According to well known innovation and strategy guru Clayton Christensen, the consulting industry is on the cusp of disruption.
Key quote from his Harvard Business Review article on this topic:
We have come to the conclusion that the same forces that disrupted so many businesses, from steel to publishing, are starting to reshape the world of consulting. The implications for firms and their clients are significant. The pattern of industry disruption is familiar: New competitors with new business models arrive; incumbents choose to ignore the new players or to flee to higher-margin activities; a disrupter whose product was once barely good enough achieves a level of quality acceptable to the broad middle of the market, undermining the position of longtime leaders and often causing the “flip” to a new basis of competition.
According to Christensen one of the sources of disruption is the growing role independent consultants - many of which formerly worked for major consulting firms - are playing.
A good example are the consultants from the online consulting staffing firm MBA & Co. Think of them as a specialized Elance or oDesk that connects independent consultants with buyers. According to a Business Week article, their roster of consultants is highly qualified:
More than 98 percent of the 16,000 contractors listed on its website hold a postgraduate degree; 35 percent have worked at consulting and financial firms.
There are also a growing number of firms that bring together groups of independent consultants to take on projects and then disband. These firms have lower cost structures than traditional consulting firms and pass these savings on to clients. The Business Talent Group (BTG) is an example of this type of firm.
Our research as part of the MBO Partners State of Independence study shows that about 1.2 million U.S. independent workers describe themselves as independent consultants.
We expect these numbers to continue to grow as consulting becomes even more democratized.