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A changing mandate for the persistence of brand

Cornelius Boland

For years, “business services” has aptly described a group of companies providing IT, infrastructure, and consulting offers to corporations looking to streamline their operational structures. However, as the pace of technological innovation continues to accelerate and the needs of large organizations become more complex, the industry finds itself shifting.

As IBM points out in its recent annual report, 2017 marks an inflection point:

The next few years will be critical for information technology providers, as businesses and institutions around the world will make key architectural decisions—about cloud, about data, and about AI.

Information technology dictates the future

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To meet the shift from traditional business services to information technology platforms, major players must articulate one critical theme: full stack breadth. Clients of IT services firms increasingly look to consolidate the number of vendors they do business with and the number of contracts they have to approve as well as allocate their budgets further ahead of time.

In order to sustain momentum in key accounts and open up new opportunities, the breadth of the services enterprise must be properly articulated and maintained. For IBM, its heritage and legacy has bolstered its growth in a new era. IBM’s 2016 Annual Report proudly promotes the fact that 97% of the world’s largest banks use IBM products to run their systems, that 90% of global credit card transactions are processed on IBM mainframes, and that 83% of the world’s largest communications service providers are IBM clients.

Accenture has taken an aggressive acquisition route to expand beyond traditional capabilities. According to its 2016 annual report, Accenture spent USD $930 million in 2016 and USD $800 million in 2015 on acquisitions, with 70% of this capital going toward new capabilities. In the digital realm, Accenture built out its digital marketing capabilities under the umbrella of Accenture Interactive, solidified its big data capabilities through Accenture Analytics, and dove headfirst into the mobile app world with Accenture Mobility.

People + technology

How do you stand out? What angle do you take? How does an information technology services provider distinguish itself from both the tech world and from the world of professional services firms? It appears two distinct approaches are forming:

  1. Human-centered technology: “Technology” is a word that now means a thousand things to a thousand people. It’s used in conversations every day and has become a boilerplate for innovation. For an organization like IBM, it’s at the heart of the business’ sustained transformation—and it has sustained scale by making its accelerating technology ever-more meaningful to real people. To articulate the impact of everything from Watson to its cloud services, IBM points to the endless ways its offerings impact both the business and personal worlds. For example, in its annual report, IBM lists 50 types of individuals who interact with its technology on a daily basis and articulates the impact technology can have on actual people. Xerox is taking a proactive approach to growth in an IT-bound sector with human-centered innovations. The “New Xerox” has evolved beyond products and services to create truly “Transformational Experiences.” This includes the company’s biggest product launch to date: 29 ConnectKey-enabled printers, which use proprietary technology to turn peripherals into connected workplace assistants that create an ultra-seamless user experience (UX).
  2. People-driven businesses: But no matter how in touch you are with people you market to, change comes from within. Across industries, markets, and capabilities, people have become a critical source of differentiation. In the world of information technology providers, business service enterprises must be able to attract and retain talent in specialized industries/functions. To bridge this gap, organizations are spending, hard. Accenture committed more than USD $941 million to training and professional development in 2016, a massive outlay of capital. This type of spend is necessary to become a talent-led organization, in which the intellectual capital of your employees, combined with your technology, becomes your ultimate value proposition to the marketplace.

The end of business services, the persistence of brand

In the 2018 Best Global Brands Report, will we be talking about “business services” at all or will the vernacular around this sector change? Will the emphasis be on technology, people, or both? What the Best Global brands in this category make certain is that, even as boundaries shift, traditional business service providers can rely on the strength of their brands to keep growing. Each of these organizations faces distinct change: IBM in advancing its robust offering, while making the technology more meaningful; Xerox in turning specialized products and services into parts of a connected, user-centric experience; and Accenture in achieving full stack capabilities—and making sure it has the best talent to build them. For all of these companies, the brand translates the technology, ensuring it’s in the service of real people. Brand is what connects all the dots, accelerates change, and allows these top global enterprises to grow at breakthrough speeds.

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