CRM Watchlist 2013 Winners: Consulting and Systems Integrators hook up: Part 1

This is almost it. Another post a little on the big side, so its split into two parts. But we end this year's CRM Watchlist 2013 with a discussion of the consulting companies and systems integrators who will have a big impact in 2013. Today, we look at the big boys — Accenture, CSC, and Ernst and Young Advisory. Plus a few cogent thoughts on the markets peppered throughout.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

We're finally there, the last Watchlist set of reviews in two parts.

But before I go all boo-hoo on you, a word from our sponsors: The 2014 CRM Watchlist registration is now open.

On Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 7.00am ET, the CRM Watchlist 2014 registration process began. Yep, right in the middle of the 2013 reviews. Progress (and time) wait for no man (or woman). What that means is that if you are a technology company or consulting/systems integrator business that does "customer facing" things, which means software or services products/solutions, you become a candidate for the CRM Watchlist 2014. This means that:

  1. You can request a 2014 registration form from me by email: paul-greenberg3@the56group.com

  2. When you receive it, fill it out exactly according to the instructions and in return, you will get the questionnaire for 2014 — either the vendor questionnaire or the consulting/SI questionnaire, which are slightly different

  3. You have until November 30, 2013 to fill out the questionnaire

  4. If you send in the registration form to me, I will presume that you are going to fill out the questionnaire by the due date, and I will start tracking you as soon as you send the registration back to me. Please don't waste my time and request the questionnaire, and then not fill it out. I'm tracking you for the better part of a year if you do send it.


This is arguably the most difficult category because these companies have a huge variation in size and scope, operate very differently, are more strategic with their offerings than the technology vendors, and have different criteria that I use to determine who wins. Plus, I have to look at the size and scope differently in terms of how they impact the market.

For example, you can easily classify Accenture, CSC, and Ernst and Young Advisory in the same category, and then put Solvis Group and The Pedowitz Group in the same category, too. Now, there is no way, as far as impact goes, that the latter competes with the former, yet here they are, though companies like Cap Gemini and others aren't. Plus, a myriad of small companies who did actually submit questionnaires aren't here.

To put the "then, why are they all winners in this category?" to bed, here's what I can tell you without ratting myself out.  Based on size, I look at either impact in global markets (the big boys) or impact in specific markets (the littler fellas). Simple. You'll see how that works when you read the specific reviews. I won't ignore that.

Plus, remember something: I'm looking at how they impact the customer facing business world, not all of the business world. I can't handle more than that because I'm not qualified, nor smart enough to do that. So please don't lose sight of that here.

Each of these companies has some things that they need to do that they aren't doing or that need tweaking, just like the technology vendors, but they are very different things than the vendors need. My criteria here are based on vendor-agnostic strategic services — though as you will see, I don't necessarily recommend vendor agnosticism as a religion. I like this category, because these companies, to one degree or another all do what I think CRM was put here to do — customer strategies that are designed to drive mutual benefit. Each company has a unique signature — some are more technology focused than others; some more thought leadership ready than others; some more generally visible than others; some more outer-directed than others; some more left-brained than others (though there is a very large left-brained component that sits inside the cortex of each of them); but all are characterized by their ability to make a major impression on a market that obfuscates singular impressions routinely.

Let's start looking at what that means for each of them.

The Big Guys

The three companies that won in this sub-category stand far and away ahead of the rest of the pack. They are all smart, strategically focused companies that plan programs that take granular thinking to a new level — yet have an expansive global sweep to what they do. They are successful at what they do, precisely because they know how to intelligently apply the right resources to the right customers with the right outcomes in mind — even though they are huge.

Each of them is well attuned to the expanding markets be that geographic (e.g. China and India) or horizontal — marketing; or more broadly — digital transformation. They are big and competitive with not just each other but with many others who didn't make the list this year – Deloitte, IBM Global Services, PwC, Cognizant, Tata, Infosys, etc, and even the creative agencies who are on a tear and big enough to be competitive — LBi, Grey Global, Edelman among many.

This got me to thinking and for the first time, I have a recommendation that encompasses all three of these large consultancies due to the need for a new set of skills as defined by the transformation of business over the past decade or so — thanks to the communications revolution that I relentlessly and endlessly drone on about. In other words, the competition for (wo)manpower. There is already a known shortage of available skills in multiple areas (for more on this, see industry powerhouse influencer, IDC's Mike Fauscette here) and there is no reason to sit back on one's heels and lament this. There are some things that can be done. Some are probably being done to some extent but need to be publicized more if they are.

So here's my recommendation to all three: Either create or expand programs for training young practitioners.

Look, I'm sure that all of these companies have some sort of program for training highly talented people for all the many of the contemporary skills needed. But these programs tend to be fairly small and limited to the god-like few. What I'm suggesting is that each of these companies cast a wider net, work more closely with academia, invest more dollars and time and find people that may not be the best in class at 21 or 22 years old but can be trained to the skills needed in the new business world. This may not be a one-year investment program but it will pay off. Do what I know one vendor did a few years ago. Get together with a university and fund a specific program to educate and train students in a specific customer facing area. In return, get the first dibs on recruitment.

To restate this a little differently. Job descriptions are changing. New ones are being added; old ones are being redefined. For example, community management is on the agenda as a business skill, where 10 years ago, it meant something very different and was something for the public sector. With those new jobs and rejiggered old ones, new skills are necessary. No one company can do it alone. Time to unite with the universities to establish comprehensive programs to attract, train and retain this new talent. (More on this in a future post).

I'm sure that all three of these companies are doing this already to some degree but I don't know about it because I can't find the information nor was it mentioned in their submissions anywhere with the exception of Accenture who threw out some impressive numbers at me for their internal training commitments (52 hours per employee per year). But consider this a calling out of the winners and those that didn't win to tell the world what they are doing and tell those students and skilled-practitioners-to-be how to go about participating. If I can't find the information easily, I'm sure that the potential students have no idea they exist. Outreach is everything. So establish the programs if you don't have them or if you do, let us all know and tell us how to funnel those bright future digital transformers to those programs. Please.

OK, rant done. Let's get down to the reviews — the last five of 2013. By the way, I have over 45 companies who have requested the questionnaire for 2014 already — and about 15 others who haven't returned the registration form yet. That's 60 companies expressing interest — three weeks into the registration announcement. Oi, looks like I'm gonna be busy again. I laugh, but I'm crying inside.

First up ...


Look, I'm not going to keep repeating the story about my turnaround on my thinking about Accenture this year. I've been happy with and watching them long enough to realize that a. not only people but companies can change and b. they are a megalith. So that's now relegated to the past, with no residual bad will.

The overwhelming impression that I have about Accenture is that they are overwhelming. Their scope is so huge that it's genuinely hard to get my arms or head around it. One stat says it all — they have 25,000 CRM-related consultants (according to their submission to CRM Watchlist 2013). That's 25,000 — no accidental additional zeros. Just to be clear, 25K; twenty-five thousand. That is ten times the next biggest one that I've seen or heard of. Just to keep throwing numbers at you — they are active in 40 different vertical industries. Their project scope tends to the most complex strategies, programs, and technology system enablement. They get hired to take care of these kind of massive programs because they can actually solve the entanglements that are often part of the complexity that exists as a legacy at the customer's sites. In fact, Accenture calls it "reducing the complexity tax".

When it comes to analyst relations, Accenture is arguably the only company in the world of big consultancies that gets how to do it right — largely due to the work of CRM and Social Technologies Global Practice Lead Joe Hughes and his colleagues Chris Boudreaux and Jason Breed. Accenture has taken the impact of the non-traditional influencers into account and has made the connections with them — at the boutique and individual level as well as with the more traditional approaches to the institutional influencers. The only thing that they could probably do a bit more is develop a concrete program for the "non-traditionals", eg, regularized briefings, etc. But they are outstanding in their back and forth at the human level. They engage to the extent that they, of course, they can, with the community of customer-facing influencers that seems to be a unique grouping in the technology world.

Interestingly, when you speak of Accenture's customer base and case studies, though they do as much more than all their fellow consultancies when it comes to strategy, more than any other company in their space, they compete directly with the systems integrators too, having strong technology partnerships. Rather than a totally agnostic focus — though they are generally agnostic — they have done a lot of vetting of a lot of technology vendors. They do their homework and then they choose large handfuls of those vendors who they use as their technology partners. More so than any other company characterized as a consultancy they do strategic services and technology implementations, a soup to nuts approach that doesn't characterize too many others of their ilk. Their competitors denigrate this approach saying that they then have a vested interest in their technology partners and to some extent that's true. But if the technology works for the customer, then so what? As long as it's the right choice at the right price, why would anyone care how it was chosen or even which was chosen? If the end user knows in advance that this is the approach that Accenture (or whoever, really) uses, and is okay with it, and signs a contract, then it becomes caveat emptor, but a low risk version. The buyer buys in to the thinking not just the project. So if you're a vendor agnostic company harping on this, be quiet. Vendor agnosticism works too — just not only.

