Big tech companies have long sought to tap into the lucrative market of consulting on strategy. For proof, just have a look at this year's Vault technology consulting rankings: big names like IBM, Cisco, Dell, Oracle and Siemens should look familiar to you tech-savvy readers. Of course, none of these companies started out providing strategy advice of any kind, instead specializing in computer hardware and the software it sometimes requires. But these complex machines and platforms require a degree of know-how to operate that many consumers don't possess; software in particular can be less intuitive and more convoluted, so these and other similar companies started to deploy teams of experts to help provide support for their products. These kinds of specialized support teams would become the first 'tech consultants' at tech behemoths like Big Blue and the other usual suspects.
From off the shelf to off the cuff: Big tech companies are rapidly entering the services market.
The notion of providing advisory support in tandem with hardware/software has evolved a lot since its conception. Over the last couple of decades, lots of major tech players have picked up strategic acquisitions in this space. Take Dell for example, which last year bought out Perot Systems (yes, that Perot), a successful IT advisory group, for a whopping $4 billion; also last year Siemens, another hardware giant, merged with Atos Origin to form a similar union of products and services.
But despite generally positive results, this breed of 'tech consultants' could still be considered a cut below that of the more traditional IT advisers (in the client's eyes), whose recommendations aren't limited to one company's products or methodologies. Perhaps due to these limitations, the latter seems to hold a monopoly on all things 'strategy'; few clients want their long-term strategies tied to the fate of just one company's products, so it makes sense that they'd prefer the seasoned generalists over the corporate vendors.
But one tech giant, Hewlett-Packard, appears to be challenging the notion that its advisory units can't compete in the realm of corporate strategy. Today, the firm debuted its new Strategic IT Advisory Services (SITAS) division, and make no mistake about it: this is a bona fide consulting unit. "We have brought together some of the most seasoned professionals in the industry," said Rick Ahlgren, a partner with HP Technology Consulting. "We've also blended a strong business perspective along with deep technology understanding," Ahlgren said of the firm's efforts to create an organization of both businesspeople and technologists. Arthur Filip, VP and General Manager of HP Tech Consulting, echoed Ahlgren's assertion. "We bring together what we believe is the industry's best collaborative effort between real technologists and real strategists."
Technologists, strategists? Sounds like the real deal. But it's hard to see clearly how SITAS is any different from an advisory unit at a rival company, aside from the fact that HP is clearly willing to commit to the 'consulting' label. There's lots of corporate-speak in this unintentionally hilarious video (the music does not help), in which some HP consultants break down the new division. "Clients are looking for something new, and different from their technology consultants," Filip says in the video.
New, different? Great! But how? "SITAS provides a fresh, new approach to strategic IT consulting," says Elizabeth Roche, a SITAS consultant. "Firms that provide similar services and capabilities at SITAS miss one important thing: it's not about just a technology strategy, it's about how technology is fully integrated into your business environment, and delivers business value."
Of course, that doesn't tell us anything tangible or interesting. I watched the rest of the video and learned almost nothing, other than that SITAS "has a laser-like focus" and that, for HP consultants, "it's not just about what we do, but how we do it." Great! But new, different? Only in name. At least that's what I've learned so far on this, the first day of HP's foray into strategy consulting.
For more information:
HP Strategic IT Advisory Services (Video)
Photos: Paul Sakuma, AP