The Different Flavours of Consulting
We continue the consulting series with realistic job previews of various consulting roles, describing what a B-school campus recruit at the associate/consultant/senior consultant level can expect from such roles. Pardon me if the actual job descriptions sound somewhat quotidian, unremarkable and deglamorized, for that is exactly the idea – to get to the meat of the job and see what it tastes, rather than ruminating over every company’s banal PR spin about its unique work culture. Basically All consulting recruits from campus can expect a mixture of project work and business development (BD) support work.
Projects are generally short in duration as they end at the recommendation stage, lasting up to 2 months or so. BD support (making pitch documents) is an evil that cannot be avoided even in the rarefied world of a strategy consulting firm. Some of your time has to be dedicated for producing industry analysis/white papers etc, (20-25%), while the rest is spent on projects. As everywhere else, the actual division of time depends on the flow of work and the pipeline of projects.
Your client’s problem will be something like “Is it viable to launch an IPL style football league in India?”. To answer this, you will need to do market analysis, industry and competitor analysis, as well as financial analysis (to see if the margins are good etc). Your interaction with the client will be less than, say, in operations consulting, because the client won’t have answers to your questions (it doesn’t know or understand the new market), and your work will involve a lot of primary and secondary research from external sources. At the end of the two months, your team will make a final recommendation. Previous experience in the client industry (like financial services, media and entertainment) wouldn’t necessarily help unless it is extremely distinguished and significant work experience with a top firm.
Strategy & Operations consulting
Operations consulting firms get involved in the executing of their recommendations and as a result, projects run for a fairly longer duration – often up to a year.
One of the Big Four companies offers a strategy and operations profile that allows you to work onshore and offshore as part of an integrated, global team of consultants, pursuing clients in different territories (mainly USA). In this role, you will be assigned to a certain industry vertical (like financial services, or media and entertainment). This is what you can expect:
Onshore: You will be working on a consulting project out of the client location (mostly USA, although it can be a client anywhere in the world, including India), you would be involved in the more exciting part of the engagement – the experience will be like any other strategy or operations consulting role, as the case may be.
Offshore: You would be working on BD support- making pitch decks and helping your team respond to RFPs from clients. You may also be assigned on a project as part of the offshore team – to help the onshore consultants with data analysis. For instance, there may be a project wherein as part of the analysis, your team is required to rank cities in the USA based on pre-defined criteria like real estate prices, average per capita income etc, number of schools etc. This is something that does not require physical presence at the client location, and in order to speed up the project’s delivery, this work would be given to someone in the offshore team.
The company’s consulting projects span various functions namely corporate strategy, finance, infrastructure, supply chain management, and mergers & corporate restructuring. Strategy projects and operations projects are in the ratio 1:3.
Operations and process consulting
If your process consulting firm targets clients in India, this is what the job would look like.
Suppose an automotive parts manufacturer wants to achieve a ten percent cost reduction in its operations. The pitching for this project will be done by the engagement manager who will manage the relationship with the client company’s COO (or an executive one notch lower) while your involvement in the initial stages, as a consultant, may be restricted to conducting an initial study at the client location to gather data and help make the pitch doc.
Once the project is underway, you will be housed at the client location, working with their middle management to identify areas where cost can be reduced – by modifying the procurement process, or by making small tweaks to the design of the components, or the manufacturing process. You will use competitive benchmarking to identify areas for cost-cutting. Obviously, prior experience in the client’s industry will make your contributions more meaningful.
You will have monthly utilization and billability targets (like say 80% of your time has to be billable to the client), hence, most of your time would be in the delivery of projects, with some time in BD support and a little time on the beach. You will be allowed to work in the shop-floor if you wish. Status reviews and bi-weekly meetings with the clients will give you a chance to interact with their top management.
This is more like a domain within strategy consulting – your consulting firm will not do any project implementation. Since infrastructure often pertains to public goods, the government is bound to be a big client. Suppose the government wants to construct a highway in the PPP mode, it will invite a consulting firm to help it manage the entire process of floating the tender – determining the parameters for technical feasibility and financial viability, selecting the right private partner, the appropriate funding mix etc. On the other hand, you could also be advising a private party applying for the contract – on how best to bid. Relevant work-ex can definitely help.
In HR consulting firms, there is greater focus on client exposure (at least in the one that I spoke to) as compared to BD support. HR consulting is marked by considerable ambiguity, even by the standards of consulting firms – there are no models like in finance, and no standard framework for doing things – after everything you’ve done, the client may come back to you and say “but this won’t work in our company’s culture.” Work would involve things like designing an ESOP plan for the employees of a client, designing the salary structure of the incoming CEO of a client etc. It actually involves all stages of the employee cycle – hiring, benefits administration, compensation, employee communication, retirement and merger and acquisitions.
Supply Chain Consulting
Supply chain consulting projects are again, implementation oriented. The objective is usually to squeeze out a little bit of cost reduction by making improvements in the supply chain. The job will be akin to ops/process consulting or IT consulting, depending on the level of maturity of the client. In case the client is an American company, with highly developed and standardized processes, your job will be more on the analytics or IT side – you may use the supply chain data to run some models (i.e. perform supply chain analytics) to come up with recommendations for improvements, or you may be tasked with standardizing the ERP systems of Proctor and Gamble across various geographical territories. Analytics can be done from offshore, while IT implementation will happen at client site. In case the client is a newish company, one that has grown large quickly without adhering to processes, you may be able to add value by modifying their processes itself. In this case, an industry background will definitely help. Some companies extensively use frameworks while others are quant-oriented.
– Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan
(The author is an alumnus of IIM Indore, and has worked with Cognizant Business Consulting in the past.)
Perspectives – Career perspectives from those who have faced the battles and reached the top.