Capgemini embraces new consulting paradigm
There is a growing realisation in the IT industry that the upheavals of the last couple of years have signalled a major shift in a way in which the consulting sector needs to operate. It looks as though some large consultancies have painted themselves into a corner. By concentrating on a larger mega-projects staffed by a cast of hundreds of consultants, they have become unwieldy dinosaurs that have to run ever faster to feed their needs. Nemesis will come as these large projects fall prey to the cheaper and maybe better value offerings of the offshore IT providers.
Survival depends on these consultancies offering something other than a large scale implementation capability to their customers. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young - now known as Capgemini - has defined a new approach to its clients based on the results of a survey that it conducted called "The Voice of the Customer". The survey discovered that clients wanted a different approach from their consultants - one that Capgemini has called "The Collaborative Business Experience". This is a reversion to the origins of management consultancy when consultants actually consulted rather than implemented systems.
Clients no longer want to play a passive role in consulting-led projects but to share and benefit from working together. The key problems were that:
- They perceived that consultants below senior level were less talented.
- They considered that often consultants were telling them what to do and introducing package solutions rather than listening to their needs.
- Customers valued the independent viewpoint of a consultant but found that often the consultants went "native" and lost their external perspective by identifying too closely with the clients' culture.
- Clients frequently found that recommendations were too optimistic or complex when they were looking for solutions that were simpler and readily achievable.
- There was a clash of goals in that clients were seeking value while the consultants were targeting profit.
The shortcomings can be easily diagnosed when you consider how far the concept of consulting has travelled from the original practice of consulting. Then a consultant was a very experienced person providing broadly-based practical advice combined with an understanding of human nature and organisations that can only come with experience. A young consultant is almost an oxymoron. However confident and bright the consultant may be, coming straight from business school he cannot hope to provide the wealth of practical experience that is the consultant's stock-in-trade.
It is very encouraging that Capgemini has accurately identified the problem that it faces and plans to revert to a "Real Consulting" approach. The trouble is, consultants with sufficient experience are hard to find and very often have left because they found managing large project implementations an unattractive prospect. Younger consultants who have only worked on mega-projects will not have been exposed to the variety of tasks and environments that are needed to develop a base of consulting experience.
If companies are really serious about wanting a collaborative approach from consulting companies, then they have another alternative - the large number of smaller independent consultancies staffed by refugees from the larger firms. These always wanted to deliver Collaborative Consulting but couldn't do this in their previous organisations.
Whether or not Capgemini can get its new model to work, we should welcome this approach where consultants consult and managers manage. This approach may not be as profitable for the major consultancies but it will certainly be more effective for the clients.
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