Another area that Accenture has been a leader for years has been thought leadership. They have an impressive body of work. It tends to the pragmatic more often than not. For example, this piece of work, "Five Branded Generics Strategies to Master for Global Pharmaceuticals in Emerging Markets" is a perfect representation of what I mean. They also do an annual review of how responsive national governments are to their citizenry — an incredibly useful and even politically valuable superb piece of work. They do what they call "Pulse" research which is more aimed at the Market trends, but its not their forte. Its not that it's bad, it's just not their primary focus. What makes their thought leadership interesting is that it really is at the level of best practices in markets they are expert in, so it can be taken for what it is — the things that they find work for companies that they are surveying being viewed with an Accenture subject matter expertise (SME) lens. I have a distinct suggestion for them, however, that I think they need to consider. For while they do really good research, their marketing of their thought leadership is meh. What that means is that if you see their thought leadership work even as late as 2 years ago, they were highly visible and had some mind-share. But the last couple of years, their mind-share (in this part of the universe) has receded a bit because they don't aggressively market the thought leadership the way they did or perhaps, the requirements for how it got marketed have changed and they haven't adjusted yet. I'm not 100 percent sure why they haven't — but they haven't.

Accenture operates with a scope that is unmatched in the world of consultancies and Sis. They do the work of a management consulting firm, a systems integrator, an agency and a facilitator — all at once. Mindboggling and clear winners when it comes to impacting the business. But, as always, there are things that they need to do.

What they need to do

I was actually hard pressed to find something that I would suggest they think about since they seem to think about a lot, but after some research and after discarding a few things I thought might be stretching it, here's what I came up with. No one's perfect. J

  1. Do a better job of marketing their thought leadership — There is a significant body of thought leadership that this always busy organization has at its command. But in the last couple of years, they haven't aggressively marketed it. Rather than retrofit a marketing campaign to their existing body of work, I think they can actually take their forté — pragmatic and well-supported best practices and create a new body of work that they can propagate aggressively. It would take the form of a series of specific guides to specific things that function as a series. The Accenture Guides to Whatever. In a sense, it would work something like Eloqua's Grande Guides or even more closely Marketo's Definitive Guides. It would be along the line of a group of "how to" books. So build a library of these that reflect Accenture's successes and learning experiences, throw in some research that shows how best in class companies use these practices, write and format the guides; make them free; market the hell out of them. Additionally, they need to not just sponsor events, which they do prolifically and well, but hold events. They should host conclaves that bring together subject matter experts and other good minds who gather somewhere under the banner of Accenture — maybe an annual or twice a year leadership ... forum ... summit — and discuss the leading edge business concepts that 21st century businesses need to think about. Or whatever. But they need to not just follow other's leads in these things, but to do it themselves. Its them for them to climb the mountaintop, not just Photoshop a banner on top of it

  2. Be more visionary — Accenture is defined by its pragmatism — and to a certain extent, that's a good thing. But businesses of their scope and size have to show that they are ready to lead in the future too, not just the present. The transformation going on in business now is both permanent and long term and Accenture needs to prove they are ready for it. If you study how they execute and what they are doing and thinking, you know they are ready for it. But ... most people aren't doing the research that they would need to find that fact out. So Accenture needs to define a clear vision and it should permeate everything they do. I have an idea that I don't normally advocate so I won't say it here because it would be a best practice on vision for them, but a disaster for most other companies if they did it that way (I'm such a tease).


It's funny about CSC. I've known about them as a player for years — both in the public sector and their CRM practice. Hell, they are HQed in Falls Church, Virginia, about 20 miles from my house and years ago (a decade), I occasionally partnered with them on CRM projects in the public sector. So my personal knowledge of this company has been extensive.

But they are also a $16 billion global entity that has reach everywhere, and in many more areas than just public sector.

But there often seems to be something missing. Every time they took a step forward, they disappeared off the map for a little while following the step. While they made progress each year and actually were doing what I would say was "sterling" work, no one really knew that —except their partners and their customers.

Good enough, you say? No, its not. The world of consultancies and systems integrators is incredibly competitive — even more competitive than the world of technology vendors. That means that visibility is everything. You know, "if a tree falls in the forest ..."

So what did they do? Something that wasn't being done for visibility (well, maybe a little), but was something that puts them on radar in many more places than otherwise.

They went and hired Mike Lawrie as CEO.

I knew Mike Lawrie ("knew" in the not personally sense) from his days at Siebel, where he was in charge of transforming that organization from its status as feared and hated to something that was much better than that. What was amazing, was that he was well on his way to succeeding at Siebel second chapter when he was pushed out by Tom Siebel, who seems to have felt that the Siebel first chapter was just fine thank you and he was unable to complete what had been a very successful reinvention of the company.

