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Types of consultants

The consultancy industry is one of the most diverse markets within the professional services industry, and, therefore, a number of different types of consultants are found in the industry. Moreover, being a ‘consultant’ is not a protected professional title like most other professions, making it possible for anyone to title themselves strategy, management, business, finance, HR or IT consultant. Given the widespread areas in which a consultant can operate, and the variety of work places a consultant can access, there has been a sharp rise in the number of independent consultants over the past few years. Following wide influx into the industry, a common definition of a ‘consultant’ has become harder to reach.

Over the past few decades, branch specific associations and analysts have developed various definitions in order to categorise the diverse types of consultants active in the field. Consultancy.co.za adheres to the approach used by Kennedy Information, an American research agency that has been analysing the consultancy market since the ‘60s (for more info see the page on the Consulting Industry). The methodology behind their approach is based on there being six core types of consultants within the consulting industry:

Strategy Consultant

The term Strategy Consultant is used to describe consultants who operate at the highest level of the consultancy market, with a focus on strategic topics like corporate and organisational strategy, economic policy, government policy and functional strategy. For this reason, strategy consultants generally carry out work assigned by top managers such as CxOs, directors and senior managers. Given that the nature of strategy consulting differs from the other more implementation and operation driven areas, strategy consultants generally have a different profile from their peers. Their focus lies more on quantitative/analytics skills, and their job description revolves more around giving advice than overseeing implementation.

Management Consultant

Management consultants, also known as business consultants or organisational advisors in practice, are consultants who focus on all sorts of organisational concerns, from strategy to a variety of elements within management. In the methodology upheld by Kennedy as well as Consultancy.co.za, Management Consulting is a collective term used for all services that fall under Strategy Consulting, Operations Consulting and HR Consulting. Therefore, more than half of all advisors can be defined as a management consultant.

Operations Consultant

Operations consultants are consultants who help clients improve the performance of their operations. Consultancy activities in this segment vary from advisory services to hands-on implementation support for both primary functions (e.g. Sales, Marketing, Production, etc.) as well as secondary functions (e.g. Finance, HR, Supply Chain, ICT, Legal, etc.). Operations Consultants form the largest segment within the advisory branch, and the majority of consultants are active within one of the many underlying operating areas. Seeing as operations consulting is often associated with the strategy and technology sides of a company, active operations consultants regularly work side by side with experts from these domains. 

Financial Advisory Consultant

Consultants who operate in the Financial Advisory segment generally work on questions that address financial capabilities, and, in many cases, also the analytical capabilities within an organisation. Subsequently, the profiles of consultants active in this segment can vary greatly, from M&A and corporate finance advisors to risk management, tax restructuring or real estate consultancy. Consultants specialised in forensic research and support disputes also fall under the Financial Advisory segment. The majority of financial consultants work for large combined accounting and consulting firms, or else for niche advisory offices.

Human Resource Consultant

HR consultants help clients with human capital questions within their organisations and / or with improving the performance of the HR department. Chief topics central to the job description of HR consultants are, among others, organisational changes, change management, terms of employment, learning & development, talent management and retirement. HR consultants are also brought in by organisations to help transform the business culture within their organisation, or transform their HR department, which includes changes in the area of organisational design, processes and systems among others. HR and strategy consulting form the two smallest segments of the consultancy industry, and the number of consultants active in this domain is, therefore, lower than those in other parts of the industry.

IT Consultant

Technology consultants, also known as IT, ICT, or digital consultants, focus on helping clients with the development and application of Information Technology (IT) within their organisation. IT consultants focus on transitions (projects) in the ICT-landscape, contrary to regular IT-employees, who work on day-to-day IT operations (so-called ‘business as usual’ activities). The majority of ICT-consultants work on implementation projects, for instance, extensive ERP systems applications, where their role may vary from project management to process management or system integration. Within IT consulting, the fastest growing markets are digital, data analytics (also known as data science), cyber security and IT forensics.