Published on March 7, 2014
Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 February 2014 white space This report is for firms that subscribe to White Space
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 Introduction We’ve recently made a small change to our methodology for assessing the quality of a consulting firm’s overall thought leadership output, dropping blogs from our analysis. It seemed increasingly unreasonable to suggest that clients held firms to the same standard with their blogs as they do with more traditional forms of thought leadership, and we didn’t want to punish firms for their use of an important medium by including material which we consistently rated as relatively poor quality. It’s a small change and one which has generally had a very small impact: the vast majority of firms have seen their scores change very little as a result. Indeed, we’d be tempted not to make much of the change at all if it wasn’t for one important exception: IBM. IBM produces a very small amount of material relative to other firms and so the blogs it produces have weighed disproportionately heavily on its overall score. And so, without them, the firm tops our ranking for material published in the second half of 2013. In truth, IBM was heading that way anyway. An unswerving focus on quality at the cost of volume has seen the former improve, not massively but markedly, in recent years, to a point where IBM was only very narrowly beaten to the top spot by BCG last time round. The cost to volume shouldn’t be downplayed though – if there’s any sense in using military analogies to describe the thought leadership market then IBM is being outgunned by virtually everyone at the moment, and that has the potential to hurt it. Nevertheless, with pieces like Trusting the science that drives your business: A systematic approach to verify scientific claims it’s easy to see the benefits of a strategy we’ve been imploring many firms to consider employing for some time. IBM’s rise to the top is indicative of a continuing change to the order: its success knocks perennial high-performer BCG off the top spot and leaves us without a strategy firm as the leader for the first time in many years. It is a bit early to tell whether or not this has a broader symbolism with respect to the wider consulting market, but if the collective trajectory of strategy firms continues (or rather if they continue to allow themselves to be outdone by other types of firms) then it would become increasingly hard not to start talking about a serious threat to the jewel in their crown: their perceived intellectual supremacy. Equally significant, especially within that context, is Deloitte’s rise to second place, though perhaps the more important lesson to be learned here concerns the impact of a firm simply getting itself organised (in Deloitte’s case through Deloitte University Press) around thought leadership. It’s one of the reasons that strategy firms did so well for so long and it’s creating clear daylight between Deloitte and the rest of the Big Four at the moment. Indeed, we suspect that’s what accounts for the (very) early signs of improvement at PA Consulting recently. The firm may still languish near the bottom of our table, but it has managed to improve its score more than any firm other than IBM this time round, and, as our latest rankings confirm, a lot can change in a very short space of time. 2 © Source Information Services Ltd 2014
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 Figure 1 Areas of particular strength Quality rankings for the second half of 2013 Areas of particular weakness 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Prompting action Total IBM 3.30 2.95 3.22 2.50 11.97 Deloitte 3.32 2.91 2.60 2.16 10.98 BCG 3.23 2.72 2.39 2.13 10.48 Roland Berger 3.23 3.00 2.17 2.05 10.45 Capgemini Consulting 2.91 2.64 2.55 2.32 10.41 Hay Group 2.83 2.73 2.25 2.50 10.31 Accenture 2.90 2.72 2.06 2.35 10.02 PwC 2.96 2.71 2.02 2.30 9.99 Booz Allen 3.13 2.40 9.83 EY 2.97 2.39 2.09 2.36 9.81 Booz & Company 3.00 1.80 9.80 2.92 2.50 2.07 2.08 9.57 A.T. Kearney 3.04 1.83 9.52 McKinsey 3.00 2.70 1.82 1.73 9.26 L.E.K. 3.13 2.60 1.43 1.90 9.07 KPMG 2.56 2.27 2.27 1.95 9.04 Bain 2.79 2.52 1.98 1.73 9.02 BearingPoint* 2.90 2.29 1.77 1.75 8.71 Arthur D. Little 2.76 2.27 8.70 TCS 2.52 2.08 1.78 2.22 8.60 Aon Hewitt 2.67 1.98 1.95 1.85 8.44 Towers Watson 2.74 2.13 1.58 1.97 8.42 PA Consulting 2.78 2.46 1.42 1.67 8.32 CSC 2.47 2.25 1.88 1.65 8.25 Mercer 2.67 1.75 1.63 1.65 7.70 Average (all reports reviewed) 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Differentiation Appeal Resilience 2.40 2.85 2.54 1.89 1.90 2.15 2.11 1.79 *BearingPoint’s material has been included in our analysis for the first time, so the ranking of firms below it will have been affected by its inclusion. © Source Information Services Ltd 2014 3
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 A question of consistency This report also marks the first time that we’ve looked at variance (or consistency) in the quality of material published by consulting firms. Of course a low variance score (or a high level of consistency) isn’t something to aim for in isolation: it’s possible to be consistently bad. Indeed, right now Mercer appears to be crying out for a piece of material which is inconsistent with the quality of most of its output. But it is important nevertheless, because without it consulting firms run the risk of undoing much of their hard work. Deloitte’s high variance score, for instance, means that although the average quality of its material is high at the moment, relatively few pieces of material are likely to be average. Working on the assumption that few clients will take the time to read of all its material (there’s a lot), that means it runs the risk that some clients will only see the bad stuff. And unless it’s being incredibly organised about which clients they are, that seems like one hell of a risk. How many people, having seen a bad piece, will give the firm a second chance when something