EY 2021: Hybrid and omnipresent

TBR perspective

A few years ago in a wide-ranging discussion, TBR analysts and EY executives considered the future consulting business model, noting how most industries had been fundamentally disrupted by technology while consulting had seemingly remained unchanged. Fast forward to the current pandemic, and EY clearly anticipated where consulting was headed: hybrid engagements, delivered in-person and virtually, substantially aided by technologies, including big bets EY made on AI, blockchain and cybersecurity. In addition, EY has understood a significant shift in the IT services and consulting ecosystem, in which technology vendors’ needs have been supplanted by clients’ needs, making partnerships less about sales and marketing and more about delivery.

During the opening session of the Technology Analyst Summit, Dan Higgins, the firm’s Global Technology Consulting Leader, said clearly and definitively EY intends to become “the transformation consulting leader,” an ambition that requires best-in-class and scaled capabilities around technology, data, platforms, products and ecosystems. In Higgins’ view, one of EY’s strengths in tackling that ambition came from being able to bring the entire firm to bear at a client, from all aspects of consulting, as well as tax and strategy & transactions. The September Technology Analyst Summit and the one-on-one discussions with EY executives in the following weeks confirmed TBR’s assessment that EY’s evolution continues, undeterred by COVID-19.

In an expansive and informal discussion with TBR after the event, EY’s Global Vice Chair for Consulting Errol Gardner said the firm’s performance in the Asia Pacific region has returned to close to 2019 levels, adjusting more rapidly to the COVID-19 era than other regions. He predicted massive opportunities to consult with the government sector in Europe in the coming year as well as sustained uncertainty in North America (specifically the United States), all while noting that the current market does not favor new entrants or substantial account turnover, with most clients unwilling to take on additional risks associated with onboarding new consultants.

Gardner’s comments extended his Technology Analyst Summit opening remarks and provided some assurance that the radically changed business model for consulting would not lead to a radically changed EY, except in certain areas, such as remote working, diversity and inclusion, and resilience. Gardner also reinforced one of the overarching themes TBR took away from the entire event: The future is hybrid, which includes not just delivery but also how EY structures itself and continues to build its business. Beyond recruiting talent, building solutions and acquiring assets, Gardner reiterated the firm would be relying on ecosystem partners and expanding beyond traditional alliance structures to meet clients’ evolving demands. In TBR’s view, this approach to ecosystems has developed over the last few years as the firm has shifted from selective and limited alliances to a more expansive partnering model.

In a follow-up discussion after the Technology Analyst Summit, EY’s Global Business Consulting Leader Amy Brachio described an evolution of clients’ consulting needs and how EY tackles those changes. According to Brachio, clients previously brought EY problems that required a specific skill set or clearly defined capabilities to solve. As emerging technologies have forced changes to clients’ business models, EY has responded to more complex and transformational problems by bringing to bear the entire firm.

Frictions within the global firm that previously prevented more holistic responses have been minimized through resetting how EY looks at clients’ problems and how EY measures its own success. Rather than focusing on global total engagement revenue by competency (such as supply chain), EY has shifted to evaluating performance based on the buyer’s agenda and understanding which skills and capabilities the entire firm needs to bring to solve more complex problems. In TBR’s view, shifting from a traditional mindset around revenue metrics based on competencies to a client-centric, holistic understanding of EY’s role within a client’s ecosystem reflects the firm’s overall culture around purpose.  

Sticking to strategies and building alliances around security, AI and blockchain

Ever-expanding alliances with key technology partners have underpinned EY’s technology evolution over the past few years. Building on comments made during the Technology Analyst Summit, Global Alliance and Ecosystem Leader Greg Sarafin explained to TBR that the firm’s alliance remained grounded in joint solutions, integrated platforms and shared clients, not joint ventures or business groups. In contrast to other leading consultancies and global SIs, EY’s approach to partnering with technology vendors, particularly companies such as SAP (NYSE: SAP), IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), revolves around definitive opportunities centered on EY-built platforms and solutions. For example, the firm has partnered with IBM Watson to create Diligence Edge, a due diligence platform that, according to Sarafin, substantially reduces the hours needed to “find the worms and the pearls … [to] accelerate the time to find issues and accelerate the time to value” for clients examining acquisition targets. Sarafin added that EY will “lean in on solutions” and “solve big problems” with EY-built solutions and platforms.

While EY may deliver some of these products as managed services, the firm’s primary business model will continue to revolve around the consulting, process re-engineering, integration and change management work necessary for clients to continue with their digital transformations. On that last element, Sarafin noted that COVID-19 brought religion to boards about the importance of digital transformation, ending the indecisive start-and-stop nature of many engagements and convincing EY’s clients they need to move to the cloud. As part of EY’s story on digital transformation, Sarafin shared with TBR that EY’s wavespaces would continue to evolve, becoming more tightly aligned with technology partners, such as Microsoft, or more industry-centric, such as around manufacturing in a to-be-opened wavespace in Ohio. (Note: TBR has written extensively on wavespaces and on innovation and transformation centers generally.)

EY Virtual Technology Analyst Summit: On Sept. 28 and 29, EY hosted analysts for a global EY Virtual Technology Analyst Summit, which showcased the firm’s technology-centric offerings and capabilities and included breakout sessions on functional areas, such as blockchain, security and analytics, as well as client success stories. The following includes information gathered during the event and in subsequent one-on-one discussions with EY executives.  

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