Management consulting grew with the rise of management, as a unique field of study. The first management consulting firm was Arthur D. Little Inc., founded in 1886 as a partnership, and later incorporated in 1909.
Management consulting is the practice of helping organizations to improve their performance, operating primarily through the analysis of existing organizational problems and the development of plans for improvement. Organizations may draw upon the services of management consultants for a number of reasons, including gaining external (and presumably objective) advice and access to the consultants’ specialized expertise. Consultants have specialised skills on tasks that would involve high internal coordination costs for clients, such as organization-wide changes or the implementation of information technology. In addition, because of economies of scale, their focus and experience in gathering information worldwide and across industries renders their information search less costly than for clients.
As a result of their exposure to, and relationships with numerous organizations, consulting firms are typically aware of industry “best practices.” However, the specific nature of situations under consideration may limit the ability to transfer such practices from one organization to another.
Consultancies may also provide organizational change management assistance, development of coaching skills, process analysis, technology implementation, strategy development, or operational improvement services. Management consultants often bring their own proprietary methodologies or frameworks to guide the identification of problems, and to serve as the basis for recommendations for more effective or efficient ways of performing work tasks. The premier global qualification for a management consulting practitioner is Certified Management Consultant or CMC.
In general, various approaches to consulting can be thought of as lying somewhere along a continuum, with an ‘expert’ or prescriptive approach at one end, and a facilitative approach at the other. In the expert approach, the consultant takes the role of expert, and provides expert advice or assistance to the client, with, compared to the facilitative approach, less input from, and fewer collaborations with the client(s).
Management consulting refers generally to the provision of business services.
In the UK, the use of external management consultants within government has sometimes been contentious due to perceptions of variable value for money. From 1997 to 2006, for instance, the UK government reportedly spent £20 billion on management consultants, raising questions in the House of Commons as to the returns upon such investment.
The UK has also experimented with providing longer-term use of management consultancy techniques provided internally, particularly to the high-demand consultancy arenas of local government and the National Health Service; the Local Government Association’s Improvement and Development Agency and the public health National Support Teams; both generated positive feedback at cost levels considered a fraction of what external commercial consultancy input would have incurred.
In New Zealand the government has historically had a greater role in providing some infrastructure and services than in some other countries. Contributing reasons included insufficient scale in the private sector, smaller capital markets and historic political support for government service provision. Current infrastructure investment plans are open to a range of public/private partnerships.
New Zealand governments hire in expertise to complement the advice of professional public servants. While management consultants contribute to policy and to strategy development, the Government tends to use management consultants for strategic review and for strategy execution.
In 1988, the newly elected Greiner State Government commissioned a report into the State Rail Authority by Booz Allen Hamilton.
The resulting report recommended up to 8,000 job losses, including the withdrawal of staff from 94 country railway stations, withdrawing services on the Nyngan- Bourke line, Queanbeyan – Cooma line and Glen Innes- Wallangarra line, the discontinuation of several country passenger services (the Canberra XPT, the Silver City Comet to Broken Hill and various diesel locomotive hauled services) and the removal of sleeper trains from services to Brisbane and Melbourne.
The report also recommended the removal of all country passenger services and small freight operations, but the government did not consider this to be politically feasible. The SRA was divided into business units – CityRail, responsible for urban railways; CountryLink, responsible for country passenger services; FreightRail, responsible for freight services; and Rail Estate, responsible for rail property.