Global consultancies

Are they all the same and how are they meeting the growing demands from customers?

When we hosted a similar session with three ERP vendors, it was quite easy to identify their different strategies, products and road maps, but of course when we’re talking about a service orientated offering, it is harder to pinpoint exactly what makes one provider different from another. Brand values and culture are two obvious ways to separate one consultancy from its competition, but how important are these factors when it comes to buying decisions? Do tech buyers really care about diversity, equality and sustainability or do they simply want to hire the outfit that can deliver the best results at the best price? 

ERP Today Live! hosted a session with three senior execs from three leading global consultancies to find out.

Each of the panellists had the opportunity for a short elevator pitch to set out their USP before answering a series of questions posed by our readers. Here’s what they had to say:

Lucy Rosemont: partner at EY from their consulting and technology practice

“I think there are three things that differentiate us at EY and I believe we have a unique proposition. Firstly, our culture and values – we are truly purpose led. Our global method puts humans at the centre of what we do with technology at speed and innovation at scale. I’ve had really recent feedback from clients and from candidates in our recruitment process who’ve said they notice a real difference in the culture and the style of EY. We listen and we care about our people, we care about our clients and the business we do together. And doing the right thing is really at the heart of how we operate at EY.

“Secondly, I’d say our position in the market is unique. We’re growing, we’re confident, we’re excited about the market opportunity. We’re still agile and innovative. When I joined our advisory practice 11 years ago we were just starting out, and during that time we’ve really grown. We’ve built our brand, our reputation in the market. And for the last five years we’ve seen a real focus and investment in technology and technology consulting. 

“And thirdly, we partner. ERP related work is not made successful by technologists alone. We have a relentless focus on delivering business value for our customers, and we recognise this is best achieved by joining up with other expertise sometimes. So, whether that be our business or our people consulting colleagues at EY, our tax, transactions, or our assurance colleagues, to bring the best of what our firm has to offer.”

Duncan Prior: head of ERP advisory services at Capgemini

“Number one, and not surprising we hear, is people. We allow them to flourish, they come together, they form teams, they deliver value with clients and it’s creating that environment for people to deliver.

“Number two. We’re either unique, or maybe one of two at knitting together end to end and top to bottom. We’ve combined the whole services from top line advisory right through to transactional delivery, support, maintenance, and we’re delighted we’ve bought a 40,000 people business called Altran, with the full R&D scale so that the full spectrum of services with the business particularly focussing on adding value. 

“Thirdly, slightly tongue in cheek, but we’re European. All the other large consulting firms are US-based. Our reward structure is different, our work values are ever so slightly different and over 130,000 of our people are in Europe – it does drive a subtly different behaviour and I think that comes out. 

“One big difference is that we’re modest. We don’t plaster our achievements all over the place. We’re a little bit more understated, a little bit too much perhaps. So, people, end to end and top to bottom, and a certain degree of modesty – even me!”

Jemma Ingham: managing director and tech delivery lead at Accenture

“Our key differentiators are that we have the most advanced technological skills in the marketplace. The breadth and depth and global reach of our technology team and how we organise ourselves is quite unique. In terms of that innovation and technological advancement, we have over 7,000 patents and patents pending globally. 

“The deepest relationships with the platform partners right from the top with our CEO Julie [Sweet] downwards, we have very strong relationships with those platform partners. And in certain client circumstances that we’ll talk about later, that really makes a big difference. 

And we think we have the breadth and depth of industry insights and how functions need to evolve their own purpose within every business in those industries. 

“So, we bring those three key differentiators together. Our role is to accelerate the path to value for clients and we do that by bringing together our intelligent platforms and human ingenuity to drive that positive change.”


PE: I’m not going to ask you all to come back on each other’s pitches, but I am keen for either Jemma or Lucy to say something about the difference in the European versus the US culture. Do you feel that’s something that plays with UK or European customers?

LR: I don’t view EY as an American partnership. We’re a set of member firms so we have some strategy that’s driven at a global level, actually most of our global EY team, or many of them, sit in London. We are a truly global firm, but there’s no feeling that there’s anything from the US that’s being pushed or made us an American firm. I’m a partner of the UK practice and I help to run the UK business. 

JI: It surprised me to hear Duncan say that actually. I have a background in the ‘big four’ as well and working in those partnerships definitely didn’t feel like working in US firms, whereas Accenture, which I came to a couple of years ago, does. But mostly that difference is it’s a shareholder business, there’s a different global P&L focus. There’s a different kind of vibe that way, but I’ve not had any clients have an allergic reaction to our Americanness at all. 

PE: One of the things that I hear the big consulting firms talking about is around brand values. How important do you think those brand values are when it comes to buying decisions. You’re unlikely to find a consultancy that would say, ‘We’re not interested in sustainability. We’re not interested in diversity.’ So given that everybody’s saying it, how do you then use it as a differentiator? 

DP: Well, first of all, you’re right. You’re never going to win it by saying, “We believe in sustainability’.  While you might rely on your competitors strangely denying their American roots, for example, no one’s going to go in saying, ‘we don’t believe in sustainability. We’re sceptical about climate change.’ You can’t do that. 

I think it comes down to the team you put in front of them, I really do. Do they reflect your values and diversity and all of the different dimensions to that? Are they able to get across their beliefs in sustainability, and so on.

Firstly, our culture and values – we are truly purpose led. Our global method puts humans at the centre of what we do with technology at speed and innovation at scale”,  – Lucy Rosemont

PE: Jemma, what’s your view on the importance of brand values and how much they actually impact customers buying decisions?

JI: Like with Duncan, I’d say we probably all have a similar set. I had to look ours up. So client value creation, one global network, respect for the individual, best people, integrity, and stewardship, those six. 

PE: I think the question is though, who’s not going to say that? 

JI: I don’t think any of the organisations that we compete with or partner with would disagree with any of them. So, it is about the quality of the people in front of our clients. I think you do get some clients with very strong sustainability views themselves who call you out for turning up with a pile of printed out proposals. You can trip up on those things really inadvertently. 

Similarly, you can be embarrassed by having a non-diverse team walking into a room where the client does have a much more diverse looking team than the one walking in front of them. I think there might be more things that really switch a client off in an unexpected way rather than the positive influences. I think they can trip us up. 

LR: I agree. It’s important every consultancy has a set of values, and people are going to be at the centre of those values. I think the best way to find out what it is the client wants is to build those long lasting relationships. And so the longer we spend with our clients, the longer we spend understanding their needs and their requirements, the more likely we are to field the right team in terms of matching their culture, matching what suits them from a diverse or sustainability perspective. 

I’d also say that we need to live our values. It’s not enough to have them. I could recite ours as well. I could recite the Accenture ones as well because I spent many years at Accenture, and they haven’t changed. But I would say that it’s really about living them and making sure we can look at this and say, yes, that is what I do every day and encourage our teams to do the same.

DP: Two things that are interesting at the moment – the environmental element of sustainability and the personal impact of a better work life balance. We’re all so used to work from home now, gone are the days of consultants haring down the motorway on a Monday morning and being away from home for five days a week 

It’s surprising the number of clients that are much more open to that conversation. Not only do they get to see a saving on expenses, but it’s a better message for them and they’re now used to that kind of working. And the second thing you bring in is if you’re working with clients in consumer products and so on, you will need to illustrate that your proposition helps them reduce their packaging or use of plastic and you’re really sensitive to it or recycling and stop stuff being scrapped. So, it does come up a lot, but you need to be specific and illustrate positively what you’re doing about it. 

I also agree with Jemma’s point; there are little things you can trip on as well if you’re not careful. 

PE: Do you think in terms of winning over a new customer then, the art is pulling out the right tools from the bag to marry up with that customer expectation because different customers will have different expectations. 

JI: Yes, and also think matching your team and behaviours and what you’re suggesting as your approach to the size of the client and their own identity. So back to the point about being an American or global type firm, where I’ve personally had more of a challenge is sometimes the analyst reports saying, “Well, Accenture don’t work with small and medium sized enterprises.” I’ll go into a smaller size client, and I don’t even know they’ve got that perception before we even start to engage with them. 

One big difference is that we’re modest. We don’t plaster our achievements all over the place. We’re a little bit more understated, a little bit too much perhaps. but a certain degree of modesty – even me!” – Duncan Prior

PE: So you have to almost be a bit of a chameleon in a way? 

JI: Yes, and the right team that is winning in one client is not necessarily the same team that would go and win with a completely different client. 

LR: I think you’re right. Also, ERP transformation is not an easy thing. There hasn’t been one in the history of any of our careers that’s gone totally smoothly, without bumps in the road, without needing to pick up the phone and put in an emergency button or pull the team together and get through something tricky. And clients know that, they’ve been through this journey before. Many of them have done a large ERP transformation before and they want to work differently, and they want to work together with a team that’s going to be in it together with them – remotely or not. So they’re placing more value now I would say on what that team looks like, are they the right people to partner with them? Is that culture the right fit? Are we going to speed the path for them as we work as a team together on some of these big transformation journeys that they’re on?

PE: Given that all three of you are almost in agreement on this idea of marrying the team to the customer where does that leave the huge amounts of money that are spent on global advertising and promoting these brand values? 

LR: The brand values are important. Our talent and the people that they’re bringing into this business care about this a lot. People look it up in advance, they want to understand what’s at the essence of what it means to be at EY. If we’re going to attract the top talent, we want the people that get that and understand it and form part of our teams going forward. 

DP: I think that’s a good point. A lot of the corporate values and branding, it has more of an impact on recruitment than anything else. 

I just want to go back on something else, which is the little thing about the corporate values, and it slightly ties back to the previous question. You mentioned being a chameleon, Paul, and you’re kind of right but I think it’s an important thing and I feel quite strongly about this. There is a social obligation on us. We know, as recent years have shown, values in Britain are divided and we’re quite a divided society. So we’ve got to be careful because it’s our job to offer a safe, diverse place for our employees. And if that means working at clients that are perhaps, not fully on the curve on this, it is our job for our teams to gently challenge that preconception. It’s totally inappropriate for us to think about some clients that we may see as conservative and say, “Oh, who do I put with this lot because they are like…” That’s absolutely inappropriate on so many levels. And part of our job is gently persuading and challenging that kind of behaviour otherwise it damages so many things on so many levels. 

PE: That’s an interesting point, and it must be something that you come up against quite often because of course, working for a global consulting firm you will be very progressive, forward thinking, and very considerate of all these things. Whereas a lot of end users, the customers you go into, may be far more traditional businesses that haven’t fully embraced a lot of those values. 

DP: That’s my point. And you know what? Sometimes it can be rewarding, because at the end it all worked out. You’ve changed people’s perceptions a wee bit positively. Not overnight, but positively. 

PE: In terms of the technology vendors that you work with, how important are those relationships and how much does the strength of those relationships influence a customer? 

LR: They’re immensely important. You’d expect me to say that! We all have the same alliance level relationships but the personal in-depth relationship with the vendors are very important. Something we found has really helped was the acquisition of AgilityWorks 18 months ago. The level of personal in-depth relationship with SAP, for example, that they brought has really further enhanced that partnership.

JI: I agree. Every client I’ve talked to in the last couple of years has been interested in how the three-way model works between customer, vendor and partner. I think where the depth and breadth could really help is, we have clients in the ERP space who are looking at multi-cloud environments now. And so it might be our relationship with a partner that is a hyperscaler, that helps solve a particular problem, not simply the ERP relationship. 

DP: It’s a key factor since I’ve been in it and I think just to build on Jemma’s point, I think the change the last few years is two things. One is the hyperscalers, and the fact that where SAP have positioned themselves as well. So you’re trying to help the client leverage the advantages of the hyperscaler, and you’re helping the client perhaps alter their perceptions of SAP or Oracle that they’ve had over the years, because they’ve changed. 

The second bit I would say is, it’s not one partner in many of these dynamics? It’s really bringing it together so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And it’s our job to knit that together. 

PE: Do you think that having the third dynamic of the hyperscalers has changed the ownership of the customer relationship? The hyperscalers are driving the cloud agenda, and then the consultancies are predominantly driving process engineering and business remodelling. Do you think that leaves ERP vendors in a slightly difficult position as far as the customer relationship is concerned? 

DP: I’m going to say something bold. Process re-engineering is dead. Long live data, analytics and intuition. I think gone are the days of lots of junior consultants wading through ARIS diagrams, and this sort of thing. I mean, it should never have existed and I think this is a really rich opportunity. 