better comes along? So, what causes inconsistency? That turns out to be quite a hard question to answer. There doesn’t appear to be a relationship between volume and consistency, however tempting it is to conclude that the variance in quality of KPMG’s material has something to do with the amount that it publishes. And nor is there a relationship with quality itself: being consistent doesn’t mean being good, even if the aim must be to be consistently good. What we can say is that those firms whose output is inconsistent tend to be those who have a relatively decentralised approach to producing thought leadership. Without anyone monitoring and influencing the quality of what’s being produced, there’s simply no way to make sure that quality standards are being maintained. There may also be an issue with the way people are incentivised to create thought leadership – we’ve heard stories about firms where producing thought leadership has become a box-ticking exercise – but that’s a little less easy to substantiate. The chart on the next page shows how firms perform in terms of both quality and consistency: the closer to the top righthand corner of the chart, the better (high quality, low variance). 4 © Source Information Services Ltd 2014
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 Figure 2 Quality and consistency (of quality) in firms’ thought leadership Average quality (score out of 20) 7 12 0 Capgemini Consulting Bain L.E.K. Variance of scores (lower number means greater consistency) Mercer TCS PA Consulting Arthur D. Little CSC Booz Allen A.T. Kearney Boston Consulting Group Hay Group IBM EY Aon Hewitt McKinsey Towers Watson Booz & Company Accenture Deloitte Roland Berger BearingPoint PwC KPMG 8 © Source Information Services Ltd 2014 5
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 Figure 3 Comparing ranks and scores in the second half of 2013 with those in the first half Firms whose overall score has improved by more than 1/20 IBM Score in H1 Rank in H1 Score in H2 Rank in H2 Change in score 10.59 2 11.97 1 1.38 PA Consulting 7.07 23 8.32 22 1.25 Arthur D. Little 7.47 21 8.70 18 1.23 CSC 7.33 22 8.25 23 0.92 L.E.K. 7.83 20 8.72 16 0.89 Bain 8.14 16 9.02 15 0.88 TCS 7.87 19 8.60 19 0.73 Booz Allen 9.21 0.62 Deloitte 13 9.83 9 10.34 5 10.89 2 0.55 Capgemini Consulting 9.89 9 10.41 5 0.52 Hay Group 9.85 10 10.31 6 0.46 Towers Watson 8.02 17 8.42 21 0.40 A.T. Kearney 9.20 14 9.52 12 0.32 10.33 6 10.45 4 0.12 Roland Berger BearingPoint 0.00 0 8.71 17 0.00 McKinsey 9.30 12 9.26 13 -0.04 BCG 10.69 1 10.48 3 -0.21 EY 10.06 8 9.81 10 -0.25 7.98 18 7.70 24 -0.28 Accenture 10.42 4 10.02 7 -0.40 PwC 10.42 3 9.99 8 -0.43 Mercer KPMG 9.52 11 9.04 14 -0.48 Aon Hewitt 8.94 15 8.44 20 -0.50 10.23 7 9.59 11 -0.64 Booz & Company *Note that we now show the absolute change in score, rather than expressing the change as a percentage **This is the first time we have reviewed BearingPoint’s material, so we have no comparative data for the firm yet. 6 © Source Information Services Ltd 2014
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 Figure 4 Difference between firms’ scores and average scores against all criteria and in total, for all reports reviewed* Firms whose score is more than 0.25 greater than the average for each criterion, or more than 1.0 greater than the average overall Firms whose score is more than 0.25 lower than the average for each criterion, or more than 1.0 lower than the average overall Differentiation Appeal Resilience Prompting action Total IBM 0.38 0.45 1.15 0.42 2.39 Deloitte 0.40 0.41 0.53 0.08 1.41 BCG 0.31 0.22 0.32 0.05 0.90 Roland Berger 0.31 0.50 0.10 -0.03 0.88 Capgemini Consulting -0.01 0.13 0.48 0.24 0.84 Hay Group -0.09 0.22 0.18 0.42 0.73 Accenture -0.02 0.21 -0.01 0.27 0.45 PwC 0.03 0.20 -0.05 0.22 0.41 Booz Allen 0.21 0.32 EY 0.05 -0.12 0.02 0.28 0.23 Booz & Company 0.08 0.35 0.08 -0.28 0.23 A.T. Kearney 0.12 0.04 0.04 -0.25 -0.05 McKinsey 0.08 0.20 -0.25 -0.35 -0.32 L.E.K. 0.21 0.10 -0.63 -0.18 -0.51 KPMG -0.37 -0.24 0.20 -0.13 -0.53 Bain -0.13 0.02 -0.08 -0.35 -0.55 -0.10 -0.17 0.26 BearingPoint -0.02 -0.22 -0.29 -0.33 -0.86 Arthur D. Little -0.16 -0.62 -0.28 0.19 -0.87 TCS -0.40 -0.42 -0.29 Aon Hewitt -0.26 -0.53 -0.12 -0.23 -1.13 Towers Watson -0.18 -0.38 -0.48 -0.11 -1.15 PA Consulting -0.14 -0.05 -0.65 -0.41 -1.25 CSC -0.46 -0.25 -0.18 -0.43 -1.32 Mercer -0.26 -0.75 -0.43 -0.43 -1.87 0.14 -0.97 *Note that we now show the absolute difference in score, rather than expressing the difference as a percentage © Source Information Services Ltd 2014 7
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 Figure 5 Top ten firms by criterion Differentiation Appeal 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 IBM 3.30 Deloitte 3.28 Roland Berger 3.23 BCG 3.23 Booz Allen 3.13 A.T. Kearney 3.04 McKinsey 3.00 L.E.K. 3.00 EY 2.97 PwC 2.96 Roland Berger IBM 2.95 Deloitte 2.90 Booz & Company 2.77 Hay Group 2.73 BCG 2.72 Accenture 2.72 PwC 2.71 McKinsey 2.70 Capgemini Consulting Resilience 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 2.64 Prompting action 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8 3.00 IBM 3.22 Capgemini Consulting 2.55 Deloitte 2.54 BCG 2.39 KPMG 2.27 Hay Group 2.25 Roland Berger 2.17 A.T. Kearney 2.11 EY 2.09 Booz & Company 2.06 IBM 2.50 Hay Group 2.50 Booz Allen 2.40 EY 2.36 Accenture 2.35 Capgemini Consulting 2.32 PwC 2.30 Arthur D. Little 2.27 TCS 2.22 Deloitte 2.17 © Source Information Services Ltd 2014
Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 white space Firm-by-firm commentary The following table summarises our ratings of firms’ thought leadership for the first half of 2013. Rank / Firm 1 IBM IBM may have benefitted more than any other firm from our tweaking of the methodology to exclude blogs, but as we said in our introduction, the truth is that it appeared to be heading for the top anyway. By so many of our measures – differentiation, resilience, the extent to which material prompts action in readers – IBM currently sits top of the pile. On top of which, its material is remarkably consistent. We’ve already mentioned Trusting the science that drives your business: A systematic approach to verify scientific claims which feels as much a part of the zeitgeist as anything we’ve seen recently, but pieces like The new software-defined supply chain: Preparing for the disruptive transformation of electronics design and manufacturing (not one for short titles, IBM) prove that its ability to have its finger on the pulse extends into other areas, too. In fact it’s hard to find any weak material now that we’ve stopped looking at blogs. The trouble is there’s just not much of it. We’re all in favour of doing less and doing it better – and there are plenty of firms who would do very well to take a leaf out of IBM’s book – but the reality is that you’ve got to do a bit of shouting to make sure you’re heard in today’s crowded thought leadership market place. Capgemini outpublished IBM by a ratio of more than 3:1 in the second half of 2013. Accenture by more than 12:1. 2 Deloitte Something good appears to be happening with Deloitte’s thought leadership: since the beginning of 2010 its score has improved by a third (of the Big Four only KPMG has achieved something similar, though it has done so from a much lower base and actually appears to be going backwards at the moment), leading to a correspondingly impressive rise from 10th to 2nd position in our rankings. Heady days. Deloitte University Press appears to have a lot to do with this rise: it seems to have given the firm focus and galvanised it in much the same way that similar sub-brands (with their attendant micro-sites) did for the big strategy firms. There’s some extraordinarily good stuff here: pieces like Digital commerce in the supermarket aisle: Strategies for CPG brands are pretty much as good as you’ll find anywhere right now, but there’s also some material (usually outwith the DUP environment) which is anything but; Is the cloud within your reach is the sort of thing Deloitte shouldn’t be doing now that it can do so much better. And therein lies the problem: what Deloitte doesn’t yet appear to be is consistently good, and there’s simply too much danger for the firm that potential clients will miss the good stuff and find the bad stuff. It doesn’t have an endless amount of slack to play with (PwC, KPMG and EY all publish considerably more at the moment, even if they probably shouldn’t) but Deloitte can certainly afford to get a bit ruthless about material which doesn’t meet the grade now, without fear of its output becoming too lean. Courage, mon brave! 3 BCG BCG hasn’t really slowed down much – it’s just been overtaken by a couple of firms who are speeding up. But its fall to third place in our rankings serves as a useful reminder about just how tough it is at the top: indeed we may be tempted to see it simply as part of the jostling for position that goes on amongst leaders, were it not for the significance of strategy firms vacating the top spot for the first time in a long time. So is there really something more significant going on here? For strategy firms as a whole it’s hard not to wonder if there might be: they occupy more lowly positions in our rankings than they have ever done, and all of the big names that have loomed large in thought leadership terms for so long appear to be on the slide at the same time. For BCG specifically, probably not. This is a firm that can still knock out some of the strongest material around, as pieces like Fixing the Medtech Commercial Model: Still Deploying Milkmen in a Megastore World? serves to remind us. But while most material is strong (BCG is one of a rare cluster of firms that manages be consistently good) little is exceptionally so. There’s not much that’s going wrong here – we’ve marked it a little lower for differentiation, appeal and resilience than we did last time around – but perhaps the format is starting to look a little dated. Compared with IBM and Deloitte’s material at the moment, BCG’s doesn’t dazzle to quite the same extent, and it’s possible that a lot could be achieved by refreshing the look and feel of what it publishes. Nobody can rest on their laurels – not even BCG. © Source Information Services Ltd 2014 9
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 4 Roland Berger Bucking the trend among strategy firms, Roland Berger has risen from 6th to 4th in our rankings on the back of some more eye-catching material. And we really mean eye-catching: no other firm quite measures up to Roland Berger’s ability to bring data to life through graphics. There’s a consistency to the look and feel of most of its pieces which means that they’re both familiar, and instantly recognisable as being from Roland Berger. And while many will be left cold by its slightly odd front covers, and some might be starting to yearn for a bit of variety in the design of its reports, it’s hard to deny that they still look very good. It’s picking topics with all the aplomb of a seasoned strategy firm, too, as Google vs. Apple? Polar opposites, a report that’s a bit light on research and discernible next steps nevertheless serves to demonstrate very nicely. And it’s not all imagination-capturing topics and eye-catching design either: pieces like Private Health Insurance in South East Asia show it can do its research, too. The trouble is a lack of consistency in overall quality that rivals some of the worst offenders out there (and there are some pretty bad offenders in this respect). It’s Global Automotive Supplier Study 2013 shouldn’t, in our opinion, be seeing the light of day in its current form. Whatever good material there is in the report is lost behind a death-by-PowerPoint design that means few are likely to bother to get beyond the first page. Roland Berger can do better than this, and the fact that it finds itself in 4th place anyway, makes it all the more frustrating that it doesn’t manage to do what it does sometimes, all the time. 5 Capgemini Consulting Like IBM, if not more so, Capgemini Consulting is picking its topics. Or rather its topic. If