The Irish management consultancy sector continued to grow over the course of 2018 across all main service lines and industries driven by Ireland’s buoyant economy. This year has seen a blend of organic and inorganic growth. Notable acquisitions this year saw BDO acquire Eaton Square to bolster its consulting offering, EY’s first acquisition in Ireland with the purchase of DKM Economic Consultants and Version One’s continued UK expansion through the buyout of Cedar Consulting. We have also seen the growth of dedicated consulting graduate programmes as companies look to grow their own talent in the sector.
In line with previous years, financial services firms have been a substantial buyer of consulting services. Banks and insurers are running a number of large-scale complex transformation programmes (see Internal Transformation) and as a result are turning to consultancies both to help define and deliver the change agenda. Consultants are also being deployed in the banking sector to work on the remediation work of the regulatory agenda, as various banking entities are wound down and permanent employees reallocated to different business areas.
Beyond the operational and programme leadership service lines the trifecta of digital, cybersecurity and innovation remain highly sought after, perhaps unsurprisingly given their interconnected nature.
Recent research conducted by Ricoh has shown that 94 per cent of business leaders recognise the importance of digital transformation for their businesses. However, 61 percent of Irish businesses surveyed did not feel they are in a good position to take advantage of new digital technologies. According to research by EY and Microsoft, Irish companies are lagging behind their European competitors with the adoption of AI which will be critical to the success of those digital transformation projects. Almost two thirds (65%) of organisations who responded to the survey in Europe expect AI to have a high impact on their core business. This compares with just 40 percent for Ireland. The vast majority (89%) of all respondents, 85 percent in Ireland, expect AI to generate business benefits by optimising their companies’ operations in the future, with 74% saying they expect it to be key to engaging their customers.
Intrinsically connected to both digital and technology innovation is the cybersecurity agenda. The number of targeted cyberattacks has more than doubled in Ireland over the past year and the government recently announced new mandatory national cybersecurity requirements. These will particularly impact firms in the energy, life sciences, digital communications and public services sectors.
However, as firms in all sectors work with increasingly large amounts of sensitive data to better understand their customers’ needs, they will be increasingly wary of reputational damage caused by security breaches. From a hiring perspective, there was and will continue to be appetite across all grades, sectors and service lines, with a premium placed on those individuals with experience of operating in the industry. As all consultancies make additions to their practices to meet increased client demand, individuals who can hit the ground running and act as a credible point of client contact can expect to find themselves highly sought after.
Internal consulting functions continued to grow in 2018 driven by a variety of factors. The financial services sector saw a high demand for internal transformation specialists as businesses in Ireland prepare to deliver new operating models in the face of a “no-deal” Brexit. This has led to increased demand for individuals capable of interpreting the regulatory framework as well as core Programme Management professionals, including Business Analysts and PMO resources.
Similarly, the retail arms of the banks and insurers are all working to deliver more customer-centric and digitally orientated solutions in the face of increased consumer confidence and disrupters to the market. The Irish M&A market remained buoyant with Irish-based companies involved in the 76 deals worth €70.9 billion in the first half of the year, according to a study of mergers and acquisitions activity by corporate law firm William Fry. This figure was in part skewed by the €67.1 billion deal agreed in May between Japanese drug maker Takeda and Shire. However, the deals market remains buoyant with notable activity in the Consumer Goods and Technology Media Telecoms sectors. As well as keeping deals advisory teams busy, this activity has led to an expansion of internal strategy and corporate development functions.
The Year Ahead
There is no foreseeable slowdown in the growth of the Irish consulting sector. The ESRI recently upgraded its growth forecast for the Irish economy for this year to almost 9 percent. The revised figure is based on the assumption that a Brexit deal can be struck. However, even a no-deal scenario will see consultants being deployed, as firms augment strategies and adapt operating processes, in much the same way as there was a spike in the demand for regulatory advisors in the wake of the 2008 downturn.
Overall, 2019 looks set to be an exciting time for the consulting sector as a whole, with growth now looking likely across the board. Professionals who can blend a skill set that combines business and technology will continue to be the most in demand, as will those capable of spearheading drives into new services that are outside the core proposition base of consulting
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