There’s a new buzzword in GCC consulting circles

GCC consultants tell us they now see governments pursuing more sustainable quality-of-life improvements by means of aggressive economic development programmes.

The governments of the Arabian Gulf region have long been among the world’s most ambitious – anyone who doubts this need look no further than the gleaming cities they’ve managed to pull from the sands of some of Earth’s most unforgiving landscapes. Helping governments work such magic has proven lucrative business for the region’s management consultants, with the market for selling advice to the GCC public sector now worth about $543m and consistently growing at a rate of more than 20 per cent a year.

But when the Arab Spring swept through the region, consultants witnessed government priorities rapidly shifting from the construction of glamorous oases to socio-economic improvements intended to quell any discontent before it could make its way onto the GCC’s well-manicured streets. Initiatives aimed at addressing rampant unemployment, as well as housing, healthcare and education issues, contributed to a flurry of activity that increased public sector consulting by nearly 40 per cent in 2012. It grew by another 28 per cent last year, making the GCC one of the fastest growing and most exciting markets in the world for government consulting.

Over the past year, Gulf consultants have witnessed another shift in government priorities – one perhaps more subtle but just as critical to understanding the region and its opportunities. With the immediate fear of civil unrest receding, the focus has shifted from investments designed to bring about immediate, highly visible results to those aimed at fostering social progress over the long term. GCC consultants tell us they now see governments pursuing more sustainable quality-of-life improvements by means of aggressive economic development programmes – and they’re doing this with the same intensity that first brought forth those magnificent cities.

‘Nation building’ is a phrase heard a lot in GCC consulting circles these days, as more and more projects are focused on building up local economies by encouraging inward investment and making the region an attractive place to do business. Such projects have the dual benefit of immediately bolstering the economy as foreign money pours in while also helping to future-proof the region by building the backbone of what will one day be a post-oil economy.

Much of this nation building is manifesting as massive infrastructure projects, ranging from e-government initiatives to sport stadiums and totalling in the billions of dollars. The lion’s share of these infrastructure improvements is coming in the form of transportation projects; from airports to urban trams, governments are keen to shore up regional links and make the movement of people and goods as seamless as possible. While actual construction is likely to be helmed by specialist engineering firms, management consultants will find plenty of work helping governments define their priorities and choose the best projects. Governments don’t plan to do all this nation building on their own, however, and have enlisted (indeed some would say conscripted) the region’s businesses to help with one of their most pressing challenges – persistent unemployment. With governments instituting quotas requiring the use of local talent, many businesses have found themselves constrained by the need to do much of their hiring from a workforce not adequately prepared for the opportunities of a modern economy. To cope, they’re making heavy investments in training and career development and creating a mini boom in HR consulting in the process.

With so much work to be done, we expect the GCC’s aggressive nation building agenda to keep the region’s management consultants busy for quite some time. For those consultants up to the challenge, helping to bring long-term, sustainable economic development to this region for the benefit of all its people will ensure the GCC remains just as exciting for many years to come.

Edward Haigh is a director of London-based Source Information Services, which conducts research on management consultancies. This article is based on a Source report into the GCC consulting market.

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Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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