there’s a rule in the firm which says every piece of thought leadership must contain the word “digital” in its title then some people appear to be breaking it. Some, but not many. And, like IBM, the focus appears to be paying off: Capgemini Consulting has climbed from 9th to 5th in our ranking on the back of work which is arguably even more consistent in terms of quality than it is in terms of topic. There’s not an awful lot of it, but what there is, is generally very good. We particularly liked The Digital Talent Gap: Developing Skills for Today’s Digital Organizations but most things with the word digital in them (ie most things) seem to be pretty good. From Clicks to Bricks: Driving Footfall In-store through Digital Innovation provides an intelligently reversed view of one of the hottest business issues of the moment, and does so in a way that balances a moderate amount of research with decent analysis in a report that looks and feels very readable. Indeed it’s hard to find much to complain about with Capgemini Consulting’s output, other than its e-book format which is horrible to read on a PC. But the fact that it’s 5th in our ranking, not 1st despite doing little wrong probably tells its own story. There’s not really anything remarkable going on here, and you can’t help wondering, given that Capgemini Consulting has decided to put so many eggs in one basket, whether there ought to be. Sooner or later, simply picking a topic (a laudable achievement in its own right) won’t be enough, especially when the topic is digitisation. You’ve picked up the baton, Capgemini Consulting – now run like the wind. 6 Hay Group Hay Group is mixing it up with some much bigger firms here, and that’s an achievement in itself. Indeed, this feels like a classic case of boxing clever. Hay Group isn’t going to be able to land the kind of punch that bigger consulting firms can in term of volume, but it makes sure that what it does, it does well. And just look at the gap it has managed to create between itself and its HR rivals. Found the others yet? Keep going down the list. Pieces like Managing intangible capital in M&A show that Hay Group isn’t just box-ticking either: this is a weighty piece that never feels as though it’s losing its way, despite being a rather intimidating 68 pages long. Other pieces, like How to stop your talent taking flight – the role of reward are similarly of-the-moment, even if they fail to live up to similarly high standards. But is this as high as Hay Group can climb? It’s clearly very good at thought leadership, relative to its closest competitors, and you can’t help wondering if the question it really needs to answer in order to climb even higher is this: is it good enough at being Hay Group? 7 Accenture Our analysis of Accenture’s output for our last report – and for our recent report on thought leadership about emerging markets – may have seemed a bit equivocal: the firm had risen impressively in our rankings from 7th to 4th (and was 2nd in the emerging markets report) but we remained a bit guarded. Accenture was, at the time, managing to be consistent, but it wasn’t managing to be a whole lot else. Its success was serving to demonstrate just how far not doing much badly can get you, but the question of whether it was capable of doing anything that was truly outstanding felt as though it was going unanswered. And sooner or later, you need to demonstrate that you are. That’s what encourages us about Deloitte at the moment: it may have quite a serious issue with consistency, but you know it has the capability to produce material that is genuinely outstanding, so all it has to do is learn from itself. Our concerns about Accenture have turned out to be well-founded: the firm has fallen back to 7th this time because it’s lost the knack 10 © Source Information Services Ltd 2014
Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 white space of being consistent before it’s learned the art of being exceptional. To be fair, pieces like Masters of Rural Markets: Profitability Selling to India’s Rural Consumers, which is well-conceived and well-produced, threaten to make us eat our words, but it’s hard to find their like. Meanwhile, weaker material, like Accelerating and Sustaining Leadership Power: Developing a Culture of Coaching is finding its way into the public domain when it probably shouldn’t. Sure, it was never meant to be a flagship report, but this is a classic case of a firm not considering how its material will look in the context of all the other material being published on the topic. And you can’t help wondering if one author would have been better than four in this case. We’re being tough here because we suspect Accenture has it within itself to do so much better, and because some of the firms we suspect it would least like to see pulling away from it are doing just that. Time to act. 8 PwC “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow At its best PwC really is very, very good, and while many firms are capable of publishing one or two exceptional pieces in a half-year period, PwC seems to be capable of doing so repeatedly. It’s Finance effectiveness benchmark study 2013 may have been a dull, dry affair in the hands of another firm, but PwC makes it engaging and immensely practical, and presents it in a way that, once again, suggests that it understands the meaning of digital content better than anyone else. It’s equally capable on less familiar territory, too, as it demonstrates with Preparing for growth: manufacturers adopt new strategies for growth and competitive edge. There’s arguably more of the very, very good coming out of PwC than any other firm at the moment. Which gives you some sense (it having fallen back into 8th position having been 3rd last time) of how horrid it can be when it’s bad. Perhaps Reporting labs: More than talking shops? should be considered to be a blog, but that’s not really how it’s positioned, and as a piece of thought leadership it’s just not good enough. Likewise Governments should lead on transparency. The