Doers vs. advisors – the battle between the Big Four and BPO

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BPO providers with front-office consulting skills are challenging the Big Four advisors.

A little less conversation 

Our PowerPoint presentation was greeted with an awkward silence. The clock ticked – seconds seemed like hours – with each tick became seemingly louder. My presentation partner and I glanced nervously at each other. Who would be first to speak?

The icebreaker came from someone who had been quiet throughout our presentation – a specific question about retrospective POs that suddenly brought the audience to life. It was then that it struck me. The client had been subjected to enough advice – what they were wanted were tried and tested ideas that could be actioned immediately.

Several large consulting firms had come in and presented some outstanding analysis of their current problems. But despite the big bucks spent on the presentation, the outputs didn’t translate to actionable ideas on the ground. But here we were, a group of down-to-earth, operational people who knew exactly how shared services improvements could be implemented, and many of our transformation ideas could be immediately initiated by their IT teams without waiting for additional investment.

 When I joined the BPO industry just over 10 years ago, the situation described above would have been inconceivable. Providers were typically engaged by advisors at the point where the opportunity is scoped out, the buying organization mapped, and the journey to the future state outlined – even if at a high level. BPO providers were then expected to carry out the more prosaic tasks of turning the scope into value through a well-defined process. A process that is increasingly becoming more open and collaborative.

A little more action

If consulting is about advising clients and shared services/outsourcing is about executing or acting on that advice, then “shared services consulting” neatly straddles two disparate worlds that have traditionally been dominated by the big advisory firms.

Over the years, we’ve seen outsourcers build solid consulting capabilities and advisory firms develop implementation skills. This has led to the dynamics of “consulting” vs. “doing” shifting, with more demanding buyers seeking details from the outset of the change process.

More confident BPO players with successfully industrialized back-office operations and developing front-office consulting skills are challenging the Big Four advisors. Customers requiring for a pragmatic “sleeves rolled up” experience are looking for answers that advisors aren’t always able to provide.

Shared services clients expect clarity and detailed operational knowledge – something they don’t always get from advisors. In my view, operators with a layer of consulting skills usually come across as more credible in such situations. And with increasing pressure from the market to reduce cost and deliver transformation in shorter timescales, I believe this trend is only set to increase.

Satisfy me 

As our meeting ended we knew we were on to a win. I could sense the collective sense of relief as we walked out – “finally someone gets it.”

In this instance, our victory over the big management consulting firms came on the back of our proven operational expertise. The client chose us over the “advisors” as they saw value in actionable ideas versus those hovering at 30,000 feet in the air.

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 About the author

Koushik Chatterjee is responsible for developing long-term relationships with key strategic clients. As a passionate advocate for “going digital” and leveraging technology in business services strategies, Koushik has helped multiple clients in their journey to global managed services.

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