To get a sense of where the consulting market is likely to be hottest—and, more importantly, to get a sense of where the jobs will be—it pays to listen to those whose job it is to assess and identify opportunities in the global business. Happily, the folks over at Consulting magazine have made that process a sight easier: the January 2013 edition of the magazine contains a series of interviews with leaders of major consulting firms—the very people who get paid to identify potential gaps in the market that their firms can fill.
While the 15 leaders interviewed for the issue touched on a number of different areas that were relevant to their own specific businesses, there were two main areas that really stood out as common themes when looking ahead: opportunities in digitization and data-related fields, and opportunities in emerging markets.
Digitization and Data-Related Issues
The ever-increasing amount of data being generated by companies around the world isn't exactly news. What is new(er) is the growing awareness that firms are going to have to do something about it, or risk being left behind. From buzzwords like "big data" to cloud-based storage solutions, there is a recognition that technology is now officially a business strategy issue that needs to be thought about in the same manner as, say, the supply chain or customer satisfaction. In fact, those issues are often the ones that data capture and analysis is best placed to improve. As Bob Patton—Ernst & Young Americas Vice Chair of Advisory Services—told Consulting, "There are 35 trillion gigabytes of digital information being created every year and clients are just inundated with all this information […] this is not a technology issue, this is a business issue."
Adding to that sentiment, Slalom Consulting's John Tobin told the magazine that "Another major opportunity in 2013 will be helping businesses to understand and use big data as a competitive advantage. It's a major opportunity across all key verticals to help businesses understand trends and make strategic decisions based upon the massive amounts of internal and external data flowing through and residing within their businesses."
All of that spells big opportunity for those interested in careers in the big data space. How big? A McKinsey report last year estimated that some 1.5 million "data-savvy managers" would be needed by 2020 to "take full advantage of big data in the United States."
Of course, data management and analysis will also be a driving business issue elsewhere, but consulting firms seem to sense a wider range of opportunities in emerging markets. Making just that case, Booz & Co CEO Cesare Mainardi commented in the Consulting piece that "the developed world is fatigued" after "five years of battling financial and economic crises." Emerging markets, however "present a different set of challenge." According to Mainardi, "they have young, middle class consumers who bring dramatically higher expectations to the table. It's not enough to be the first or the biggest anymore. You have to be the best at what you do."
Echoing that sentiment, Consulting also noted that E&Y's Patton pointed out "that some 50 percent of GDP and 30 percent of consumer spending is now coming from emerging markets and with it comes plenty of opportunity."
Where the Jobs Are
The best news of all for those seeking positions within the consulting industry is that consulting leaders still consider themselves to be locked in a war for talent—particularly talent with the blend of management and data analysis skills that will be required in the near future. As Kerrie Holley—IBM Global Business Services' Chief Technology Officer—put it "The search for talent will be paramount: problem solvers, mathematicians, researchers, scientists, engineers and consultants working seamlessly to create new value and make our world smarter and better."
That kind of thinking seems to be permeating much of the industry at the moment, with firms seeking to ramp up their capabilities however they can. While Booz & Co. recently joined forces with a boutique digital strategy shop, other firms are ramping up hiring inititiatives. Ernst & Young is one of those: Consulting states thatE&Y hires around 100 executive and 2,000 professionals a year in Advisory, and notes that Patton expects to run into difficulty finding candidates with specialized skills in the future—skills that include "the ability to problem-solve and individuals who can bring more data-rich and asset-based solutions to market."
Those interested in checking out careers in anything related to the big data field—data management, cloud solutions, etc.—could also do a lot worse than check out Slalom: according to their CEO, the firm hired some 700 new employees last year, and are seeking to add an additional 900 in 2013.
If consulting is the art of guiding clients through difficult or uncharted waters, then finding careers in the field is about identifying where those waters lie, and familiarizing yourself with them. In this case, that means gaining a working knowledge of data solutions and, ideally, the inner workings of one or more developing economies.
Digital Strategy: A Growing Career Field?
Consulting Magazine: The 2013 Executive Outlook
McKinsey Global Institute: Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity