By Zoë Stumpf.
It may be a little fanciful to compare a consulting market with a film, but the Benelux consulting market has, to my mind at least, an awful lot in common with 1993’s Groundhog Day–a comedy all about an arrogant TV weatherman, tasked with covering the annual appearance of a groundhog from its hole, who then gets trapped into reliving the same day over and over again until he gets it right. It's this time warp element (rather than the humour) that draws comparisons with what is happening to consulting in Benelux now–a market that seems to have got itself well and truly stuck on the hamster wheel of low growth.
A year ago things were looking up for this small region. Growth had reached almost 5% in 2015, and it looked as if the market was finally shaking off the hangover of the financial crisis and years of little or no growth. Expectations were high for 2016, fuelled by the hope that pent-up demand, the possibilities presented by digital, and clients itching to move forward, would all add up to an increasingly buoyant consulting market.
But 2016 saw the market, if not quite back to square one, not far off. Growth slowed to levels of less than 4%, and the nature of the consulting work available is also a cause for concern. Rather than embark on wide-ranging change programmes to help them play catch up following years of limited investment, clients are limiting their focus to the “must-do”, in the form of regulatory compliance projects, and very tactical, back-office digital initiatives. Perhaps in the context of current global political and macroeconomic uncertainty, this focus on short-term, targeted investments rather than huge sweeping changes is a smart move, but the concern here is that clients are in danger of falling behind their competitors–and of course it’s not providing consulting firms with the uplift in demand that they sorely needed.
While no one should write off this market quite yet--and there's hope that investment in new technologies such as robotics and AI will provide a welcome boost–it’s clear that consulting firms need to be smart about how they approach the Benelux market if they are going to overcome the issues presented by limited growth opportunities. Being clear about propositions and positioning is vital, but perhaps more important still is a willingness to invest in assets and productised services that can provide some protection against peaks and troughs in demand.
Our 2017 report on the Benelux consulting market is now available, click here for an extract.