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  Having integrated the consulting business of PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM Business Consulting Services has recently launched a new marketing campaign to reposition the business in the eyes of its clients.
Consulting-Times E-zine
Our specialist management consultancy columnist Mick James uncovers the challenges and opportunities that the acquisition has brought and the rationale for the new branding campaign.


IBM Business Consulting – the view from within

Ever since its formation in 1991, IBM’s consulting arm has been the “dark matter” in the consultancy universe. Although it’s by some way the largest consulting entity in the world, the company never divulges precise figures for numbers of consultants and revenues, and the importance of the consulting arm, both in its own industry and to IBM itself is often overlooked. The tendency is for IBM to be pigeonholed either as a very, very large systems integrator, or an outsourcing and IT company which happens to employ a lot of consultants in pre-sales.

All this of course overlooks the effects on IBM of its acquisition in 2002 of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ consultants, a move that in my view IBM made far too little of at the time and since. IBM has clearly now recognized this — a new campaign, “The Other IBM” promotes “a side to IBM you may not know” and brings to the foreground its consulting expertise, which spans financial management, human capital, marketing, sales and services, strategy and change, and supply chain and procurement.

“Since the acquisition of PwC we’ve been pretty much full service,” says Liz Brown, Services Leader for the EMEA North for IBM Business Consulting Services. “The big thing that that acquisition was about was creating a full-service proposition across all those service areas.”

Although from the outside PwC seemed to have been noiselessly absorbed, the addition of a top layer of process and strategy skills has changed not just IBM’s consultancy business but the whole company. Seen in the context of CEO Lou Gerstner’s agenda for change at IBM, which radically tilted the company’s focus towards its services offerings, the PwC integration becomes far more significant than the acquisition of a few consultants.

In fact, says Brown, Gerstner cited integrating PwC as the “third big thing” for IBM. Given that the first two were first, the mammoth task of keeping the company together — and it’s easy now to forget what tough times IBM went through — and second entering the internet and ebusiness arena, this is quite a statement.

“PwC was the catalyst for the next era of change,” says Brown, herself a former PwC partner, who says she was “incredibly touched” by the welcome she and her colleagues received at IBM. As well as offering a viable way forward for the consultancy in the regulator-dominated, post-Enron era, the move also seems to have shielded it from the worst effects of the post-2002 downturn.

Now BCS is very much on the offence, as the “other IBM” campaign shows “I was quite impressed that IBM would take that step, says Brown. “Big companies are very protective of their brands. But everybody thinks IBM is a computer company and we’re much more than that.”

This change means not just a broadening of IBM’s service offering, but in the way it relates to all its customers:

“IBM had talked about delivery to customers, and this has become delivery to clients,” says Brown. “That’s a really symbolic change, it’s not just a word, it really does imply something in a transaction. As part of this move IBM has changed its values and its dynamics.”

One key feature of the post-merger BCS is a focus on strategy consulting. Although the original consulting group was set up by Bob Howe, a former Booz Allen strategy consultant, it deliberately steered clear of strategy work. Now that has changed, with the group prepared to take on anything from stand-alone strategy projects, to unraveling the high-end complexities of transformational outsourcing.

“You’re not going to get there if you’re not in the boardroom, and that’s one of the things the PwC group brought with it, boardroom relationships.” In turn, IBM offers its consultants a breadth and depth of resources to draw on none of its rivals can match.

“Some of this stuff is mind-bogglingly complex,” says Brown. “You’re reengineering this, outsourcing that, reshaping this bit of infrastructure and consolidating elsewhere. Plus you want a supplier that can do that in 100 countries, and put together the strategy and the implementation. That’s not every client’s cup of tea, of course, but these megadeals just did not happen at PwC — we would have killed for one.”

The other aspect to IBM is that it is itself a huge blue-chip enterprise:

“Our consultancy is used internally as well — some of our strategy people have had a whale of a time consulting within IBM,” says Brown. This adds an interesting spin on the careers side as well, as consultants who wish to pursue careers in management outside consultancy can do so within IBM — Howe himself, for example, ended up as head of the banking division.

The other side of the coin is that, from its inception, IBM has been able to draw on its own internal process expertise and put these people into consulting assignments. This has helped tremendously with IBM’s diversity consulting business, where the firm’s own internal diversity agenda has fed into its work with clients. This is an area that Brown is very keen to develop within BCS, particularly in the recruitment and development of women, and one we hope to report on further in Top-Consultant.

I for one am very encouraged to see IBM BCS stepping out of the shadows and beginning to assume a leadership role in the industry. What is perhaps more interesting though will be to see that happening within IBM itself.

Related link: Consultants invited to meet the IBM consulting team at London's Management Consultancy Careers Fair

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]
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