Disruptors at the door

Stockholm’s much vaunted start-up scene is having little direct effect on the fortunes of Swedish consultants, but its indirect effect could yet prove significant.

Not that Sweden’s consultants need much of a leg up at the moment: The Swedish consulting market, already the Nordic region’s largest, grew by a respectable 4.9% in 2015 and shows few signs of slowing. Cross the Oresund, Svinesund or Torne river bridges (connecting Sweden respectively to Denmark, Norway and Finland) and you find a starkly different situation.

But the presence of what many are calling Europe’s Silicon Valley within their midst raises interesting questions for consultants in Stockholm because of what it says about the willingness (or not) of a new breed of digital businesses to turn to them for help.

Very few of the consulting leaders we spoke to in Sweden during the course of researching this year’s Nordic consulting market report admitted to winning much work from digital start-ups. No one would be surprised by that – these start-ups simply aren’t big or complex enough to face the kind of problems that typically bring consultants in – and the assumption would be that, as they grow (and tech firms can grow very quickly), they’re more likely to turn to consulting firms for help.  Like their predecessors in the late 1990s, they also don’t see what a bunch of stuffy old men in smart suits could possibly offer them.

More exciting are the indirect consequences of everything that’s happening in Stockholm right now. Businesses of all stripes are busy assessing the new opportunities presented to them by digitisation, but the biggest businesses are as scared as they’re hopeful: scared that they’ll be disrupted out of existence if they don’t transform themselves; hopeful that, somewhere in the mix, is the idea that could pave the way to an entire new market.  And that’s all the more real and present to the leaders of Sweden’s biggest businesses precisely because the disruptors are on their doorstep.

So, don’t expect digital start-ups to fuel growth in consulting any time soon. But do expect the reaction to them among big companies to be very big business for consultants.