So when CSC hired him as CEO, it was a harbinger of good — and good it has been. Under his guidance, CSC has gotten its act together in a cogent, coherent, and visionary way. They have rebuilt their operating structure so that it coheres with delivering services within their Connected Enterprise framework; they have organized their narratives, and hashed out the supporting case studies. The Connected Enterprise value proposition and the array of offerings associated with it, from digital transformation strategies to software/cloud implementations is well thought out. They have a strong reference architecture (though ... pet peeve ... I wish that they would stop calling a custom system of record a "bespoke" system of record. Leave "bespoke" to a tailored suit, please. Rejiggering the English language isn't necessary, despite "bespoke" being all the rage) that is repeatable in the larger enterprises. They expanded their technology offerings — though they could do more there. They have a powerful vertical presence in a well-chosen group of industries. Their most prominent, as it has been for well over a decade is public sector. But they also have a great presence in the retail, travel and transport, logistics, manufacturing, aerospace, insurance, retail & investment banking, life sciences, and automotive industries, among others. In fact, in the automotive industry they are creating cutting edge solutions (Driving in the Cloud) that truly show some promise — at least in concept. This is in line with their corporate vision, which is "to be a next generation technology solutions and services provider". (See below on this one).

With all of this, they also have a very good, experienced CRM management team in place, including EMEA thought leader Mark Walton Hayfield.

But they still have a ways to go to optimize their impact over the business world for years to come.

What they need to do

  1. Improve their thought leadership — CSC has a story to tell around the Connected Enterprise. Support it with content – and I don't mean a few white papers. Videos, day long events, speaking engagements etc. The narrative is crafted tightly, the strategies associated with it are solid and the tools available to support the construction well chosen, but a cohesive set of assets around the concept doesn't really exist in any noticeable way. You can pick up the thinking in some of the existing thought leadership here and there, but there is no really overt mention of it at the thought leadership level. I don't know, start with a day event using the Leading Edge Forum and between internal resources and third parties, kick things into gear. But get better at a cohesive universal thought leadership program rather than point level documents

  2. No more, "one step forward, where'd you go?" — Its time for them to do considerably more outreach than they do and make it more than an individual’s crusade. Do you know there are only two people in the entire CRM practice of CSC that I’ve had any interaction with? Mark Walton Hayfield — currently and frequently and Alex Black — several times over the years. That's it. And, if I talk to the influencer community, a similar story, with maybe a variation on the name here and there — former CSCer Claire Flanagan (now at Jive) comes to mind — will be repeated over and over. CSC needs to evolve an outreach program that goes well beyond the traditional channels. They need to as a company recognized that the influentials landscape changed and they need to roll with that. Regular briefings to analysts/journalists/influencers around the world would be wise

  3. Vertical technology — They have real strength in the vertical industries. They are solutions focused, creative (the auto example above), truly innovative in their thinking. What they don't have is technology partnerships with vertical industry software/cloud providers. For example, 3CSI — one of the CRM Idol semi-finalists last year is an automotive industry vertical social analytics company. Has anyone at CSC looked into them? CSC needs to expand their technology partnership portfolio in any case and this approach might be the most valuable to them. In order for them to do that, they have to do what Accenture does, investigate some of the emerging vendors and if it makes sense, put them through whatever ringer they need to be put through — and if they pass, partner.

CSC is capable of impact over the next few years at a greater magnitude than one could ever think. But they have to break some molds and do some things that make incur some risk, but if they work, watch out. I'm already watching out.

Ernst and Young Advisory

If you had asked me about Ernst and Young regarding consulting a few years ago, I would have said, "oh yeah, CapGemini/Ernst & Young".

I would have been on the mark. However, now, people, we are looking at a formidable organization — Ernst and Young Advisory (EYA) who are part of the accounting firm, Ernst and Young. We're back to that again. But this time, these guys have serious chops. I mean serious chops.

What impresses me about Ernst and Young Advisory that makes me think that 2013 is the beginning of their true global breakout (when it comes to impact) is that they have done so much right. They have assembled a powerful management team that combines operational leadership with field leadership with thought leadership. Two examples, Laurence Buchanan and Woody Driggs. Laurence comes from CapGemini and prior to that SAP and Woody from Accenture. Woody ran the Accenture's global practice, he now runs EYA's. They each have a strong track record for execution but also have been highly active (and interactive) participants in the halls of industry thought leadership — and are much respected in those halls.

