planning. In an environment where everything is changing very quickly, our predictions will inevitably change. Over the coming months, we will be updating the forecast on a weekly basis. For more information on our data and methodology, please see the end of this bulletin.

Please help us to help you: We've only been able to pull this forecast together so quickly because of the input of the hundreds of firms from all over the world who responded to our initial survey. Please help us by sending us your updates week by week, by following this survey link. Every single one of these responses helps us improve our forecasting.

Summary: 7th May

As we move into the second phase of this crisis, we're continuing to see slight improvements in our forecasts, but are still expecting, based on the evidence of the last week, that the consulting industry will contract by 19% over the course of this year. Greater capacity to plan for even an uncertain future has given a small boost to the prospects of strategy, operational improvement, and HR & change management, but a critical question is whether "new" services, such as workforce planning, could become the basis of a more integrated COVID-19 response.

Will COVID-19 mark a return to one-stop-shopping?

Consultants are optimists—and rightly so. The epitome of if-we-build-it-they-will-come thinking, the industry has successfully weathered other economic storms by quickly adapting its products and services to changing client demand.

We see plenty of that adaptation going on, as we move from the first phase of this crisis, in which clients were almost entirely coping with the implications of a sudden and almost total economic shutdown, to the second phase, in which parts of the economy start to slowly reopen but against a backdrop of severe operational uncertainty. This week's data shows a further small improvement in the forecast to the end of 2020, the key exception being Africa where we've updated our forecasts to take into account the increasingly dismal economic and social predictions for the region.

  Region 2019 (US$bn) 2020 forecast (US$bn) % change
North America 77.4 63.9 (17%)
Europe & Russia 43.2 33.9 (21%)
Asia Pacific 24.8 20.9 (16%)
Central & South America 5.1 4.0 (23%)
Middle East 3.6 2.8 (24%)
Africa 2.9 2.3 (19%)
  Total 157.1 127.9 (19%)

That may feel disappointing, perhaps even unrepresentative to firms in mature consulting markets, many of whom see signs of clients becoming more active, more opportunities hitting the pipeline, and some work being won—but it's important to recognise two things. First, our numbers are based on the evidence we have each week about the extent to which that economic activity is, or is very likely to, translate into consulting revenues. Moreover, although the delivery of government stimulus initiatives often depends on external support from consulting firms and other suppliers, some of the work is being done at cost, some for free. This means that even where work is being won it's at a materially lower price point than would have been the case pre-crisis. The second point is about expectations: For some firms, the market now feels better because they've been expecting worse. The value of their pipeline may be down on what it was at the same point last year, but it's looking better than it was two weeks ago.

That being said, there are reasons for consultants to be upbeat—and most stem from the increasing capacity of organisations to think about how they're going to operate over the next few months. In particular, we're seeing increasing client interest in ensuring that products and services are better configured for online consumption; improving customer engagement; configuring new, more resilient supply chains; robotic process automation; and cybersecurity, risk, and regulation. All this is reflected in small increases, primarily in strategy (up from -31% last week to -29%), operational improvement (-22% to -21%), and HR & change management (-40% to -37%). Our risk & regulatory number continues to improve, with more work around cybersecurity in particular.

  Services 2020 forecast
% change
Financial management (29%)
HR & change management (37%)
Operational improvement (21%)
Risk & regulatory (17%)
Strategy (29%)
Technology (8%)
  Total (19%)

The phrase on every firm's lips this week was "workforce planning": helping organisations work out how many people they'll need to reconfigure the parts of their business they're bringing back on stream, what type of people, employed on what basis, etc.

For HR firms, the improvement in our forecast is particularly welcome news, as no other type of firm has been so badly affected by the current crisis. There's no reason for them to be complacent, however: Without a doubt workforce planning will generate demand for help around reframing HR policies, terms of employment, etc., but it's likely that the bulk of the work will be focused on process and technology change, so firms that can offer this in conjunction with expertise will do best.

That brings us to a more important point.

