Werner Spies July 21, 2020

How to save Australia’s Professional Services

Covid-19 has brought a wave of economic destruction to many businesses, but it’s not the bottom line, it’s the people who work for – or used to work for – organisations, that are suffering.

Much has been made by federal and state governments to protect and restimulate certain industries.  Those in food & beverage and tourism, along with huge construction grants that have been doled out to drive infrastructure jobs on the ground at a state level. All incredibly valid investments.

However, with businesses spending cautiously and projects on hold, there has also been much blood-letting in the professional services sector, including the culling of consultants who also have livelihoods in need of protection. I speak from experience in the management and IT&T consulting sector, but I’m sure these observations also apply across a wider range of professional services.

During Covid-19 we’ve seen many of the Big 4 consultancies laying off hundreds of staff locally, thousands more internationally and at all costs protecting profit from the pandemic.

There are more than 83,000 ABNs for management and IT&T consultants in Australia and absolutely everyone is finding it tough. At 460degrees pleasingly, we have not had to make anyone redundant.

We’re proud of this fact, which we’ve achieved through a range of measures including implementing a unique expert-led operating model. Our teams are led by champion experts who are very hands-on with every assignment. We have not had to let people go because we’re not a system of proprietary solutions, reliant on a legacy name and executed, at scale, through head count. We create the optimal teams each time and our experts that are engaged at the start are the ones who follow through to the end.

Our expert-led model has provided both stability for our staff and consistent quality of delivery for clients. No additional disruptions. It has been the single biggest thing, within our control, that we have done to build a robust and future-proofed business.

We have also been flexible with our major clients in allowing them to recruit our experts into permanent roles (yes, this is painful, but it’s necessary in the present conditions if it is in the best immediate interest of the Expert).

In these challenging times, like many others we’re using JobKeeper to the best of its ability, but we’ve all also got our sights set on September’s end and what solutions there are to secure the future of professional services.

Better business models are half the solution but the other half centres around government and big business. Supporting nimble consulting models though better engagement and benefiting from our bespoke, emerging technologies at the precise moment they need them.

To survive and thrive, professional services will need more help from our government and more investment from the big commercial enterprises like banks, utilities and service providers.

Just as the government is fast-tracking construction projects to stimulate jobs, we want to see them – and large corporations – pledge to support more locally-owned consultancies who are going to play a vital role in helping Australia pivot and resurge following Covid-19.

So why should they help us?

Because we are, in fact, the most sensible way out of this mess.

Our Expertise

Firstly, we are better than good enough. Government and big business regularly use SME or boutique services because of our experts’ proven track record.

We do however, face a perception issue when it comes to the larger projects. Where the Big 4, purely by default, feel a more comfortable or safe choice.

We recognise the fact that these players do have multiple reference points for large projects which the boutiques don’t necessarily have. However, I do have to question whether the talent for whom these projects were awarded are the ones seeing them through? This is the misconception of the safe choice; because the successful delivery of projects and solutions are the results of the experts who actually worked on them.

Most of 460degrees’ expert talent has worked for one of these large, international conglomerates and they have joined us because they have a passion for emerging technologies, owning a project and freedom to do things in new and enterprising ways.

The consultant of the future – the type of people we want working at 460degrees – does not want to follow the long, grey path to a potential Big 4 partnership. They want to be recognised, supported, and working on cutting-edge solutions.

Local Ownership

Secondly, most of the 83,000-odd ABNs mentioned above are SME practices that pay their taxes to Australia and feed Australian families. There is no major offshore ownership or large profit syphoning. Just good, honest, hard work that benefits our local economy.

Our own particular model is entirely unique. We are a world-first Expert Management Agency – clients pay for our Tier 1, locally-grown talent, not a corporate brand with a global legacy. And because our project winners are also the project deliverers, our accountability is crystal clear.

We promote our talent by their individual names alongside their capability. As individuals, they are hands on, in the thick of it, with the kind of pivot-compatible thinking needed in these times. And that is why we protect them fiercely. Because now is not a time for protecting legacy or looking back; it’s a time to look forward and embrace emerging technologies.

Competitive + Innovative

Lastly, and to finish very pragmatically, these all-Australian, innovative-by-nature consultancies are simply more affordable. We are always in the consideration mix in the procurement process, and we are very aware that sometimes we simply serve as a price check.

Right now, the government and big business need to save money. It just makes sense that department leaders and C-suites ask their procurement teams to stop paying exorbitant fees to global conglomerates, often for a less innovative approach.

It’s not a stretch to say that Australia’s management consultancies – and broader professional services – can be saved by more dedicated support from our local and federal governments and the big-end of town, who are also in need of innovation, cost-cutting and with direct and personal accountability.

If we are learning anything from this pandemic, it’s that people aren’t just numbers and the intimacy and authenticity of our relationships are more important than ever before.

We’ve done our bit to optimise our model and provide the best service around. We’re asking the country’s leaders and the big end of town to help out its real mates.

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