A client recently gave us a challenge to come back and explain how we would knit together the ERP in a particular hyperscaler, and we gave them what they felt was a good story. And I think again it plays to our creativity, rigour and expertise, because they’re looking for the flexibility of a hyperscaler with microservices and so on and integration with that core data and core processing and solidity of an ERP and it’s not like it was 10 years ago. Let’s cram it all in the ERP, and we end up with a beast that we can’t upgrade. The demand has changed and I personally find it far more rewarding than the old process stuff. That’s why I was shaking my head. 

LR: I think you’re right and our job is to bridge the gap. I don’t think it puts ERP in an awkward position. There’s still a clear role to play there. 

JI: I think the hyperscalers are driving the agenda at the moment, and they are doing deals that are opening clients’ eyes to what they could do – the art of the possible. I do think that’s changing the dynamic of where is data? Where is the balance of power and ownership of enterprise data? 

Certainly there is competition now in terms of analytics and the insight and where you’re driving that from and how, but the ERP platform vendors are not well equipped at the moment to compete. I think they’ve got a bit of a threat there that they’ve not yet… They don’t quite know the rules of that game.

PE: What do you see changing in the consulting landscape in the near term? What are the big moves that large consulting firms can make to accelerate the transition to a fully digital economy and to deliver on all of the digital projects that are needed in a short term window? 

JI: I think it has to be investment in our talent and treating our talents. It’s not just about attracting and retaining that talent – it’s about that personal growth as well. 

LR: I think talent is crucial. Listening and putting the customer absolutely at the centre of what we do, whether that means saying no to some business ourselves, joining up with other people to do it, or making sure that the answer is right. And I think we’ve touched on sustainability, and everyone’s going to say, ‘Yeah, we’re interested in sustainability.’ I think one of our core things that we’re going to focus on in the next… we’re focussing on it now in the coming months and years is how sustainability can be at the heart of your enterprise model and how the data and analytics and robustness of your financial data can help you make real decisions about what to do in sustainability for organisations.

DP: I think it’s the art of the possible. I think our job – be it on a small scale, is to illustrate the art of the possible, to help them imagine and visualise what the future can be. 

It’s the old Henry Ford syndrome. It’s showing them the motor car sometimes.

The following is a Q&A with questions submitted by our readers.

PE: One of the things that was recurring in several questions, and we probably had 20 people with varying  versions of this: “should consultancies be more accountable and take greater responsibility for projects that don’t deliver?” There’s a follow on question: “why aren’t projects costed on an ROI basis? If the project meets or exceeds expectations, then the consultancy gets their full fee. If it runs into problems and doesn’t deliver value, they get penalised.” 

JI: Quite often we have clients who don’t quite understand their value case, or start coming up with one halfway through, and then you don’t meet expectations. So there is effort involved in having a really great value case and tracking to it and managing to it. And I would say that effort pays off. And I think we’re all up for commercials that tie us to them if they are measurable and managed well because it helps you deliver on expectations and great customer service.

Our key differentiators are that we have the most advanced technological skills in the marketplace. The breadth and depth and global reach of our technology team and how we organise ourselves is quite unique.” – Jemma Ingham

PE: Lucy, what’s your view on ROI based project fees?

LR: I would say first of all, our clients’ expectations have changed in terms of how these programmes are run. I think your first question was something about what the customer believes they’re going to get out of it. Gone are the days where we’ll do as Duncan said, lots of ARIS maps, a long list of requirements gathering, and go away for seven months and come back with ‘ready for you at UAT’. That’s not how it works any more. We’re far more likely to offer a kind of functional programme, where we say, ‘let’s go and open a value case. Let’s bring the organisation together, business and IT. Let’s understand where there’s real value for this, and then prioritise what we want to do with you. 

Step two, we’ve focussed on where there’s value. Let’s go and deliver something. But we’ll show it to you as we go. We’ll show you and we’ll agree what’s right, we’ll do an out of the box, where we can fit the standard, so you can see what you’re getting. It’s just the commercial aspect is, we’re all up for taking some level of risk reward where that’s a right way to do it. But I think the way that you chunk up these programmes now is really important so that there are fewer surprises, so that our customers can see what they’re getting along the way, and they can make decisions about their priorities that are going to deliver the right value for them.

PE: Duncan, penalties for not delivering on the business case. Are you up for that?