problem here is consistency: taken as a whole there’s so single area of PwC’s output that’s especially weak or especially strong, but rarely does an average conceal such variance, and there’s just too much chance for the firm that readers will see a side of it that they don’t like. 9 Booz Allen Whether or not it will derive a sibling-style rivalry from having done so, Booz Allen has overtaken Booz & Company for the first time in our rankings. For our part, the reaction was one of surprise: the former has often underwhelmed in recent years while the latter has frequently topped our rankings. In truth Booz& Company’s precipitous fall has more to do with that than Booz Allen’s modest rise, but there you have it. Indeed, we might not have been talking about a rise for Booz Allen at all, were it not for one piece of brilliant thought leadership: The Field Guide to Data Science is one of those rare pieces that holds with it the potential, to use some consulting parlance, to shift the needle. It’s not perfect by any means – an absence of quantitative primary research, and of secondary research – stand in the way of that, but it’s big (in fact it’s a book) and it’s brave, and it feels like the sort of thing that holds with it the potential to affect the fortunes of a firm. The trouble for Booz Allen is that it feels so different from the firm’s other material that it seems extra-ordinary. Not ordinary. In fact, in terms of quality, that’s not completely fair: 3-D Program Management scores well against most criteria (other than resilience), but feels as though it was written by a different firm – as does most material compared with The Field Guide to Data Science. Clients may well be left wondering which firm is going to turn up. Does that mean Booz Allen shouldn’t have published The Field Guide to Data Science in the first place. Of course not. Better to be extraordinary once than to be ordinary every day. 10 EY Here’s a thought: EY out-publishes every other firm by such a distance that if it cut 1 in every 5 pieces, and those pieces were its worst, it would be four places higher in our ranking and still be the most prolific publisher of thought leadership in the world. As it is, it sits down here in 10th which is actually quite an achievement in itself for a firm that produces such an enormous volume of material. In fact it manages, by comparison with other mass-producers like PwC and (particularly) KPMG, to be remarkably consistent, too. There’s a bit of an issue here with appeal, relative to the firms around it – EY’s material is almost always very professional but rarely very exciting – and there is the occasional clanger, of which Delivering tomorrow’s companies today – The CFO’s perspective – at a glance is probably quite a good example (yes, we know it’s just a teaser for a bigger report, but with conclusions like “Design KPI’s to drive performance” and “CFOs should take a leading role” we’re turned off rather than on). But most of what EY does is actually pretty good, and occasionally – as is the case with The beauty of success – very good. The trouble is that ships as big as the EY thought leadership ship (sorry) take a long time to turn, © Source Information Services Ltd 2014 11
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 and that’s allowing other firms to outmanoeuvre it at the moment. Here’s another thought: if EY cut 2 in every 5 pieces, and those pieces were its worst, it would still publish more than BCG and beat it in our ranking. Need we say more? No, we didn’t think so either. 11 Booz & Company Booz can offer up a pretty compelling excuse for its recent slide in our ranking (as distractions go, being bought by PwC is quite a big one) but to leave it there would be to let Booz off the hook a bit and we can’t help thinking it would rather we didn’t. The Booz that we know would – we suspect – pride itself on its ability to keep asserting its intellectual capabilities come hell or high water, let alone the trifling matter of being the subject of the biggest acquisition in recent consulting history. Indeed, asked about the value that the Booz acquisition will offer to PwC we’ve often mentioned thought leadership in our reply. That’s probably still true – Booz is still a firm (if it’s a firm at all) with immense capability in this respect – but the irony is that, for the moment, it finds itself three places below PwC in our ranking. There’s still good material out there, though it’s notable that the best we’ve seen recently – Listening to Students’ Voices: Putting Students at the Heart of Education Reform – comes out of its Middle Eastern Ideation Centre, a long way from the epicentre of merger activity. Elsewhere it’s hard to find anything that’s all that bad (though we’re underwhelmed by the likes of Waiting for the digital grid) but there simply aren’t many of the highlights – the genuinely exceptional pieces – that we’re used to seeing from Booz. If it’s lucky clients won’t have noticed the blip too much, but the danger is that it’s happening at precisely the time when many will be subjecting Booz – and their relationship with it – to renewed scrutiny. 