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Management Consulting - Accenture: Origin of Species

Management Consulting - Accenture: Origin of Species

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Published by Jack Sweeney
Having Severed Itself From the Past, Accenture Invents the Firm of the Future.
Having Severed Itself From the Past, Accenture Invents the Firm of the Future.

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Published by: Jack Sweeney on Jun 13, 2009
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01/06/2013

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C ove r Sto ry 
Origin
of Species
T h e
By Jack Sweeney
 
C ove r Sto ry 
C o n s u l t i n g 
 Ja n u a r y / Fe b ruary 2004
15
While New York City sustainedan enormous bl ow some twoye a rs ago,it has since lost noneof its hard-nosed swa g g e r.
Now, that temperament long epitomizedby New Yor’s sharp-tongued citizenry appears to be ebbing somewhat — anintriguing development that many believeis now altering the psyche of Gotham.H o w e v e r, what is defanging NewYorkers, we are told, is not OrangeAlerts or treacherous acts of terrorism,but an information resource commonlyreferred to as 311 .It may be too early to access the fullimpact of the high-tech offering — akind of public hotline on steroids but few doubt that 311 is now alteringthe relationship between the city’sg o v e r n m e n tand its citizens.In effect, New Yorkers have lessreason to shout, or at least they believethat their government may have finallygotten the hearing aid it’s always needed.Arecent page one
 New York Times
article discussing 311 ’s growing positiveimpact quotes New York City mayorMichael Bloomberg as saying, “It is themost powerful management tool everdeveloped for New York City.”Yet the experienced managementp r o b l e m - s o l v e r s ,specialized systems ana-lysts, and programmers who werel a rgely behind the tool’s creation anddeployment escape any mention in the
Ti m e s
article. So goes the all-so-hiddenlife of consultants, the invisible knowl-edge brokers who trace their organizational roots to the early part of the last century —a time when men like Edwin Booz andJames McKinsey first disting u i s h e dthemselves as trusted advisers to bothAmerican business and government,and established partnerships groundedby shared values and principles.H o w e v e r, unlike the independentpartnerships that came to define con-sulting during the past century, thec o n s u l t a n t sbehind 311 belong to amore commercial species — one thatanswers to clients and shareholders inall parts of the world.
Nothing Like It in the Wo r l d
Of course, it wasn’t always that way.The purveyor of 311 wisdom has con-sultingroots that run deep into the past.And if truth be told, its roots run nearlyas deep as those of such enduring partner-shipsas McKinsey & Company and Booz Allen Hamilton. But for thec o n s u l t i n gfirm known as A c c e n t u r e ,its American roots became an obstructionin the way of its global future, or atleast it seems to have appeared thatway to thosewho’d prefer to have usbelieve that Accenture cameinto being a mere four years ago.This is perhapsa pesky footnote to amuch larger and grander tale of a con-sultancy that arg u a b l y, unlike any firmbefore it, is outwardly exposing to theworld at large the impact consultantscan have on business, government, andthe world’s economies.“How the consulting professiongrew up — developing smart peoplewith broad general skills — is not theway it will succeed in the future,” saysAccenture Chairman & CEO JoeForehand, beginning what’s become afamiliar discourse on how, in theworld of consulting, specialized con-sultants are now trumping the impactof “generalists,” or those consultantsthat typically fill the rank-and-file of strategy partnerships.“No one ever thought that consulting— in the industry that we are in — thatthere were any advantages to scale, andwe’re now changing the game throughscale,” says Forehand, emphasizing thelatter half of A c c e n t u r e ’s one-twopunch: specialized skills and globalreach. It’s a wallop that has given riseto a new species of consultancy, onecapable of supplying governments andbusinesses around the world with theeconomic knowledge and infrastructureneeded to compete globally.T h e r e ’s never been anything quitelike them on the planet. Within thebusiness world’s sea of knowledge, weare being compelled to think of globalconsulting firms as the Gulf Stream —a massive and freewheeling currentpushing knowledge from continent tocontinent, from boardroom to board-
 
the world, and its escalating lobbyingfees. More recently, there was the revela-tion that the firm’s Middle East operationis being investigated by the Securitiesand Exchange Commission and theDepartment of Justice for possiblyv i o l a t i n gthe U.S. Foreign CorruptPractices Act (FCPA), a law that barscompanies from bribing foreigno ff i ci a l sto obtain deals.Then there’s the growing off s h o r i n gstrategy through which Accenture andits global competitors such as IBMBusiness Consulting Services and CapGemini Ernst & Young are addingknowledge workers to cheap laborlocations around the world, a strategythat critics charge is putting A m e r i c a n jobs at risk. (Accenture expects that itsoffshore capability will ultimately createnew jobs in the U.S.)And as if that weren’t enough tokeep Accenture in the political hot seat,t h e r e ’s the consulting firm’s push intoe-democracy services — a label for thef i r m ’s Internet voting push involvingo fferings facing heightened scrutinywithin this national election year. Suchtechnologies, a growing number of criticsc h a rge, are vulnerable to hackerscapable of manipulating votes, thusu n d e r m i n i n gd e m o c r a c y.Adding to the hubbub aroundInternet elections was the revelation in
 N e w s d a y
last year that Election.com,one of A c c e n t u r e ’s premier e-govern-ment partners, had sold controllingpower to an investment group made upof unnamed Saudi nationals. Last June,Accenture bought out the Saudiinvestors as part of a deal under whichit acquired Election.com’s publicassets. Not more than 60 days later,Accenture had expanded its list of e-democracyclients to include the U.S.Department of Defense, as part of ane ffort to design and build an Internetvoting capability for thousands of absentee uniformed services personnel.“The Pentagon’s program wasadopted with disturbingly little publici-ty or debate. The public is entitled toknow more about how it will work, andhow it will be protected,” read the leadeditorial in the Sunday, January18,edition of 
T h eNew York Ti m e s
.No doubt Accenture would preferthat the Pentagon speak for itself on thesubject of Internet elections, but thefirm remains steadfast in its efforts tomake the technology more secure.So far, Accenture appears to be copingroom, from government to government.And, as with the private partnershipsthat helped establish consulting in thelast century, client confidentialityremains the linchpin that underg i r d stheir existence. However, given thedemands shareholders now place uponthem and the borderless nature of theirwork, global consulting firms now facechallenges — both economic and political— all but unknown to their consultingp r e d e c e s s o r s .
The Profession’s Lightning Ro d
For its part, Accenture has unwittinglybecome the lightning rod for the newconsulting species, given its size( 83,000 employees) and the number of geographies (47+ countries) it currentlyoperates from. What’s more, its publicly- held status continues to illuminate thenature of the $11 billion firm’s work and actions through the foggy filter of routine Securities and ExchangeCommission filings and governmentreports. Such filings have led to everwidening press reports noting thef i r m ’s incorporation in Bermuda, itspush to privatize governments around
16
 Ja n u a r y / Fe b ruary 2004
C o n s u l t i n g 
C ove r Sto ry 
“Unless you are willing to fire those people who while delivering results — care nothing aboutthe values of an o r g a n i z a t i o n ,
then you will not be sendingthe rightmessage to the organization.”
 Accenture’s Fo r e h a n d

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