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  Who would have thought ten years ago, that the likes of Accenture and IBM would be ranked alongside McKinsey in terms of the quantity and quality of their "thought leadership" – the intellectual high ground of consulting.
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IT firms jostle with strategy firms for intellectual high ground

Over the last year, Accenture has succeeded in putting far more space (at least in volume terms) between itself and its nearest rivals, to a point where it now matches McKinsey's share of the thought leadership market with 9% of the total and IBM is in fourth place with 5%. Indeed, if anything, Accenture seems to be modelling its position on that of a strategy firm rather than a broader IT and consulting firm, with over a third of its output focussed on economic/market studies and strategy formulation. Accenture also comes out top in the subject areas of customer service, recruitment and retention, technology and finance.

While IBM appears to be producing less material than it did in the past, it has clearly taken the view that what is worth doing is worth doing well. This is evident in the type of in-depth research it commissions and the business models it has sought to develop, which are designed to shed light on current business trends. IBM ranks alongside McKinsey in terms of "resilience" – depth of thinking and/or extent of research evident. It also heads up the field on topics such as channel management and innovation, business processes, procurement and knowledge management.

Evaluation of IT consulting firms' thought leadership
Appeal Differentiation Resilience Commercialization Total (out of 20)
Accenture 4 3 4 5 16
IBM 3 5 5 3 16
Capgemini 1 5 5 4 15
Unisys 3 5 2 5 15
CSC 1 1 3 5 10
Wipro 2 2 1 3 8
Infosys 1 2 3 1 7
Source: White Space (Arkimeda)

Accenture leads the field with regard to commercialisation (the likelihood that material will encourage the audience to take action). More than any firm, it is starting to find a successful balance between the ideas it promulgates and the services it sells. At its best, the use of diagnostic tools enables clients to gauge the relevance of an idea to them and to measure the gap between their performance and the ideal, without overtly selling to them.

Capgemini has not historically been a particularly significant player in the thought leadership market, generating only limited quantities of material. But there are signs that this has been changing over the last year with its share of the volume growing to a respectable 3 percent and a number one ranking for the subject area of quality.

Both Unisys's and CSC's approaches to thought leadership remain unashamedly technology-centric at a time when many of their competitors are using thought leadership to establish their credentials in business-related topics. Unisys is the leader on the subject of security and CSC has a particular focus on the healthcare and life science industries.

As the Indian offshorers develop their consulting practices they are already having an impact on the thought leadership rankings. In terms of volume of material, Infosys is the leading offshore firm, marginally ahead of Wipro, with Tata Consultancy Services trailing some way behind. The thought leadership of all three remains very technology-centric.

Certainly as far as thought leadership goes, the boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred between the traditional "strategy" firms, the big IT consultancies and the offshorers. A year is a long time in consulting and it will be interesting to see who holds the top spot in 12 months' time.


This assessment of thought leadership contributions is based on Fiona Czerniawska's new report White Space, the findings of which will form a key part of Fiona's forthcoming seminar Using thought leadership to generate £millions in extra client fees.


White Space, published by Arkimeda, is a unique research programme that evaluates the latest thought leadership published by the top global consulting firms, identifying those that produce the most, the best and the worst material across a range of subject areas and sectors. For more information and ordering details go to www.arkimeda.com or email [email protected].
 
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