If consultants' confidence isn't to be misplaced, the consulting industry needs to see client demand coalesce into large projects. Workforce planning has the potential to do that because of the range of capabilities likely to be involved. But will clients buy these services as a package, from a single firm, or will they buy them piecemeal, going to different firms for different components? Our research suggests that, in normal times, clients are sceptical about one-stop shopping, preferring instead to use a combination of firms that they think have different strengths. But these aren't normal times and, historically, when organisations have found themselves overwhelmed with problems (complex post-deal integrations are a good example) they've often been more prepared to hire a single firm across a much broader range of services, largely because it's faster to contract with one supplier and easier to manage the resulting work. Given speed is so much of the essence in this crisis, it seems very likely that clients will be more prepared to put their cynicism to one side and hire one firm to provide a comprehensive and coherent solution. But such decisions will have a price: It will only make sense for clients to do this if they can also transfer accountability for success to the consulting firm. A minority of clients will be keen to have someone else to blame in the event that something goes wrong, but the majority will simply be looking to give themselves the managerial breathing space to be able to cope with other challenges. Consulting firms, genetically primed to want to help their clients in any possible way and keen to maintain revenues, may be prepared to take on a level of responsibility that they might—in normal times—have shied away from. The possibility of a market for an integrated response to this phase of the crisis could therefore create significant challenges for consulting firms, even while it also offers up important opportunities to demonstrate their ability to add tangible value at speed.

Further questions

We've included details of our model and forecasting methodology below. If you'd like to know more about how we've created our forecasts or want to understand how the year is likely to play out at a more granular level for your firm, please contact charis.buckingham@sourceglobalresearch.com.

Methodology

In order to calculate this forecast, we've taken the most recent forecast from our model of the consulting industry, which was prepared pre-crisis, in early January 2020. This unique model is built bottom-up, by estimating the number of people employed by several thousand major and mid-sized firms across 84 countries, 29 industries, and a range of services. We then apply a series of metrics and adjustments around the revenue per consultant. Where possible we validate this data against published sources and interviews with senior people in the firms concerned. Although some of our 10 million individual data points and assumptions may be wrong, when aggregated, they provide a robust view of consulting markets around the world. Moreover, because of the way this model has been built, we can adapt it to take account of new scenarios—as we have done here. In order to understand the likely impact of COVID-19 on the consulting industry, we've developed forecasts at the level of individual service lines, quarter by quarter, then modified these depending on industry and country. Please note that all the data in this bulletin is for the calendar year 2020 and is in US dollars. We've calibrated our assumptions with a number of major and mid-sized firms.

Definitions

One of the greatest challenges with sizing any part of the consulting industry is that "consulting" means different things to different people. Over the last 12 years, Source has adopted a consistent definition, and this underpins all our published material about the consulting industry. It includes traditional management consulting services (strategy, HR & change, operational improvement, risk & regulatory work, and technology consulting), but does not include systems development and integration, and outsourcing services.

Scope

Our model also focuses on what we call "big consulting", work done by consulting firms with more than 50 consultants typically for clients with a turnover in excess of $500m.

About Source Global Research

Source Global Research is the leading provider of research about the professional services market. Founded in 2007, we serve the world's leading professional services firms and their clients with expert analysis, data, and insights. Firms come to us because they know we offer transparency in a notoriously opaque market. We provide direction and evidence about changes in the marketplace, helping firms cut through what can sometimes be intractable discussions around future direction by being objective and honest.

Data sits at the heart of what we do, and our model of the professional services market is the largest and most sophisticated in the world. Data in the model comes from extensive desk research, and interviews with over a thousand senior partners from around the world. It feeds into our customers' business strategies and helps them prepare for the future. We also place a strong emphasis on the views of clients of professional services firms (we conduct some of the largest interviews on this sector in the world) and listen to what clients need, and how their views are changing in the marketplace.

Please note that, because we work with such a wide range of firms, we take confidentiality very seriously. Our ongoing research programme, including interviews, and customised project work with individual firms, gives us an extensive foundation of knowledge and allows us to work on some of the most confidential issues these firms have.

Our independence and knowledge of the professional services industry means that we're trusted to set our work within the wider market context, helping firms make the most of the opportunities on offer. Our customers would tell you that we have a strong commitment to doing the very best for every firm we work with, and are thoughtful, friendly, and easy to work with.

Please help us to help you: We've only been able to pull this forecast together so quickly because of the input of the hundreds of firms from all over the world who responded to our initial survey. Please help us by sending us your updates week by week, by following this survey link. Every single one of these responses helps us improve our forecasting.