12 A.T. Kearney AT Kearney continues to make steady, if unspectacular, progress up our rankings, rising from 14th to 12th place this time round. The firm’s greatest skill seems to be its ability to find white space quite successfully: Finding the Customer Preference Sweet Spot manages to find its own sweet spot, and although it does less well in terms of how it compels readers to act, there’s a lot to be said for the way it approaches the topic. Even better can be found in pieces like Virtual Vertical Collaboration which recovers from a dangerously ignorable title to deliver something which readers are far more likely to act on. Too much of AT Kearney’s output isn’t remarkable by any measure though, which – given the standards to which clients tend to hold strategy firms – is likely to be a problem. Still, as long as it’s heading up when other strategy firms are heading down, it won’t be too disappointed. Especially when it now finds itself one place above McKinsey… 13 McKinsey If we’re disappointed to see McKinsey this low in our ranking then others are likely to be gobsmacked: the firm’s aura, and historical strength when it comes to thought leadership, appears to lead to an assumption in the minds of many that it’s still the benchmark by which consulting firms measure the quality of their intellectual capital. Bluntly, it isn’t. Or if it is then it’s the wrong benchmark. Yes, there’s still some decent material being published (of which What’s next for international chemical companies in China? is a good example) but too much fails to rise above average, let alone to set the benchmark. We wonder if there’s a bit of a problem here with writing by committee (did it really take three authors to create the 165-word A new direction in Chinese banking?) which in turn may stem from an overreliance on authors over research in the first place, but as much as anything else we can’t help thinking that McKinsey needs to take more notice of how far the bar has been raised, and commit itself to being the bar once again. 14 L.E.K. L.E.K., like AT Kearney, is one of very few strategy firms which appear to be pointing in the right direction with their thought leadership at the moment. There’s skill here in terms of differentiation: you won’t find many other firms writing pieces like The People are Speaking with Millions of Dollars: How Media and Entertainment Companies Can Thrive in a Direct-to-Consumer Age. And there’s consistency, too: that may be a mixed blessing when your output is consistently somewhere around – or just below – average, but if it stops the real howlers being published (which it largely appears to do in L.E.K.’s case) then it’s an art worth mastering nevertheless. On the other hand, while we like the fact that L.E.K. manages to get its material published by other people, too much of that (and of the material it publishes itself) falls foul of the need to be both resilient and to compel the reader to act. How Can Airlines Act More Like Retailers, promising though it sounds as a topic, is a good example of that. There are many much bigger firms which are failing to spend their research dollar effectively, but that doesn’t mean research is a bad idea, or even that it’s optional: it’s the bedrock on which the best thought leadership is built, and it may just be the critical next step in the evolution of L.E.K.’s output. 15 KPMG It would be easy to dismiss the alarming inconsistency of the quality of KPMG’s thought leadership by attributing it to sheer volume of material the firm publishes. That may, indeed, be true, but EY publishes significantly more and manages to maintain an impressive degree 12 © Source Information Services Ltd 2014
Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 white space of consistency by comparison. So what’s going on here? It’s hard to be sure, but we suspect a chronic inability to centralise thought leadership within the firm is leading to a lack of coordination and quality control. That’s frustrating, because KPMG is rarely found wanting for effort: its willingness to dig deep into its pockets to fund extensive primary research is laudable, even if the end result is frequently disappointing, and few firms rack up anything like the page count that KPMG does. It’s also frustrating because this is a firm which is capable of producing strong, and occasionally even exceptionally strong, material, as In search of a better customer experience amply testifies. But the volume of weak material which makes it into the public domain (when it ought to be stopped from doing so) is simply too great. Take control of the cloud may just be a viewpoint, but what is it adding to a subject that’s being extensively covered by other firms? A similar story goes for the weightier, but little more impressive, The Transformation of Banking: Forces, Implications, Actions, a subject KPMG ought to fancy its chances of leading rather than being one to which it merely contributes. Deloitte is demonstrating what can be achieved when a Big Four firm gets itself organised and KMPG would do well to follow suit. It’s time to for the firm to start thinking, rather than bludgeoning, its way around the thought leadership market. 16 Bain It’s really pleasing to see Bain tacking subjects as diverse as gender parity in Australia and India’s power sector, because our recent analysis of thought leadership about emerging markets found it doing much better when it rid itself of its tendency to stick to terra cognita. In fact it topped our rankings. It’s also notable just how consistent the quality of Bain’s material is, despite the breadth of subjects its covering. The trouble is that there’s very little to write home about really. Global Diamond Report 2013 just about manages to pull itself clear of the morass, but not by much, and our sample failed to unearth anything else of any great note. More than anything else, Bain could do with thinking carefully about what its readers are expected to do as a result of reading its reports. At the moment, our strong suspicion is that very few will do anything. 17 BearingPoint This is the first time BearingPoint has featured in our analysis, so it’s not possible yet to tell which direction it’s heading in with its thought leadership. From what we’ve seen so far there’s work to be done. We understand the debate about the advantages and drawbacks of putting thought leadership behind registration, but if you’re are going to insist on standing in the reader’s way when most firms don’t, then you really need to make the extra effort required of them (however small) worth their while. Concerted Channel Management is simply not a strong enough piece to merit the effort required of readers to get to it (few, we suspect, will want to read past the first paragraph) and may have been better left unpublished, let alone put behind registration. Indeed it seems all the stranger for the fact that it’s possible to get straight to really quite impressive pieces like Are insurers the new banks for infrastructure investments? unhindered. Most of the best material, like this, seems to be contained within the impressive BearingPoint Institute newsletter: indeed it seems clear to us that this is giving the firm a focal point from which it can build (and which many other firms lack). But newsletters are inherently more suited to people who already have a relationship than those who don’t, and BearingPoint appears to have work to do to create material that stands up in its own right against the best that’s out there. 