If I had to characterize them, in light of the other consultancies, on the Watchlist or not, I'd say they are a strategic services organization that has clear operational roots. For example, they described themselves in the overview to the submission with five key themes; help clients in:

  • Driving growth

  • Managing risk

  • Improving the effectiveness of the finance function

  • Improving operational effectiveness

  • Managing talent

Not terribly visionary on the surface of it, but first, it is helping businesses with realistic outcomes, and second, I said not visionary on the surface of it; not, not visionary. In fact, while they don't have as clear a visionary approach, they are well attuned to contemporary trends so that their practices are able to handle strategies and programs for customer experience, social channel integration with other more traditional channels, and sales optimization strategies and systems. In other words, they are cognizant of contemporary trends and have made them translatable into business value.

They also, to their credit, understand the rise of the agencies in the contemporary services world. Rather than try to compete with the agencies, they will work with the agencies when practicable — another proof point for EYA's eminently practicable approach to their customers and the market.

They hit the right messages "digital communications revolution", "from consumer to co-creator", "experiences are the differentiators". I could go on for several hours.

But they also execute, with their 2,500 CRM and social practitioners. They have an incredibly impressive body of work when it comes to case studies with clear measurable results. They range from building a multi-channel contact center for a telco to designing sales processes for a consumer electronics company (and implementing Salesforce.com); to developing what they call a "CRM master plan" (a full bore strategy) for a heavy industry company; to creating a digital roadmap for a large retail bank. This is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a broad range of projects that show a very deep and wide knowledge of the contemporary customer facing space.

Like all companies that do best in class work, they have germane strategic frameworks and solid technical architectures to support those frameworks. What makes them interesting is that this leads to a business model that that they claim is "technology vendor agnostic and independent", which I found to be the case though of course, like any other company, they engage several of the vendors more than others. They work (according to them) "client-side" meaning, I guess, opportunistically. However, it does make me wonder where they get the trained implementation teams for these products if they are entirely agnostic? Getting them in an ad hoc way could drive costs up to the clients. I wonder if they might not be better off with trained technical staff. Vendor agnosticism and work client side is a smart approach but it has its price.

Given that they hadn't been on my radar, as much due to my own oversight as their lack of pro-activity, until Laurence Buchanan went there, I am genuinely amazed at their intelligence, their scope, their well-articulated programmatic approach, and their intelligent set of customer-facing, contemporary business models and frameworks. They have an impressive body of results and a significant group of referenceable customers which tells me that their customers must regard them highly — or they wouldn't willingly be referenceable.

But they are up against the Accentures, Deloittes, the rise of the agencies, and a host of up and coming systems integrators who are moving into strategic services. So they have a couple things in particular they should do — specifically around outreach and visibility.

What they need to do

  1. Don't make the mistakes that CapGemini did — One of their great strengths is that they some significant parts of the CRM leadership from CapGemini in their ranks (eg Laurence Buchanan, Patrick James among others). That gives them the advantage of not making the same mistakes that the CapGemini leadership did make. Don't make me and the rest of the world think that the only things they do are in EMEA. Make the Americas (especially the US) presence known, make the Asian presence obvious, make wherever you are as present as the EMEA group is. Right now, it's at the EMEA dominant level — actually, almost the EMEA only level. It's time to rectify this

  2. Institutionalize the individuals don't just individualize the institutions — EYA has a serious over focus on the institutional analysts. Even though there has been a great deal of effort put into their analyst relations program in the last 18 months or so, they are taking a somewhat archaic approach to it, with a focus on the institutional analysts pretty much to the exclusion of everyone else. I get it. The institutional analysts are still the analysts that customers go to and there is agony if one doesn't make a Magic Quadrant, Marketscope, or Wave, but the winds of change are the winds of change — and the influencer world is changing. First, brand influencers aren't even necessarily analysts — but for the sake of argument, lets say they are. While the institutional analysts are without a doubt more important when it comes to customer influence, there is such a thing as market influence — meaning that the entire market including customers and many others look at what is said about a company "out there" not just when a phone call comes in or an MQ is released. That is as much in the realm of individual and boutique influencers as it is institutional — and even more so in particular disciplines. Time to expand the scope of AR for EYA to the boutique firms, and the individual analysts and continue with the larger firms too. Start with scheduled regular briefings or do what some of the vendors do — have someone who deals with the "market influencers" — they have programs for each. But do it.

I really like what I see and their impact is apparent at the customer level in particular. They often set a standard for the other competitors to meet in the quality of their work and the results they can show. But now is time for them to be big on the international stage. They are big in EMEA. Now let me see them in the Americas. They have arrived. But they have to arrive at a new and bigger place. Which, as a winner of CRM Watchlist 2013, I fully expect them to do.

Next up, and finally: Part 2 of the Consulting/Sis — Solvis Consulting and The Pedowitz Group

Related stories

Editorial standards