TechnologyAccounting SoftwareAndrew Miskin at CSC – Reflections on an “organised chaos”

Andrew Miskin at CSC - Reflections on an “organised chaos”

Andrew Miskin heads the UK consulting arm of services giant Computer Sciences Corporation, which has seen dramatic growth in the last year. He talks to Sarah Perrin about how the company's informal culture and philosophy differentiate it from its competitors - and deliver what its clients need.

[QQ]Andrew Miskin never intended to be a management consultant, at least not for more than a couple of years. So how is it that, eight years after entering the field, he happens to be head of the strategic services group, the UK management consulting arm, of the US-founded services giant Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC)?[QQ] Miskin was never one for settling in one place for too long. He started out as an engineer in industry, moved into management roles and qualified as an accountant along the way. Twelve years down the career track, and looking for a new direction, he discovered that he fell between two stools.[QQ] Miskin explains: “Anybody who looked at me for a financial position said, ‘You have only been an accountant for four years’. Anybody who looked at me for a general management position said, ‘Well, you haven’t been a general manager for long enough’. So I ended up going into consultancy as a kind of CV filler.” But things don’t always go as planned. “I fell in love with the consulting business,” says Miskin. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”[QQ] This is good news for CSC and for its management consulting team, the strategic services group (SSG), where Miskin is currently busy bringing together its constituent parts. Until last August CSC ran three separate consulting units: CSC Index; Kalchas, a strategic consulting group; and a separate group within the UK systems integration business.[QQ] “We have brought all their skills together,” says Miskin. “They are very much geared to helping our clients through the thinking part of the challenges facing them in implementation. CSC is an excellent implementation consultancy, but more and more we have to help clients think through what they are implementing. That’s really the role of this group.”[QQ] A combination of factors triggered the merger, including a desire to simplify CSC’s internal structure, improve the market’s understanding of its range of expertise and also improve client service.[QQ] “We ran Index and Kalchas as stand alone businesses whose primary role was to sell management consulting. Although their clients got value from that, they weren’t really getting value from what CSC as an organisation could bring.” The idea is that, as a combined unit, the consultants will be better able to link client needs with CSC’s other skills, its implementation expertise, where the client so desires.[QQ] But Miskin acknowledges that there are potential downsides to the integration.[QQ] “The whole merging of strategy consulting with implementation is fraught with danger and difficulty,” he says. Clients seeking impartial advice may be put off by an adviser who appears too closely tied to systems integrators.[QQ] As for the consultants, they may have their own issues. Miskin recalls a sketch from That Was The Week That Was with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, all representing one of the British classes – upper, middle and lower, and each despising the other. “Consultants are very often like that,” he says. “Strategy consultants look down on implementation consultants who, in turn, look down on systems integrators … That also makes it quite difficult. So part of my challenge is to be the glue, to be the fulcrum in terms of making that (integration) happen.”[QQ] CSC has also this year set up a European consulting organisation, headquartered in Farnborough, and in the next 12 months a global structure will be established.[QQ] A global approach is something clients are increasingly demanding, Miskin says. “To an extent they are buying the individual entrepreneurial flair of individuals, but they do want the same philosophies, the same approach from around the organisation.”[QQ] Achieving that global structure will become increasingly relevant, assuming CSC continues its impressive growth rate. While Miskin admits that “CSC as an organisation is probably one of the best kept secrets in the industry, particularly in the management consulting arena”, that may not be the case much longer. CSC’s combined consulting, systems integration and outsourcing operation in the UK generated turnover of around $800m in the last financial year, with $1bn anticipated for the current one. Five years ago turnover was around $50m. The UK consulting and systems integration business doubled turnover from $100m to $200m in the last year, all organically generated.[QQ] Despite the growth, CSC’s culture remains remarkably unchanged. “The culture is pretty open,” says Miskin. “If I have got something wrong, one of my team will come and tell me so. Hierarchy is much less evident here than in the Big Five.”[QQ] Culture is the key factor that Miskin believes consultancies can use to differentiate themselves from rivals, which in CSC’s case include Andersen Consulting, IBM Consulting, EDS, Gemini and AT Kearney. “The obvious competitors are the more full service IT organisations, the people who go from relatively high strategic consulting through to outsourcing.” [QQ] Differentiation is not easy. “We all employ very bright people,” says Miskin. “The only really sustainable differentiation is the way you deal with your customers because culture is so difficult to change in organisations.[QQ] You can copy products, thoughts and the ways in which you do things.[QQ] But it’s very difficult to copy culture. So that’s how we aim to differentiate ourselves. That’s the only thing that ultimately makes CSC different from anyone else.”