18 Arthur D. Little Arthur D. Little was one of the highest climbers in the second half of 2013, but it starts from a low base. What it understands better than virtually all of the firms around it in our ranking (indeed better, even, than Deloitte and BCG) is the need to prompt action in the reader. Cutting the profitability Gordian knot isn’t the most remarkable piece by any stretch of the imagination but it cajoles, challenges and makes the reader think, and that may give it a better chance of creating opportunity for the firm than pieces which are its superior in every other way. It’s not a one-off, either: Hitting the Bulls’ Eye: Value Sourcing is similarly strong. The trouble is that there’s not much material and too much of it simply doesn’t measure up to these standards. Maximising quality of experience is one of those pieces which, well-intentioned though it undoubtedly was, simply shouldn’t see the light of day because they serve to do little other than reinforce a sense of mediocrity. And if there’s one thing thought leadership shouldn’t do, it’s that. 19 TCS Bit by bit, TCS’s thought leadership is getting better. The trouble is that it needs to speed up its improvement. The score it gets now would actually have been enough to put it in the top ten as recently as 2010, but it remains resolutely bottom-half because other firms keep improving more quickly. Cruel market, harsh reality. At its worst, TCS’s material remains frustratingly unreadable: Looking Beyond OTC Derivatives Regulations – Transformational Opportunities to create Competitive Advantage may be tackling a subject that’s of interest to someone, but every reader – however specialised – is also a human being, and in world that offers them some pretty engaging © Source Information Services Ltd 2014 13
white space Quality ratings of thought leadership for the second half of 2013 | February 2014 things to read, this will struggle to compete for their attention. But there’s better work emerging – notably in the form of The Ten Commandments – Acing the India med-tech opportunity which is slowly pulling TCS forward and offering hope that better may be to come in future. Resilience is probably the watchword here: TCS has a tendency to do a McKinsey (rely on the opinions of its experts alone), but without McKinsey’s brand that’s a desperately flawed strategy. But as much as anything else TCS just needs to start writing material that tired commuters, faced with a choice between it and a game of Candy Crush Saga, will actually choose to read. 20 Aon Hewitt When AonHewitt puts its mind to it, it’s capable of producing some genuinely exceptional thought leadership. The trouble is that it just doesn’t seem to put its mind to it much. We’ve found some strong pieces from the second half of 2013 (of which Get Action Instead of Indifference: Using Behavioural Economics Insights to Deliver Benefits Messages is a good example) but there are very few of them, and too many other pieces that are nothing like as good. Indeed, perhaps the real problem from AonHewitt’s point of view is less about it using its (very obviously capable) mind and more about it putting its heart into thought leadership. At the moment it feels a bit like the gifted footballer who could do something brilliant at any moment, but spends most of his time sauntering around the pitch trying to work out if he can be bothered. 21 Towers Watson HR and Finance Partnership Opportunities is the sort of report which suggests that Towers Watson could move quite a bit further up our rankings. It does most things fairly (if not exceptionally) well – most notably bucking the trend for an absence of research in Towers Watson’s thought leadership. But it’s the exception amongst material which is generally average, and often considerably worse. The shame is that there’s no shortage of effort here: Towers Watson published more material in the second half of 2013 than McKinsey, and so much more than its HR competitors that – in pure investment terms – there’s a huge amount of slack. Never has a firm looked more in need of an effective central thought leadership function. 22 PA Consulting An impressive rise in its score – which, we suspect, comes as a result of it finally trying to get to Group grips with the issues it has where thought leadership is concerned – has nevertheless not been enough to move PA very far off the bottom of our rankings. But at least the direction of travel is right. It needs to be: too much of PA’s material still feels strikingly lacking in resilience compared with its competitors, and even on the odd occasion when it produces a fairly decent piece, like Cyber security: it’s time to start thinking like the bad guys, PA seems frustratingly wedded to a format (short articles) which just isn’t delivering. Brevity is fine (even good) but it has to be allied to other measures of quality, and nothing is more important in PA’s case than research. If any incentive is needed in this respect then perhaps the fact that even an average score for resilience would move PA up five places in our ranking (putting it immediately below Bain) will help. 23 CSC Like PA Consulting Group, CSC has seen quite an impressive rise in its score recently. But that’s pretty much where the good news ends. There are pieces, like Real-World Data Sets: A Case for Action which demonstrate capability without ever threatening to set the thought leadership world alight, but there are far more, like Cloud computing in the healthcare environment which don’t. Once again, it’s important to note that we don’t have access to CSC’s inner sanctum – the Leading Edge Forum – but as an advert for what might exist in there, the material that’s in the public domain is woefully inadequate. 