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BusinessDay: Beyond the Big 4: GenAI’s role in levelling the enterprise technology playing field


By Johan Steyn, 10 April 2024


Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) has emerged as a ground-breaking force in the landscape of enterprise technology, dramatically altering the competitive dynamics and challenging long-standing industry norms. 


Historically, the ecosystem of enterprise technology was dominated by a few key players: the “Big 4 consulting firms” (Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG), Indian outsourcers, legacy software giants, and cloud computing behemoths, each playing a critical role in the digital transformations of large organisations.


However, the rise of GenAI has sparked a shift, offering a glimpse into a new era marked by innovation, efficiency, and a levelling of the playing field.


In the pre-GenAI era, the Big 4 consulting firms thrived on the challenges enterprises faced in migrating inefficient processes to the cloud. These consultancies exploited the opportunity to shepherd companies through complex digital transformations, often at big expense. Similarly, Indian outsourcers provided a solution to the talent gap faced by these enterprises, supplying skilled labour at scale to maintain operations. 


Legacy software companies, on their part, ensured a steady flow of revenue through the sale of licences for essential enterprise software like SAP, Oracle, Workday, and Salesforce, among others. Hyperscalers, the giants of the cloud computing world, benefited from this ecosystem by pushing the cloud narrative, and convincing chief information officers of the need to adopt cloud technologies to remain competitive and credible.


The advent of GenAI has challenged this status quo. It represents a paradigm shift, bringing forth a technology that business leaders can readily understand and see the value in, thereby directing the focus away from the established narrative pushed by the Big 4, outsourcers, software giants and hyperscalers. 


The implications of this shift are profound. Traditional consulting firms have found themselves at a crossroads, with some senior partners dismissing GenAI as just another tool in the technology toolkit, unable to recognise its transformative potential. This dismissal comes at a time when enterprises are sceptical of the high-priced advice that does not always deliver tangible outcomes, leading to a reassessment of partnerships and a keen interest in exploring what GenAI can offer.


The challenge and opportunity presented by GenAI lie in its ability to process and leverage data in unprecedented ways. This presents businesses with the chance to optimise their operations, make better decisions and ultimately carve out a competitive advantage. However, realising this potential requires addressing the foundational issue of data quality and integration. The winners in this new landscape will be those who can effectively clean and organise enterprise data, making it ready for GenAI applications, without imposing prohibitive costs.


In light of these developments, there are three recommendations for the Big 4 and other established players aiming to regain their competitive edge in the GenAI era. First, there is a need to focus on creating a compelling business narrative for emerging technologies, emphasising simplicity and direct business value. Second, aligning advisory services with managed services can create more integrated and value-driven client relationships. Finally, transitioning away from traditional hourly billing models towards performance and purpose-driven pricing can align consultancy incentives with client outcomes more closely.


The emergence of GenAI as a disruptive force in enterprise technology heralds a new chapter in the industry. It challenges established players to adapt and innovate while opening the door for new partnerships and approaches that prioritise efficiency, value, and strategic insight.

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