Each year that I do the Watchlist, it gets harder and harder to win. Not because many of the companies that submit questionnaires aren't great or good; not because the companies aren't performing to their potential; not because I'm a hardnosed scorer - though I am. It's because market conditions are constantly changing and it's increasingly difficult to keep up with the changes, meet customer demand, stay in the black and have the kind of impact that gets you the mind share and market share you need as a company to continue to grow effectively.
When a company hits the elite level, especially this year, it means that they are doing things in their market that are so effective that the impact is palpable and obvious. But more importantly, it means that what they are doing is fully inculcated into the cultural life and business activity of the company - and the integration of the mission, vision, culture, partner ecosystem, employees, customers and all activities associated with that run consistently deep in the company. It's not a coincidence that the elite companies typically tend to be voted one of the best places to work by one or more organizations on an annual basis.
What does it take to be the highest scorer? Just read about EY Advisory and I think you'll see not only why they had the highest score this year, but also what it takes to be the highest scorer.
This is the first year that a consulting/systems integrator received the highest score - and even more to their credit - in a year that the scoring was much more refined and tough. Congratulations to EY-Advisory for their singular achievement.
So why did they make it? And what do they have to do to improve even more? Let's roll with this.
What makes Ernst & Young Advisory so compelling is they have their act together - in the sense of a complete and fully integrated mission and vision that permeates what they do, how they view the world, their culture, the execution of their business and their interactions with their customers, partners and other people and agencies. They have what I consider one of the best and most succinct visions in the market - "building a better working world." That is the epitome of a vision statement; they got a perfect 10 for its universal implications, its construction, the succinctness, and the incredible integration of the vision into all they do.
What makes EYA such a clear cut Elite winner is that substance. As an advisory service, they believe that to meet the objectives of the vision and mission, you need to increase trust, see that capital flows smoothly, give investors the means to make more informed decisions, help businesses grow sustainably, and see employment rise, consumers spend and governments invest in their citizens as a result. From that standpoint they define their mission as:
Just words, you say? Mere phrases that are typically thrown out by businesses that want someone else's business to lure them that way? That is where you'd be wrong. EYA actually shines.
Let's start with a fact. In Universum's "World's Most Attractive Employers" rankings, EYA was ranked #1 as the world most attractive professional services employer and #2 overall when it comes to the future work force. They also won awards in 2014 from Working Mother, the National Association of Female Executives, were #3 in the DiversityInc.'s Diversity (duh) awards. Of course, their appearance on the list of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For becomes a given with that list of awards. There are others too. So, excellent culture? Check - if the number of and variety of awards are any indicator and their happier workforce tells you anything.
But if that's only what the Watchlist was all about it would be untrue to itself. The submitters are businesses participating in a marketplace whose concern is how they make more money than they spend year over year. To do that you need to build a sustainable business model that appeals to potential customers and has a track record that proves the value of the business to those potential customers.
EY Advisory has all that.
They haven't stopped with an excellent culture. They've also improved an already incredibly strong management team. They've added superpower to their already very strong Customer Advisory Practice with the addition of folks like Saj Usman, Raj Mirchandani and Marcie Merriman, who are all longstanding practitioners and have some real visibility in the marketplace
The applications that run businesses are undergoing profound changes, although there's also a lot of inertia in the system. We examine some of the key trends — including cloud adoption, mobility, consumerisation and business analytics — that are shaping tomorrow's enterprise software landscape.Read now
Of course, to me the gem of gems addition (for two Watchlists now) is Joe Hughes, who has been given partner-level responsibility to build their IT Advisory side so that they have the relationships with the best-in-class tech companies that they need to expand their IT work with practitioners effectively. He has status in the industry as a thought leader and comes in with long reach into the analyst/influencer space.
And yet, these folks are only some of EY-Advisory's 2014 hires. While I'm sure the excellence comes at a pretty big price, they don't seem to be flinching over that.
What makes them so exceptional this year (and last) is that they have 2,500 people who are dedicated to dealing in the market place as it actually is - changing and evolving around business transformation, particularly the digital variety. They have been doing leading edge (as well as more meat and potatoes level) projects that are both groundbreaking in their execution and get results for their client - and they are BIG projects.
So for example, they have been working with a global publishing company to bring them into the 21st century via developing a model to sell digital products and services, something that traditional large publishers, despite declining revenues, have been loath to adopt. However, EYA developed a business model, vision, strategy, programs, processes and systems to define both a "future state customer operating model" but also the transition to that via the streamlining and refining of the existing lead to cash sales process at the company and the shift of the company to the cloud. The success of the work is going to bring millions in revenues from digital sales and via effective resource allocation, an additional $1 million plus.
How have they improved from last year, aside from continuing key hires?
If you read last year's review, you'll note that there are two pretty dramatic pleas from me on things I thought they needed to fix. What have they done on those two things?
