New Cloud/AI Partners Winning Consulting and Implementation Deals
We have seen a new community of partners emerge with tech changes, such as the hyperscale cloud platforms and AI/machine learning tools. Traditionally, these companies would be good at one thing – and would learn slowly. For example, in the SAP ERP growth period, the projects were large and long. A single, mid-sized SI might only be working with 2-3 clients at a time. Therefore, the IP that they collected was limited – and they would find themselves with focused or niche skills. The large SIs had done many large, long projects across the globe and had much best-practice IP to call upon, giving them a broader and deeper knowledge of the technology and industries. Smaller providers had limited IP and industry experience.
But in this cloud and AI era, specialist providers work on hundreds of smaller projects with dozens or hundreds of clients. With the technology constantly evolving, the skills are constantly improving. While the global SIs are working on many cloud and AI engagements, they are often part of longer engagements – giving the consultants and tech teams less exposure to the new and evolving cloud platforms.
In a world where technology is changing at pace, the traditional global SI practice of “learning from peers across the globe” doesn’t happen at the pace the market requires. By the time your peers in the business have completed a project, documented it, and shared learnings, the market has moved on and technology has changed. Today it is easier and faster to learn directly from the tech vendors and cloud platform providers and their training partners. The network effect of knowledge in a team on the opposite side of the globe for a global SI is less valuable to clients. Often the smaller and mid-sized SIs have a deeper, broader knowledge of the technology platforms and toolsets than the larger providers – giving them a competitive advantage. For example, if you want the actual experience of moving SAP to Azure, or Oracle to AWS – you’ll often find the smaller providers have more experience. And this continues to play out. In many markets in the world, the top 5-10 SIs for cloud, AI and cybersecurity has a high proportion of local specialist providers.
Tech Buyers No Longer Look for Culturally Aligned Partners
Tech buyers themselves are changing too. In years gone by, the smaller tech partners would tell us that they felt they were included in bids to drive down the price from the global SIs. But today the story is different. Smaller partners are admired for their agility and innovation. Large enterprise customers will choose small providers because the small SI is NOT like them. In the past, they chose the global SI because they were just like them!
Because of this, the large SIs are mopping up their smaller competitors across the globe. Accenture has acquired 40 companies in the past 10-11 months, IBM has acquired over 10, Atos and Cognizant have also acquired many companies in the past 12 months. They are doing this for the skills as much as for the clients, along with getting a foothold in a new market or strengthening their position in geography. The challenge will be to hang on to the clients, culture, and the IP of the acquired business. Often these smaller competitors are growing at a significant pace – and the biggest risk is that the acquiring company takes their eyes off the prize.
Smaller and mid-sized SIs and consultants find it hard to create deep pools of expertise across multiple industries. While some may have a deep focus on a single or two industries, only the large players have broad and deep geography and industry experience. This puts many of the acquisitions into context – the global SIs will take these acquisitions and use that deep and broad technical and business knowledge and add it to their industry knowledge to create a more compelling offering.
Their challenge will still be one of cultural alignment. As discussed, many companies seek out tech partners who represent what they want to be, not what they are. The ability for the Global SIs to retain the culture, agility and innovation of the acquired business will determine their ability to continue to see similar or improved levels of growth from the acquired business. Using their IP in the context of industries will be the key to their ongoing success.
Retail organisations that had not walked the DX path found themselves struggling to cope in recent times. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Alan Hesketh says, “Digital transformation in retail, as represented by deep customer understanding and omnichannel operations, is far from new. Industry leaders launched these activities almost 20 years ago and continue to aggressively develop these capabilities. Retailers not actively leveraging these capabilities to understand their customer preferences are at a massive competitive disadvantage.”
Anta Group Accelerates DX
The Anta Group, a sports products manufacturer based in China with over 12,500 stores, has launched a group-wide digital platform designed and deployed by IBM Services based on SAP S/4HANA. The initial phase of Anta Group’s DX included creating intelligent workflows and was completed in January 2020. This enabled the company to adjust its retail operations and switch to quickly to online channels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like any retail organisation, the Anta Group realised that their product offerings had to be diverse to cater to an evolving customer base. This growth required an upgrade to a group-level management platform to help the business run more efficiently across the entire value chain of procurement, supply, production and sales. The SAP S/4HANA platform gives the senior management a single view of data across business units to help with better decision making regarding production and sales optimisation. The company claims to have improved its supply chain efficiency by 80%, that has led to faster delivery and business growth even in these difficult times.
IBM Services has a role to play in providing the business intelligence required for agile decision-making. By integrating data from multiple sources – retail stores, multi-brand products, channels, customers, suppliers and finance teams – on the one platform can help Anta Group to settle accounts quickly and issue business analysis reports for different entities as well as a real-time view of the operation across the organisation.
Hesketh says, “Retailers must have an accurate, timely understanding of their customers’ behaviour and resulting sales performance. COVID-19 has dramatically increased the volatility of sales, making rapid recognition of changes essential. For those lagging in their digital transformation to acquire this understanding, an attractive option is partnering with organisations with demonstrated relevant capabilities; in this case with SAP, for the capabilities and performance of their in-memory product, and IBM for their configuration and implementation expertise.”
IBM and SAP evolving their partnership
In 2016, IBM and SAP had expressed intentions of increasing investments to help their customers on their DX journeys. As some economies move into the recovery phase, all businesses will be forced to transform – or keep transforming if they are already along that path. Last month saw IBM and SAP announce the evolution of their partnership with new offerings to help businesses transform faster. The next evolution of the IBM and SAP partnership aims to focus on faster DX time to value, innovation through industry-specific offerings, customer and employee experiences and providing flexibility and choice to organisations to run their workloads in hybrid cloud environments.
Hesketh adds, “But the product and implementation partners are, while important, not the real determinant of the success of DX activity and time to value. Retailers must recognise and commit to the strategic reshaping of their business, taking their large workforces with them on the journey. This is a high-risk change. A strong relationship between product vendor and implementation partner, as SAP and IBM demonstrate here, assists in reducing, not removing, this risk.”
If you are a Tech Buyer, you can visit the research module to take part in this study and gain access to a benchmark of how you compare to your peers in regards to your organisation’s response to COVID-19.
For more information on Ecosystm’s “Digital Priorities in the New Normal”, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org