Accenture acquires Ottawa consulting firm Avenai in bid to beef up public-sector practice

Chris Brennan
Chris Brennan is the co-founder of local consulting firm Avenai, which has been acquired by global professional services giant Accenture. Photo courtesy Avenai

A trio of executives who helped launch Canada Post’s shared IT service before starting their own successful consulting firm have reunited with their former employer Accenture in a bid to bolster the professional services giant’s public-sector practice in Ottawa.

Accenture said Wednesday it has agreed to acquire Avenai, an Ottawa-based management and IT consulting firm that caters exclusively to government. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close next month, were not disclosed.

Founded in 2012 by ex-Accenture employees David Allum, Chris Brennan, Mike Scotten and Brendan Timmins, Avenai has grown to more than 70 employees and has offices in downtown Ottawa and Toronto. Avenai’s list of federal and provincial government clients includes the Canada Border Services Agency and Export Development Canada.

Under the terms of the acquisition, Brennan, Scotten and Timmins will become managing directors at Accenture’s strategy and consulting practice in Ottawa, while the rest of Avenai’s employees will also join the multinational firm’s local office. (Allum retired from Avenai last fall.) 

“We felt that they’re on a growth path in Ottawa, and we felt we fill a niche for them,” Brennan said Wednesday. 

“It might not be exactly going home, because I think home might have changed a little bit. But it feels like a very good fit on many different levels.”

Innovapost executives

Avenai’s founders have deep roots at Accenture, going back to the days when the company was known as Andersen Consulting in the 1980s and ’90s. Brennan later served as the first CEO of Innovapost, the IT shared services subsidiary of Canada Post, in the early 2000s. He was later succeeded by Timmins as head of the government agency, where Allum and Scotten held senior management roles.

At Avenai, the seasoned management consultants and their employees built a strong track record for helping public-sector clients adapt to the digital age as more and more government services moved online or shifted to the cloud.

Mark Lambert, Accenture’s federal public service practice lead in Canada, said Aventai’s expertise will be invaluable as his firm looks to expand its roster of government clients and grow its Ottawa practice, which now employs more than 400 people.

“With COVID, it really has only accelerated the government’s need to transform itself and move more services online and into the cloud,” he said, adding Accenture first broached the idea of a potential deal to Avenai just a few months ago, after the pandemic had already begun.

“We believe together we’re going to be able to serve the government much better than we could alone.”

Although Avenai managed to carve out an impressive growth trajectory with no external funding ​– the firm had a line of credit, “which we never used,” Brennan said ​– its founders felt they’d taken it as far as they could on their own. They’d been approached by other would-be buyers in the past, he added, but knew the time was right to pull the trigger on a deal with Accenture.

“We’ve worked with Accenture over the years; we know Mark very well,” Brennan said. “That made us very comfortable. We realized that if we’re going to execute our strategy, we need to be part of a much more powerful organization.”

Lambert said the relative ease with which the deal came together despite the logistical challenges posed by the pandemic illustrates just how in sync the two companies are when it comes to furthering their clients’ digital agenda. 

“It would have been much more difficult, I think, in this period to do something like us if it wasn’t for our knowledge and comfort with each other,” he said. “We have a history and we know each other. It was quite a natural thing for us to come together, and it came together very quickly.”