Don't be vendor agnostic anymore
Woody Driggs, the leader of their CRM/Customer Engagement Practice, made a very substantial move and brought Joe Hughes over from Accenture to, among other things, eliminate the vendor-agnosticism that characterized their past. Joe has proceeded to do just that. If you look at their current vendor interactions and delivery capabilities (some, admittedly they've had previously) it is a veritable who's who of business transformation with, among others, LinkedIn (for sales), Pegasystems (for customer service), Marketo, Adobe and Vendavo (for marketing) and Jive and Crimson Hexagon (for social) - and that doesn't include their longstanding SAP and IBM strategic partnerships.
What makes this a significant improvement is that the partnerships are not chosen because they are big and important companies or because they are strategic per se, but because they are the linchpins in the ongoing improvement of service-focused ecosystem that is designed to provide customers with a complete offering that is customer-specific and market-current.
They've gone above and beyond in fact, with an Accelerator program that is, as they deem it, "a global program to connect market leaders to market innovators and disruptors, taking pressing challenges from our largest clients and finding solutions from the up and coming companies of tomorrow.
Does that mean that they've entirely solved the vendor agnosticism concern? Well, yes and no. More on that in a short while.
Stop over-focusing on traditional analysts
EY Advisory has made good progress here with their ramped-up interactions with independents and boutique firms over the last year. They are investing in building out their global analyst program with ambitions to make it a world class part of their generally very good outreach. There are some things here I think they can still do more of and others they can start doing but they are off to a great start. I know that they've reached out to several of the independents who have contacted me and told me of the outreach. Additionally, this year they are going to hold an analyst summit at the end of April, first of its kind for them, and to my knowledge, it might be the first of its kind for any consulting firm - though don't hold me to that entirely unscientific supposition.
What can they do better? If I thought there was nothing they needed to do, I'd say so, but there are a couple of tweaks really - both related to last year's much more major overhauls.
What they can do:
Focus more partner effort on analytics - With Joe Hughes on board, EY Advisory, as mentioned above, is breaking down the barriers of vendor agnosticism and choosing best of breed providers to incorporate into their ecosystem. The one obvious weak point on examination is the analytics vendors. EY Advisory does have a relationship to SAP which means they have SAP's no slouch analytics capabilities if they want them. But the bulk of their partners are not analytics heavyweights nor are focused on analytics being developed to support the new markets emerging. Companies like NICE, SAS and Verint all have valuable customer engagement analytics platforms for example. I'm not suggesting these three in particular, but just suggesting that EY Advisory start building up that end of their ecosystem. Insights rule the 21st century transformation of business.
Escalate even more on analyst program - They've started breaking down the barriers with the independents and boutique firms but still haven't set up what AR people call (a horrible word for this) a "cadence" with them - which is presumably a regular routine. One time interaction isn't going to do what EY Advisory needs to do. What puts them in a good position is that they have practice leadership like Woody Driggs and Joe Hughes who already have substantial ties to the independent and boutique analyst community and have their good will. So they have a margin of advantage that goes even beyond the very capable AR staff that they have in place.
But regular interactions are necessary - not excessive ones that tax the AR team and just bug the analysts, but a regularized, "customized" ongoing relationship between varying AR and staff with the analysts. While they do have to follow, as they claim they want to, AR best practices, they also need to have actual ongoing human relationships with the people they need to and want to talk to. Human to human. That might be the biggest move for 2015.
One other thing - In their submission they mention the following: "AT EY, we don't believe that Analyst Relations is solely about communicating EY's strategy externally; we wish to leverage intelligence from the analyst community to discover topical issues and to provide feedback to the organization."
That's a noble endeavor and really probably the right thing to do and say but I would advocate caution here. Everyone wants feedback from analysts whose job (and living) is to provide it. The analysts you have those human2human relationships with are always going to be willing to provide the feedback - to a point. After that point is reached - and regardless of how close an analyst is to a company -it can be reached - it's the equivalent of the analyst asking EY for free strategic services. So be careful here on respecting the analyst's time and efforts when it comes to feedback. Again, nice to read, but not without its serious constraints.
Time to blow the doors off thought leadership - it's market definition time. We are at a nodal point when it comes to business transformation - and in particular customer engagement. What makes this a seminal moment is that it is there and obvious with all the signs of explosion but is nascent and still undefined - or at least in the stages of raw definition.
Models for customer engagement need to be molded, programs and strategies developed and templated for universal use and for industries; frameworks need to be established - all in the name of customer engagement. EY Advisory could seize the moment and help define the market or at least establish a strong thought leadership stake in that market - but there are a lot o pretenders to the throne who are not actually pretending, so they have to get cracking with the content and the actions.
So, that's our #1 scorer for 2015. Next up our tech vendor Elites - Salesforce, Microsoft, and PROS. Strong like bulls. See you next week.