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  One of the themes we’ve been exploring recently in Top Consultant is how the upheavals of the past few years have created a new wave of consultancies, as practitioners from former firms have gone it alone to start up new entities with fresh approaches to consultancy.
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These new firms have found an enthusiastic audience among clients who are increasingly willing to experiment with new names, and often these firms are filling highly profitable gaps in the market which have opened up as the big consultancies have reorganised themselves.

Another trend we have noticed has been the rise of procurement consultancy as the ideal answer to clients who wish to improve their bottom line performance without either cutting into resources or losing control of key processes.

A consultancy that’s neatly combining these two trends was formed in early 2004 by ex- KPMG partners Martin Wilson and Robert Garner – its aim: to address areas of the market they believed had been abandoned by mainstream consultancies…

“The major consultancies have left a void in premium consultancy services in the public sector in the last five years,” says Garner. “What we have seen is a fragmentation of supply at that level. The void is now being filled by a range of organisations in public sector consulting – the lid has been lifted and there’s space to enter the market. We’re trying to fulfil what we would call the very high level consultancy requirement.”

Garner sees this as a return to the values of “Big Four”-style consultancy before the market was distorted by the massive shift into IT work.

“We’re a problem-solving consultancy business, not a management substitute, body-shopping consultancy,” he says, “We overlap and compete with the likes of McKinsey and AT Kearney.”

While Garner sees the audit firms regrouping and reentering that market, in the meantime Avail has managed to build up a substantial presence in public sector work, growing from two to 35 people in the last two years, and aiming to top 40 in the autumn.

Avail is part of the Tribal Group, which provides venture capital backing and infrastructure to a number of organisations which focus on the public sector. Avail works for both central and local government with a strong presence in health as well as security and justice. Solution areas cover strategy and business planning and performance improvement, but supply chain solutions and partnering services make up about 60 per cent of the firm’s work.

“Supply chain work is high volume but lower value,” says Joe Stringer, Avail’s director of consulting in supply chain. “Partner services are one-offs but involve tens of millions of pounds per contract.”

One area where the firm has scored considerable success is in the creation of collaborative procurement hubs for the NHS under its supply chain service excellence programme. Rather than pursuing an outsourcing approach, the hubs approach is more of an “insourcing” model, bringing private sector procurement skills into a fragmented market

“It’s about joining up the gap between local level and the national bodies,” says Stringer. “They’ve been going to a shared services model but without creating job redundancies if anything it’s involved recruitment.”

Procurement in the NHS is to say the least a sensitive area, but the move to a robust procurement model has been given added impetus by the financial deficits now faced by many trusts. Better procurement is one of the few ways the trusts can make the necessary savings without cutting back on clinical care.

Stringer believes that the success Avail has had in winning these projects stems largely from its own resourcing model, which brings with it unique insights into those front line clinical issues.

“Real advantage we’ve found is that we bring the clinical experts as well-without those clinical experts you’ll never get through the door,” he says. “When we go in we have a pharmacist and a GP with us—not to win the argument but to be in it in the first place.”

This according to Garner will be the core of Avail’s future success:

“We’re growing the business by bringing together three core skill sets,” he says. “The first is career consultants, people who understand the consultancy process. The second is people with best practice industry expertise derived from working with blue chip companies in supplies management. Finally there are the people with public sector context knowledge and credentials, so we have a GP and a pharmacist, also people with experience in the public sector from places like the DTI and the National Audit Office. It allows us to develop proposals that are more vigorous and more challenging, with better and more sustainable results.”

Stringer adds: “Without wanting to over-egg it in supply chain in health this is why we are the market leader –a lot have tried before just taking the sourcing angle and have not succeeded.”

Related link: Founders of start-up consultancies coming together in London on 14th October

All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of and

Contact Mick with your views or suggestions at: [email protected]
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