Editor’s note: Big vendors IBM, HPE, Cognizant and Infosys are jostling for best positions in analytics and insights (A&I) in 2017. Here’s a look at what each of these players has in mind.

HAMPTON, N.H. – Every quarter Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR) takes a deeper look at IT services vendors’ performance across a range of offerings, acquisitions, regional performances and run-the-business operations. These scenario discussions vary from vendor to vendor, but frequently cover similar developments.

In 2016 TBR reported on developments across analytics for many vendors including Cognizant, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Infosys and IBM.

While TBR publishes quarterly, semiannual and annual assessments in vendor reports, market forecasts, and benchmarks, the rapidly changing market requires TBR’s lead analysts maintain the most current research and perspectives on their covered companies, highlighted in this special report.

IBM: Sustaining efforts to move Watson to the center of everything

IBM continues to expand its addressable market for analytics and insights (A&I) solutions, launching IBM Watson DataWorks in September (renamed IBM Watson Data Platform) and bringing together offerings targeting four personas involved in enterprise analytics programs: business analysts (Watson Analytics), data scientists (Data Science Experience), data engineers (Bluemix Data Connect) and developers (Bluemix Cloud Platform). By offering solutions tailored to different levels of analytics proficiency, Watson Data Platform positions IBM to facilitate collaboration among various stakeholders, enabling clients to minimize data management issues that, according to TBR’s A&I customer research, can prevent analytics programs from delivering clients’ desired business outcomes.

Creating repeatable consulting frameworks remains a core part of IBM’s strategy to accelerate adoption of its technology solutions, exemplified by the IBM DataFirst Method, introduced as part of the formal launch of Watson Data Platform. IBM developed the DataFirst Method by distilling insights from previous client engagements to determine what organizations need from analytics to succeed.

The Method offers road maps tailored to clients’ analytics maturity level and business goals, enabling IBM Analytics teams to quickly assess a client’s situation and determine whether a need for professional services exists for IBM Analytics’ line-of-business services, Global Business Services (GBS) or one of IBM’s business partners.

HPE: Investing for stronger capabilities ahead of spin-merge

Since HPE’s launch of the HPE Universal IoT Platform, which provides data collection and analytics, the company ramped up its R&D efforts to expand its analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. HPE announced the launch of HPE Vertica 8 to provide data analytics and predictive analysis services for clients across verticals. The acquisition of SGI strengthens HPE’s data management and analytics expertise to pursue industry-oriented analytics opportunities including smart technology engagements with energy, healthcare and manufacturing clients.

Expansion of its analytics capabilities to include data management increases HPE’s value proposition, as it provides longer-term analytics engagements and will drive margin expansion by utilizing repeatable frameworks. However, as HPE continues its transition to focus on its technology roots, the company will expand its partner network to fill portfolio gaps due to planned spin-mergers.

Cognizant: Extending across new industries and expanding analytics capabilities

In 2016 TBR highlighted Cognizant’s ongoing investments in building out its analytics capabilities, along with our assertion that such investments would begin to resonate with financial services clients looking to offload data and applications to big data architectures. Today, Cognizant continues to focus R&D, alliance and acquisition efforts on gaining analytics IP. However, we believe the scope of such investments has shifted to address client needs across verticals.

Cognizant’s ability to extend the reach of its analytics portfolios was evidenced during the year, as the company signed contracts from clients in industries ranging from energy to retail including Centrica and Future Group.

Cognizant’s analytics expertise expanded in scope during 2016, marked by its acquisitions of Idea Couture as well as a 49% stake in social and data science consultancy Red Associates. Each company leverages expertise in social science and big data analytics to identify and address customer buying and shopping behaviors to improve enduser experience via digital design and technology.

With clients increasingly demanding actionable insights to improve customer engagement, Cognizant’s investments are already paying dividends, as evidenced by its contract from U.K.-based Centrica for digital assurance “as a Service” support and augmented web-based user experience.

During 2017 TBR expects Cognizant will continue to hire and acquire high-end digital advisory talent to help differentiate from India-centric peers that lack the ability to dialogue with clients’ digital stakeholders.

Infosys: Strategic decisions move the company from consulting to building software-enabled services

While Mana gains traction as one of the key proprietary solutions helping Infosys drive platform-based IT services, the company made it available as a license. TBR believes Infosys’ decision to sideline investments in strategy consulting-like capabilities in favor of enhancing its core IT-centric expertise to secure software-led opportunities differentiates it from many of its peers seeking to pursue consulting-led digital transformation opportunities. While it is a bold move, building out proprietary portfolio offerings and/or leveraging IP from startups ahead of demand will help Infosys gain an edge around its innovative thinking.

If Infosys does not gain ROI from software or software-enabled services, at least the company will gain exposure to product-company-like thinking and development cycles. Mastering the latter opportunity could turn Infosys into an attractive buy in the next three to five years, a period during which we believe  the IT services market, and particularly India-centric vendors, will consolidate mainly due to automation.

Consider an industry approach overall: Analytics and associated consulting, and change management will increase in 2017

As noted in our 2017 Professional Services Predictions and building on our A&I research portfolio, TBR sees both analytics and associated consulting services expanding significantly in 2017, even as vendors take different and uneven approaches to expanding their capabilities. Overall demand will not outpace capacity for delivering analytics services, but select vendors will outperform the market.

For example, IBM’s DataFirst Method aligns with emerging trends in TBR’s A&I customer research, suggesting that as enterprises become savvier about business use cases for analytics, the role of consultants shifts from advising clients on what to do with analytics (often over a several-months-long consulting engagement) to providing targeted strategies to accelerate deployment and resolve organizational challenges. The Method will help drive qualified leads from the IBM Analytics unit to GBS, which can then quickly shift discussions from exploration of the business impact of analytics and cognitive solutions to execution, change management and “what’s next” consulting.

Though IBM designed the Method to sell analytics software, not consulting, somewhat limiting the A&I services impact, we expect GBS to benefit from change management and adjacent digital transformation opportunities identified early in the assessment process.