Can Cognizant shape the technology arbitrage era with Thirdera?

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Cognizant has made a significant investment in ServiceNow capabilities with the acquisition of Thirdera, one of the much-admired deep consultancies in the space.  Eleven months into his leadership, Ravi Kumar has made his first major acquisition, which sets his stall out for large transformations, of which so many are built on a ServiceNow foundation. The big question now is whether Cognizant can absorb the new talent at its disposal to paint a real picture of technology arbitrage for ambitious clients wanting “more for the same” as opposed to “more for less.”

So, who better than our resident ServiceNow guru, Dr Tom Reuner, to share his viewpoint on the acquisition…

Despite the headwinds, ServiceNow continues to outgrow the market

There is an infectious enthusiasm across the ServiceNow ecosystem that has few bounds, even at a time when many organizations are grappling with the Digital Dichotomy of driving our cost while innovating at the same time. Looking at ServiceNow’s earnings (stock is up 65% this year), it is not difficult to see why the mood continues to be so bullish.

Despite the headwinds, ServiceNow continues to outgrow the market. If anything, it provides the building blocks to enable the Big Hurry to transform. Those engagements are around next-generation GBS, industry solutions, ERP modernization, and beyond – no longer just IT-centric implementations. (for details on the trends in the ServiceNow ecosystem, see: ServiceNow can become the digital foundation of the Generative Enterprise™.

Thirdera has the second-largest number of Certified Master and Technical ServiceNow Architects after Accenture

This provides the backdrop as to why we are hearing so much of late on potential M&A in that ServiceNow ecosystem. After months of rumors and speculation, Cognizant made the most significant move in the ecosystem to date by acquiring ServiceNow pureplay Thirdera. While not a household name Thirdera is the largest independent consultancy that adds significant muscle in the US but also expands Cognizant presence in Europe and APAC.

Perhaps the most important factor is that Thirdera has the second-largest number of Certified Master and Technical Architects after Accenture. This is crucial for being considered for complex transformations. On the other hand, its last acquisition of a ServiceNow pureplay has been a moderate success, and we are being polite here. Linium was meant to be a change agent for Cognizant, but not much is left of its culture. Thus, the key challenge for Cognizant is to learn the lessons and maintain some of the culture that has made Thirdera an attractive option in the first place. To assess the potential strategic impact, let’s peel back the onion. Let’s start with Thirdera, whose whole history tells the story of the development of today’s thriving ServiceNow ecosystem.

Thirdera was created in 2021 by PE Sunstone Partners by merging three acquisitions: Evergreen Systems, Cerna Solutions, and Novo/Scale, all focused on the North American and Latin American markets. Perhaps it shows my age, but the next move sounded like the Blues Brothers in the eponymous movie trying to “put the band back together.” Because Sunstone installed a management team that included CEO Jason Wojahn, who was the President of the ServiceNow Business Unit at Cloud Sherpas (formally Navigis, ServiceNow’s first services partner) – and after the acquisition of Cloud Sherpas by Accenture, the ServiceNow  Senior Managing Director and Global practice leader there. Marc Talluto took over as Chairman of the Board, and he was the co-founder and CEO of Fruition Partners, acquired by CSC in 2015 (now DXC Technology). Many of the other leading executives have a history with these two companies.

Thirdera gives Cognizant global ServiceNow depth and breadth 

Fast forward to 2023, Thirdera boosted its ambition to create a global ServiceNow pureplay through more acquisitions and achieved a presence in all key geographies. Thus, it maintained the cultural attributes of pure play whilst being able to compete with GSIs on scale. This is what sets them apart from peers like GlideFast, Plat4mation, Cask, or NewRocket. Furthermore, Thirdera is ramping up industry solutions in financial services, healthcare, telecom, public sector, and manufacturing. At the same time, it was recognized by ServiceNow as one of the leading providers offering training, which is important given the scarcity of skills across the ecosystem.

Looking through the Cognizant lens, two issues stand out. First, as we have suggested, the acquisition of Linium was not quite an unbridled success. Cognizant remained stuck in IT-centric workflows, and the culture of Linium, which was meant to be the change agent for Cognizant’s ServiceNow practice, has all but vanished. This also explains why the company got positioned on Horizon 2 on HFS ServiceNow Services Horizon, 2023. Second, when Ravi Kumar took the reigns as CEO, he identified platforms and, in particular, ServiceNow as one of his key priorities. A clear indication of this was the announcement of a “strategic partnership to advance the adoption of AI-driven automation across industries.” While Cognizant would emphasize AI capabilities such as observability-as-a-service, ServiceNow’s motivation was the commitment by Ravi and industry capabilities rather than horizontal technologies.

The Bottom-line: Cognizant has a significant opportunity with Thirdera to differentiate its capabilities

Cognizant got his hands on the pureplay crown jewel in the ServiceNow ecosystem. But as the example of Linium has shown, success will hinge on maintaining at least some parts of the Thirdera culture. Clients sign with pure plays exactly because they are not GSIs. Furthermore, how can the talent outside the Thirdera leadership team be incentivized to stay with Cognizant? However, just like Cognizant, Thirdera (despite its expansion) is still predominantly US-centric. Thus, it should leverage the training capabilities of Thirdera to boost talent outside of the US. At face value, the investments Cognizant has made in automation and AI and the scale of Thirdera could provide the foundations for becoming a Horizon 3 provider. Yet, as always, the proof is in the pudding. Or more precisely, in the ability to learn lessons from the Linium acquisition to preserve and build on Thurdera’s unique culture.

Posted in : Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Consulting, service-management, Talent in Sourcing, The Generative Enterprise


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