DP: Well we already do it. I think it’s partly because we’ve got a very healthy balance sheet so we’re able to model it and estimate it. If I’m honest, I don’t see the demand for it particularly growing. I see the same pressure that Lucy talked to chunking things up so you can measure benefits on the way. 

PE: How can big consultancies compete with independent firms, many of which are sizable businesses in their own right, when pure plays have very specific product knowledge, lower overheads, and possibly more incentive to deliver for their customers. 

LR: It’s a big healthy market at the moment and I think everybody’s got something to offer. We talked at the start about all of our unique propositions and if more of them were on this session they would have their own unique proposition too. So there’s space to compete. Our clients look to us to bring together the things I talked about – the tax element, transactions element, they’re partnering with other smaller firms or pure plays and that ability to have a multi-vendor selection process, multi-vendors working with our clients, I think they’re looking for that as well. 

We’ve all got unique offerings and we’re also up for partnering with the right people, so it’s a busy market. There’s plenty out there for everybody.

PE: Duncan, do you think that the market’s pretty saturated at the moment? That there’s opportunity for everybody? Or do you think that the move towards consolidation and you guys buying up those smaller pure plays is going to continue?

DP: It’s a lava lamp, isn’t it? It shades in form; move away from the heat and bits spin off, new ones are formed. It’s a constant evolution of companies spinning off.  I think at the moment a number of large blobs are forming – I’m going to keep my analogy going in the lava lamp – but bits will peel off and take shape again. 

I think demand is outstripping supply at the moment and that will continue for the next few years. So, it’s incumbent on us all to make sure the talent quality is still there. I think clients are encouraging us to partner with others so I think the collaboration will only grow, and how we manage that is going to be interesting, but I think the trend will continue and we’ve just got to watch as these different shapes take place over time.

PE: What are large consultancies doing to fill the skills gap? There aren’t enough consultants to deliver projects, and smaller customers are either left with poor quality resources, or none at all. Whether it’s SAP or Salesforce, there’s a huge demand for their services. I was talking to Salesforce just yesterday, and they said that their own ecosystem is going to create 150,000 jobs in the next three years. The question is, where are those people going to come from? What are the big consulting firms doing to make sure that you’ve got the right skills to deliver for all of your customers’ needs? 

JI: I’d have to start with our global workforce strategy, that talent doesn’t necessarily have to all be here in the UK. We have brilliant delivery centres that I’ve worked with in India and in the Philippines, which is broader than I’ve worked before in terms of global teams. We invest in our teams with their own certifications and their own experiences. We’re all recruiting madly to try and fill that gap with our global teams behind us. And I would hate for any of our clients to think that they get the B team, there’s a sadness that that question brings actually.

PE: Lucy, from EY’s point of view, how well-equipped do you feel your firm is to meet the skills requirements in the short term?

LR: We are recruiting heavily, as I’m sure most are, and also investing in our graduate and training programmes to help develop our workforce of the future. We are planning to grow a lot in the next three, four or five years to meet that skills gap. I’d echo as well that if the last year or so has taught us anything, it’s taught us that global working is less binary now in terms of onshore/offshore with a bit of near shore in the middle. It doesn’t work like that anymore – we’ve gone live with people sitting in their homes in India, in Manila, in the UK and in Spain. We have a global workforce that can operate from anywhere, and we prove that we can do that without all needing to be in the same place. 

Our job – be it on a small scale, is to illustrate the art of the possible, to help them imagine and visualise what the future can be. It’s the old Henry Ford syndrome. It’s showing them the motor car sometimes.” Duncan Prior

PE: Duncan, finally to you: with your SAP hat on, there’s a real pinch on skills, particularly if you look at the timeline for delivering  all these S4 projects, which SAP are insisting on. Where are you going to get the resources from?

DP: I agree with the previous comments. I’d add just another couple. One is training. I think it’s very important, training people up is a big part of our ethic and something in the downtime of COVID my team worked on an enormous training course that’s being rolled out globally. 

Number two is augmented consulting. Using digital databases of practice and ideas and so on and so forth around the world. We’ve done that a lot. And the third, actually which is just as important, is avoiding burnout. Our resources get pulled all over the place and we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen and that’s harder with remote working because you can’t see the signs so well.   

Watch the full interview at