24 Mercer Mercer’s output had started to improve slightly through the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, but it’s been going backwards ever since. There’s really not much to write home about here: The status of organisational healthcare in Britain and around the globe picks off a topic that’s not covered much, and makes a half-decent fist of discussing it, but you can’t help thinking that the firm needed to pick one or the other (Britain or the world) and that this was a subject which merited more than a short article. Elsewhere it’s hard even to be that positive: the majority of Mercer’s scores less than 8/20, which is the threshold below which we generally reckon material shouldn’t be published at all. 14 © Source Information Services Ltd 2014
DAT S AN SC ANS Content and servi Products strategy IIT C E TE CE E H W H AA WP SS P R DE ER EAAD L DAATA T K A HT LE THOUG HT OUG TH PA S TD PA BIL BI ITY LIT DE Y D VELO EVE PMEN T LOP MEN T I C LI C L CEP EP P E RC R A P E R OG RA EE N NT TTIO T IO N M MMN M EE SHHIP IP R E R E VIE W VIE S WS S ST TR L RA PPA AN A P PRROL N OGGR R G AM C O CO NS MN PRO M A S PRO GRA GR G TINNG I UL T T UL E ETMEE RK KM M RA M A GIC TEEGICG E N T NIING E M N MM A YSIS NAL YSIS D A ANAL AN D G AN C TS A DAT A MI A M NI IN N IN CE DVI D A VICE AN D AD CH AN AR RCH D ALI SE RES DR ES E E CA D CA AN ND GS FIN S A BRIE EFING Y STRATEG Y BRI STRATEG Thought leadership has come to dominate the marketing activities of consulting firms, and with good cause: our research with clients finds consistent evidence that good thought leadership matters to them, too. It helps them to do their job, to identify where world-class capability exists in consulting firms, and even to shortlist firms for projects. But it’s also important to see thought leadership within the context of a wider content strategy. Content strategy recognises that you’ve got to understand the opportunities and threats presented by the channels through which thought leadership is now promoted, distributed, and even created, in the first place. But it also acknowledges that there are other types of content, and even that some of it isn’t yours. Understanding how you connect all those components matters now more than it ever did. Here’s an overview of how we can help… White Space White Space – the standard by which the world’s leading consulting firms assess and benchmark quality in thought leadership – is a vital resource for anyone who writes, researches or manages thought leadership within consulting firms. It offers the following: Subscription products • Access to our searchable database of more than 30,000 pieces of thought leadership from 30 of the world’s leading management consulting firms • Two half-yearly quality ratings reports, which rank firms based on their recent output and provide commentary on each firm’s material • Quarterly thought leadership digests, in which we select the best new thought leadership for a range of business functions. Thought leadership reviews White Space provides useful insights into where a firm is strong and weak in its thought leadership, but for many firms it acts as the starting point for a more in-depth analysis of their material. Our thought leadership reviews assess quality in a sample of material, which can be random (as it is for our White Space quality ratings reports) or can be determined by you in order to target a particular time-frame or topic. We’ll provide detailed analysis about what you’re doing well and where you need to improve, and show you the breakdown of our scores for individual pieces of thought leadership. We’re also able to show you how your material compares against that of your competitors, and to provide a critique on your – and your competitors’ – use of different channels for promoting and distributing thought leadership. Custom research STRATEGY BRIEFINGS AND CAPABILITY DEVELOPMENT Our work here is varied, but most typically involves: Consulting • Helping firms to develop thought leadership strategy • Helping firms with the effective positioning of individual pieces of thought leadership • Providing regular briefing and seminars on trends in thought leadership • Helping firms to develop capability for creating high-quality thought leadership (across a firm, or in a team or an individual) • Helping firms to develop a wider, connected, content strategy For information about the products or services available from Source, please contact: UK and Europe Middle East USA Alice Noyelle Jodi Davies Sarah Burgess +44 (0)203 700 5462 +971 52 989 5224 1-800-767-8058 (toll free) email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
© Source Information Services Ltd 2014 Source Information Services Ltd and its agents have used their best efforts in collecting the information published in this report. Source Information Services Ltd does not assume, and hereby disclaims any liability for any loss or damage caused by errors or omissions in this report, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident or other causes. Source Information Services Ltd assumes no responsibility for the content of websites linked on our site. Such links should not be interpreted as endorsement by Source Information Services Ltd of those linked websites. Source Information Services Ltd will not be liable for any loss or damage that may arise from your use of them. Notice: This document is protected by copyright law. It is illegal to copy any of the contents of this document without permission. 18 King William Street • London • EC4N 7BP Tel: +44 (0)203 700 5461 PO Box 340505 • Dubai • United Arab Emirates Tel: +971 (0)52 989 5224 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.sourceforconsulting.com
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