Indian infrastructure consultants looking abroad for growth

24 October 2017 4 min. read

Stagnation in the Indian market, particularly in the infrastructure sector is denting business prospects for consulting firms in India. The firms are increasingly looking abroad to countries in Africa, the Middle East and West Asia, where large-scale government reforms and major infrastructure projects present opportunities galore.

The consulting market in India has grown to become quite substantial. Within the tax and advisory verticals of the sector, the industry is thriving, as is evident with the Big Four consulting firms rapidly expanding their operations in these areas. Rapid technological advancements have also boosted the IT consulting sector, as FinTech and cloud-based solutions gain momentum. However, certain areas of the sector are facing serious obstacles, resulting from an overall economic slowdown.  

Infrastructure companies in India are currently struggling, faced with substantial debt and engaged with trying to put their affairs in order. As a result, new projects are few and far between, leaving scarce business for consultants who advise on infrastructure projects, particularly in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) segment. Moreover, the slowdown has put a squeeze on most Indian corporations, who are consequently shying away from growth or diversification strategies. Therefore, the strategy consulting vertical has also taken a substantial hit.

Indian infrastructure consultants looking abroad for growth

Within the consulting industry, the Big Four firms, which include EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC, have managed to maintain their infrastructure verticals. This is primarily due to the fact that the financial squeeze is forcing the government to hire the services that are available at the lowest costs. As a result, these big firms are able to use their enormous capacity to provide low-cost services, and the smaller consultants lose out.

The financial trouble is not only limited to India. A drop in oil prices has caused problems all across Africa and Asia (particularly in the western parts). However, unlike India’s own situation, the trouble in West Asia and Africa represents an opportunity for Indian consultants. Governments and private players alike in these regions are increasingly turning to India as opposed to the US or the UK as a low-cost alternative equipped with the required skills and expertise.

A majority of the projects that Indian consultants are hired for are PPPs. The Indian economy has historically been riddled with PPPs, which has bred extensive experience in the practice. In contrast, projects in West Asia are almost all administered either solely by the government or independently by private organisations. Therefore, the Indian consulting market offers extra value to projects in these countries. While most of these projects lie in the domain of infrastructure, a number of them also transcend to sectors of education, healthcare and transport.

A number of countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region are increasingly turning to India for automation and technological access. On the other hand, many African countries are also experimenting with unified national identity systems, much like the Aadhar system that has been active in India since 2010. Under the Aadhar scheme, each individual in the country is issued a unique identity card, equipped with a unique 12-digit identification number and the biometric information of the citizen.

Many consulting firms in India have been able to capitalise on this demand in the region. EY, for instance, recently formed AIM Advisory (Africa, India and MENA) in order to allow for an interactive approach to solving problems across these regions, which currently appear to be going through the same challenges. Outside of the Big Four as well, large numbers of smaller consultants from India can be seen flooding the markets across Asia and Africa in search of better opportunities.