[QQ] The organisation’s culture and its client service are closely linked in Miskin’s view. “We try very hard to partner with our clients, to do things ‘with’ rather than ‘to’ them,” he says. “That has a good side and a bad side. It means that as an organisation we are much less likely to deliver an off the shelf solution (which some people may actually want). Our approach is much more to work with you, understand your business drivers and see what you need as a business.”[QQ] The best example of this partnership style is the global alliance formed between CSC and Nokia Telecommunications about 18 months ago. The two companies are working together to provide Nokia’s customers with innovative solutions, services and products. “It started off tentatively, but as every month goes by the partnership is getting stronger,” says Miskin.[QQ] The partnership approach is one that he believes will become the new style for consulting. “I think consultancy is now moving into a relationship phase. Clients are starting to say, ‘I want you to have some skin in the game, I want you to suffer the pain with me if this doesn’t go well and I want you to share the joy with me if it does’. We have reached that stage with the likes of Nokia.”[QQ] This shared pain and joy approach does require the consultants to be empowered to do what they think best for the client, rather than necessarily just what the client asked for. “We now have to get into a relationship where we will give you what you need, not what you asked for,” says Miskin.[QQ] “If we only give you what you ask for, and you get no benefit, we are going to suffer. So we have to be able to give you what you need. And that changes the dynamics of the relationship enormously because it is no longer the customer-supplier relationship; it really does become a partnership relationship.”[QQ] This has clear implications for internal relationships within CSC too.[QQ] “Making sure people are empowered to do things that are really in the interests of clients is important,” says Miskin. “Clients want to be sitting opposite someone who can take decisions for the organisation. So we have to empower people. We don’t have a very strict and formal hierarchy and sometimes that makes the organisation very chaotic, but it’s almost organised chaos. It’s a deliberate philosophy not to have very strong command and control structures because we don’t think those are appropriate for working with our clients. It means it’s less controlled, and sometimes it’s a damn sight more scary for the management. But it does deliver what our clients need in terms of people who can act in their interests.”[QQ] Miskin claims not to know much about IT but he appreciates it to be a key driver of business. Relief indeed for CSC.[QQ] He talks with animation about the potential impact that electronic commerce could have on business as we know it. “If you only see it as a problem of connectivity in the marketplace you have scratched about 5 percent of the surface of what electronic business is really about.”[QQ] The real issue for organisations, as Miskin sees it, is that electronic business will allow freedom of information which will encourage perfect markets. Organisations will also have the potential, and the need, not just to listen to their customers, but to respond to them. That they must do, otherwise the customers will take their business elsewhere.[QQ] Electronic commerce is far more than another channel to do business in,” says Miskin. “It’s absolutely revolutionary to the way that people will have to transact business with their customers. That has incredible implications for the organisations that are here today. Some of our big organisations will not exist in five years’ time. They will be taken over and subsumed.”[QQ] CSC is currently working with a number of FMCG clients and retailers, household names, on the implications of e-commerce. “They are very worried about this and are trying to work out their strategy,” says Miskin. “This is starting to keep people awake at nights. If you were a Swiss watch manufacturer when quartz watches came out, your business disappeared.[QQ] It just went. That’s going to happen to people (due to e-commerce) and that’s pretty scary and size is no defence in that circumstance. You have also got to be nimble, and to be big and to be nimble is pretty difficult.”[QQ] The importance of interaction between organisation and customer, the need to respond to customer needs, is something that has become apparent through CSC’s partnership with Nokia.[QQ] Miskin cites, for example, the way that people interact with mobile phones.[QQ] He says a mobile phone service can check you in at the airport, book your seat, notify you of boarding time, book you a hotel at the other end and display instructions of how to get to it for the taxi driver in his own language.[QQ] “This is all technically possible now,” says Miskin. “What’s not clear is how people will interact with that (potential).” As he points out, so much intimate knowledge of an individual’s movements can seem intrusive, even sinister.[QQ] CSC is on the case and Miskin is clearly intrigued by the issues involved.[QQ] “It’s fascinating to be with senior people in organisations helping them think through their problems,” he says. And that is a key reason why, contrary to his initial expectations, he is still a consultant today.[QQ] [QQ] [QQ] CURRICULUM VITAE[QQ] Andrew Miskin, age 41[QQ] Head of strategic services group, CSC[QQ] July 96 to date: CSC: director, management consulting[QQ] July 94 to July 96: IBM: managing principal, utilities consulting[QQ] Jan 91 to July 94: KPMG Management Consulting: principal consultant[QQ] Jul 81 to Jan 91: Esso UK: financial services manager[QQ] Jul 79 to Jul 81: Michelin Tyre: industrial engineer. [QQ] Sarah Perrin is a freelance journalist

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