PA, Jacobs, and consulting’s new directions

A couple of weeks ago, news broke of a remarkable and intriguing acquisition. I’m not talking about Salesforce buying Slack—a move that’s sent tech bloggers and IT departments into overdrive. No, I’m far more interested, in spite of my love of the bespoke flock of dancing parrot emojis that we have in Slack, in the deal for “private equity style investment” struck between Jacobs and PA Consulting: Carlyle Group exits and PA is valued at £1.8bn.  

For the past year, I’ve been thinking about how Source’s taxonomy of the professional services market should look, weighing up how best to capture the shifting landscape of capabilities on offer and the ever-expanding range of firms converging to deliver them to clients. That’s resulted in a new taxonomy, and therefore new Global Data Model, that’s granular and multidimensional in new ways: covering almost 200 capabilities, accounting for different revenue-earning models, and including new countries and new firms in our coverage.  

It’s those new firms that have got me thinking this week. We’ve added a whole raft of them to our modelling, from cybersecurity specialists to civil engineers, which means, pleasingly, that Jacobs is already part of our new model. It wouldn’t have been there before but the ability to recognise convergence and competition was the key feature for which we aimed: There couldn’t be a more perfect deal to prove the worth of our newly minted classifications.  

This isn’t about self-congratulation though. As self-confessed nerds about the industry, the progress of PA, the success that has made it so attractive, illustrates another critical trend. The story of the acquisitions made during Carlyle’s ownership has been one of specialisation and obtaining genuine, undeniable expertise. Even just before the Jacobs announcement, PA announced the purchase of Cooper Perkins. I didn’t know the firm. At all. But barely a minute of Google and LinkedIn searching left me totally unsurprised. Exactly PA’s type: a small, hands-dirty band of technical engineers. Geeks in the best possible way. 

Taken together, these deals exemplify complementary developments that we’ve been observing and anticipating more of for some time. It’s satisfying and intriguing in equal measure to watch investments in the landscape that go beyond “tech firm buys creative agency” and have the potential to test the flexibility of our understanding—pushing us to keep thinking in new ways about what our taxonomy needs to capture.