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  Mick James, former Editor of Management Consultancy magazine, provides this bi-weekly column to broaden the viewpoint we provide to readers. This issue features an exclusive interview with the global head of Atos Consulting and looks at both the firm's impressive recent growth record and its plans for the future.
Consulting-Times E-zine

Anyone who’s in doubt about Atos Origin’s commitment to professional services consultancy should visit the firm’s new headquarters near Euston station in London. Not only does Atos Consulting have its own entrance, there is a whole consultancy floor, with meeting rooms, conferencing areas and break-out zones, all equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and overlooking a vertiginous atrium. It’s a visual symbol of the firm’s investment in its new consultancy brand, which brings together the capabilities of the former Atos KPMG, recent acquisition SchlumbergerSema and a considerable number of senior hires from companies like IBM and AT Kearney who’ve joined the firm over the last year.

“We felt it was inappropriate to continue with KPMG,” says executive vice president Bernard Brown, who heads the new global consultancy unit. He is convinced that the Big Four auditors will come back into consultancy as soon as non-competitive agreements expire, which in the case of KPMG is in summer 2006.

“They’ll all be back as soon as they are allowed back,” he says. “They will try and put us into the IT space, and our strategy will be to position them as auditors. Their strategic weakness will be that they cannot offer the in-depth field of experience clients want. The whole logic of selling off the IT business was that they didn’t have that infrastructure and couldn’t compete.”

Brown’s strategy is to create a consultancy business which will work for the whole of Atos Origin’s client base, combining former KPMG strengths in areas like operations, supply chain, financial management solutions, people and change management with the large-scale programme management skills brought in by SchlumbergerSema. Clients were targeted with the message that the firm was not a “big mass of consultancy”, but a highly focused professional services group.

“What happened is that while we were going around telling people what we're famous for, demand picked up so we got ahead of the game,” says Brown. The firm has recently been acknowledged by the Management Consultancies Association as number 3 in the UK. “We’re number 1 in the fields we choose to play in,” claims Brown. “Our hit rate and profitability would demonstrate that. We’re growing at over 10 per cent per annum, which according to analysts is around twice the market rate.”

The immediate strategy is to sell into the Atos Origin client base, which Brown describes as “quite virginal” in terms of consultancy.

“Atos Origin is the number one IT player in Europe, and our objective is to serve very large European clients wherever they are in the world,” says Brown. “There are enough clients that we haven’t yet sold stuff to to keep us busy.”

This explains Atos’ recent decision to sell its Australian unit to Fujitsu. While the firm's centre of gravity is in Europe, it has sufficient presence in the US and Asia Pacific to serve clients there. “The nature of the outsourcing relationship means that we acquire resources in those countries and we can build scale based on acquiring those assets,” he says. If firms don’t scale they can’t provide the career paths that consultants want,”

Brown says the firm has abandoned an “up-or-out” culture for one of investment in people.

“I’ve tripled the training budget,” he says. “We really value people, we want to invest in them with training, and make sure they have a good career in consultancy. There’s a strong emphasis on teamwork, it’s not about individual glory.”

Brown says that not only has churn dropped to 7 per cent (from 20 per cent at the start of the year) it is still falling. In the last 3 months he has also recruited 120 people into the consulting group, all experienced hires.

“We’re looking for a minimum of three years of exceptional experience”, he says. “The norm is about 5 years plus. We want to show people a future, offer them security and an opportunity to develop and grow.”

The firm operates a quarterly promotions process, and Brown hopes to ensure that the vast majority of appointments at a senior level are internal promotions.

“I’d be really proud if in 10 to 15 years' time we still have 50 per cent of the staff we have now,” he says,

Brown is keen to demonstrate that Atos Consulting is a genuine consultancy, with initiatives ranging from major investments in quality assurance processes and knowledge management networks to little things like a professional “smart-casual” dress code.

“It we don’t have a proper professional services consultancy we can’t attract those talented people we need into our business,” says Brown. “Not a small part of an IT firm, we’re part of an engine that works — you don’t have to be a big part of an engine to be critical.”

All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of and

Contact Mick with your views or suggestions at:
[email protected]

Related link: Career opportunities with Atos Consulting
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