Impacore – A Catalyst For Change In Professional Services

It’s while since we caught up with Impacore, a firm that is driving some fundamental changes in the world of professional services procurement and performance management. We met with Ewa Stormowska, head of strategy and business development at the firm, and an ex-strategy consultant (and professional violinist) herself, to get an update recently.

The firm’s basic proposition is that they measure the success (or otherwise) of consulting and other professional services contracts and projects. They do this in the main through a structured programme of gathering data from a range of the different stakeholders throughout the project. That creates a scoring process, which the buyer of the consulting services can then link to payment in some way. So a small – or even not so small – element of the consulting firm's fee can be linked to the achievement of a threshold Impacore performance rating.

That word “rating” as used above is interesting, in that the firm is increasingly positioning itself with parallels to the ratings industry in the world of financial services. Just as Moody's and others give bonds and other financial instruments a rating for investment purposes, Impacore are rating (or accrediting) projects, professional services firms and practices within them.

Given the nature of consulting work, much of the data relates to subjective questions posed to the stakeholders, but the beauty of the Impacore process is that over time, they have gathered a huge amount of data that enables them to compare the relative performance of different firms or even teams or individuals within a firm. As well as consulting services, the firm is now also looking at IT services, legal and outsourcing contracts.

The evidence is not all survey based either; Impacore validates the KPIs provided by suppliers for certain contracts. In one case, Stormowska says, when they asked the provider for the raw data from which the KPIs were derived, none actually existed. In another case, it took a few months to get the data that was required for the KPI/ SLA calculation.  "For us and our clients, it is crucial to ensure the quality, completeness and thoroughness of the data – as well as the consistency and transparency on the KPIs being reported", she says.

Based on the considerable data now available, Impacore would say that it is not so much that there are good consulting firms and bad firms; rather that different practice areas even within the same firm vary considerably. So consulting giant McWaterLoittes might have a brilliant strategy group that outscores every other firm; and a seriously average procurement and supply chain team that is bottom quartile in the industry.

For obvious reasons, Impacore treats its data with great caution, but in time I think we will see more and we might be able to answer some of the perennial questions in this business – do you really “pay for what you get” in terms of consulting, for instance? Are the top priced household name strategy firms really better than the rest? Are the most experienced firms or older consultants better than corporate or individual “bright young things”?  How much variation is there in performance; do even the best firms and practices have bad days or bad projects every now and again or is performance consistent across projects?

Impacore is usually engaged on a long-term contract basis by the client, who mandates their use across the portfolio of projects, with the Impacore fee generally paid by the provider. But increasingly, consulting firms are including the use of Impacore in their own proposals, as an added value benefit to their client. Financial services firms seem to be the prime customer sector for Impacore, but anyone who spends significant money on professional services could benefit really.

The firm is growing strongly but in a controlled fashion – they have already established collaborations with partners in Spain and Australia, they are about to open a Zurich office, and a New York office will open soon thereafter. As someone with a long-standing interest in the sector (Buying Professional Services by Czerniawska and Smith, still available here), I find the work Impacore is doing fascinating. We’d love  to see more detailed (and suitably sensitive) data about the performance of different firms; and would also like to see their service given a try in the public sector.

Do government departments or other public bodies get good work from their consulting firms and projects? How does the performance compare with the private sector?   Given the amount spent, and some of the high profile failures around government IT and outsourcing contracts in particular, it would be interesting to see if Impacore could drive some much-needed improvements there.

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