With over 5,000 consultants worldwide, IBM Consulting has established itself as a serious player in the international consultancy market. Its mighty technical base, global reach and dominance of e-commerce development mean that the group is well placed to offer end-to-end solutions on an international scale. Two years ago, IBM Consulting joined the Management Consultancies Association, then earlier this year, it became the first IMC Certified Practice, with its training and development accredited by the professional body. Each IBM management consultant has a general base of consultancy skills and methodology, whilst specialising in one competency such as change management, knowledge management or supply chain, and also in one industry or sector. Consultants work in leadership teams (there are 120 in Europe) made up of business, resources and professional development people, which are headed up by principals who spend roughly 40 percent of their time billing, 40 percent selling and 20 percent managing. Although the consulting group was only set up in 1992, IBM had been providing consultancy prior to this in the form of practitioner advice in support of hard and software sales, as a way of adding value to its products. Then, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, IBM started to position itself as a provider of consultancy services with its Know-How campaign. By 1992 there were 500 consultants worldwide and IBM was offering two streams of consultancy: business transformation and IT strategy. At a time when IBM’s profitability was declining, consistency of standards was particularly important, hence the introduction of IBM’s own consultant certification. The group went from strength to strength and became the first large IT company to compete with the Big Six (as they were then) in the consultancy market. Russell Kyte, principal EMEA professional development, at IBM Consulting, says the group’s competitive advantage is its ability to provide strategy, process and implementation – in other words, end-to-end global solutions. He explains: “Today’s clients are less interested in the ‘how to’ part of consulting, they want strategy and almost immediate results.” There are those who question IBM’s ability to offer truly independent advice, but its consultants are trained to be objective and to always offer clients the option of a third party opinion (an option which has not yet been taken up). These days, they focus on sectors such as finance, industrial markets, communications and retail distribution – they don’t attempt to compete with the strategy houses at the high end of the market. Kyte and his team are great advocates of the IMC Certified Practice (CP) scheme. “Certified Practice status shows a consistent quality of individual consultants, gives confidence to clients, and provides our consultants with a transportable qualification. That’s the beauty of it – all three parties benefit from the scheme,” Kyte enthuses. The CP audit involved close examination of the group’s recruitment, induction and training procedures, as well as a comparison of IBM’s own worldwide consultant certification with IMC’s Certified Management Consultant (CMC) qualification. It is not possible to progress to senior consultant level at IBM without internal certification that requires an individual to: – successfully complete all planned education; – apply method in three major projects in 24 months; – demonstrate that they have taken on additional responsibility; – document their intellectual capital on the IBM database; – speak at conferences. Following the CP audit it was agreed that all IBM certified consultants with a further 12 months experience would be recommended for CMC status, thus giving them independent proof of their competence and an internationally recognised qualification. “Consultants are more mobile than ever nowadays. It is not enough to have worked for a brand-name organisation. They also need a professional qualification,” says Kyte. Dick Vardy, professional development manager at IBM, explains that the importance of the CMC to experienced consultants like himself is that it gives them a recognised external qualification and independent recognition of their standing. “It means that ‘consultant’ is not just a title I have chosen to give myself, but one that is recognised by my peers, colleagues and clients as being based on a proper evaluation of my work and capabilities,” he says. All IBM consultants in the UK will be encouraged to apply for CMC status. Some are already using their CMC designation in proposals and the group has emphasised its new CP status in government proposals. The CMC is also used in recruitment advertising. For example, in the MBA career guide this autumn, a 12-page IBM pullout will feature a full page picture of the CMC certificate. There are five levels of consultant at IBM: associate consultant (graduate), consultant (MBA graduate), senior consultant, executive consultant and principal. In the UK, 25 percent of the recruitment is at MBA level, 60 percent are experienced hires, and 15 percent are “leaders”. IBM recruits MBA graduates from four business schools: Cranfield, Warwick, London and Manchester, as well as via its web site. There is no shortage of good candidates at this level, but experienced consultants and thought leaders are proving more difficult to find. There are currently 300 IBM consultants in the UK, with recruitment at about 20 percent, however the group is still relatively small compared to systems integration, which has 5,000 consultants in the UK and is growing at 25 percent. Retention of consultants is high, with only 6-7 percent turnover and many MBAs staying on beyond the usual two year honeymoon period. There is also a new alumni group made up of consultants who have left IBM, or retired or moved within the firm. Colin Livingstone, senior business transformation consultant and CMC, who has been with IBM for twenty years, says: “I must say this is the best job I have ever had. The biggest buzz you get is in helping people. There is a tremendous energy in the IBM Consulting Group and the strength we have is the practical skills we bring to clients. There is an obsession with client satisfaction and that is absolutely correct. This job has taken me all over the world and I feel I add real value for my clients.” IBM doesn’t boast the highest salaries in the profession, but it offers individuals the opportunity to move within the organisation and in and out of consultancy if they choose. The culture seems to be open and supportive. People are encouraged to do things outside their area of responsibility and to take control of their own career. “We don’t want people who sit back and wait for things to happen,” says Kyte. IBM takes training and development very seriously, and the consultancy group is no exception. It has its own HR partner and all professional development managers are experienced consultants who work with individuals to agree objectives and prepare a development plan reflecting their aspirations. Each consultant also undergoes a personal business assessment at the end of each engagement as well as an annual appraisal. During their first year, consultants spend 20 days in the education centre learning methodologies, and in subsequent years 5-10 days are spent in specialist training, according to their competency and industry, in addition to on-the-job coaching and mentoring. The consulting group comes under the umbrella of IBM Global Services, which also covers strategic outsourcing and systems integration, and represents a substantial proportion of IBM’s turnover. Kyte feels that the e-commerce revolution will give IBM the perfect opportunity to demonstrate its strengths. “Client/consultant relationships are changing to such an extent that the choice of consultancy brand will be less important than the end solution. The emphasis will be very much on the relationship with the individual, and the quality of the solution provided. IBM does not find this threatening,” he says. IMC News is the official Journal of the IMC. The Editor of Management Consultancy would like to state that the views expressed in the Journal of the IMC are not necessarily those of Management Consultancy. Similarly, the views expressed elsewhere in Management Consultancy are not necessarily those of the IMC.
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