Consultants nudge the schmooze meter

LegalAid director of IT Heather Cullen claims consultancy firms hide behind terms like 'collaboration' whenever they don't deliver.

“You expect consultancy firms to get on with people, a lot of firms think you just have to schmooze the users, but I think that emphasising the ability to collaborate gives permission for the consultancy firms not to deliver," she said.

Cullen was responding to the results of a survey entitled "The Voice of the Customer" undertaken by newly-branded technology and outsourcing consultancy Capgemini (formerly known as Cap Gemini Ernst and Young).

The survey found clients want consultants to work in a collaborative manner and that selection is increasingly being made on soft skills rather than track record, industry knowledge and value for fees.

But Cullen thinks the ability of a consultancy firm to collaborate should simply be a given.

"Being able to collaborate, that’s simply part of being intelligent and working with the client to deliver their needs," Cullen said.

When it comes to the selection process, Cullen said it isn't about reputation or track record, but showing evidence that the firm has actually been able to deliver.

According to Capgemini group CEO Paul Hermelin, the consultancy industry has been in flux in recent years.

“It’s now clear that client demands are different. Companies that listen to clients and take on board what they say will capitalise on the market,” Hermelin said.

Capgemini has attempted to formalise an approach to these client needs by introducing the Collaborative Business Experience, which focuses on carrying out a more effective process when working with clients, employees and partners.

“Given that almost a quarter of the respondents said, ‘Collaboration’ was a key criteria for them, future success in our industry will be defined by how collaborative you are,” Hermelin said.

However, Deloitte consulting division partner Tony Lucas believes that soft skills such as the ability to collaborate with client teams is an important attribute, but certainly not a new trend.

“Deloitte has been seen as a leader in collaboration with clients for some years. What has changed in the market is the level of maturity and experience that organizations have in dealing with consultants,” Lucas said.

"Different attributes will be valued based on different circumstances. Generally however, what is valued is experience and knowledge that the team will bring to help the client solve their particular problem or to assist in implementation.”

PeopleSoft deal creates ban

Ernst & Young has been barred from accepting new corporate clients for six months for failing to maintain its independence from a company whose books it audited.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also ordered America's third-largest accounting firm to pay $US1.7 million ($2.3 million) in restitution, plus interest. It was the first time the SEC had sought the suspension of a major accounting firm since 1975.

Ernst & Young said it did not plan to appeal against the ruling which found the firm violated rules designed to keep accountants independent from the companies they audit when it engaged in a business deal with software maker PeopleSoft.

The issue of auditor independence was among those at the heart of the Enron scandal, which raised questions about Enron's longtime accountant, Arthur Andersen, having done both auditing and consulting work for the energy trading company.

Andersen was convicted in June 2002 of obstruction of justice for destroying Enron audit documents.

Marcy Gordon

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