Fifth Business - Quartet Service

Fifth Business

My wife’s book club might be the best club I sort of belong to. I read about every second book and eagerly attend the semi-annual meetings where they bring the husbands along. The discussions at these evenings are fabulous. In fact, a couple of years ago I suggested to the guys after hockey that we form our own book club. After a stunned silence, the change room erupted in laughter and I was reminded that the only books we’re interested in come in monthly subscriptions. So I live vicariously through my wife’s club and have to give them credit for this little gem of a thought.


I’m sure many of you have read Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. It is a classic of Canadian literature and a wonderful journey through small town Canada, WW1 trench warfare, academia, religion, magic and other themes. One of the central themes is called “Fifth Business”. It essentially refers to a role in the operatic world for a character that is involved in the plot, but is not central to it. The Fifth Business role acts as a catalyst for the main events and often carries key messages or makes connections that otherwise might be clumsy.


I’ve used the Fifth Business term a couple of times in the past, mostly to make myself sound learned, but occasionally because it fits a situation. I think with a little poetic license, “Fifth Business” describes Quartet’s evolving role with our clients.


We’re never the main show, but with many clients, we’re much more than just the supporting cast. We’re Fifth Business. We enable our clients to do things they couldn’t do otherwise, we often change the way they think and regularly challenge the traditional service provider role. We are change agents; catalysts. In fact, Quartet is designed to be an agent for continual change. Our flexible contracts, regular account reviews and modular service approach are designed to accelerate technical change in our clients.


The IT service industry is not as mature as the legal or accounting services industries, but the parallels are clear. In those industries, it is normal for the service provider to play an extended role with the client and the same thing is happening in IT. For example, we are regularly involved in process re-engineering and occasionally even help write RFP responses. Productivity gains in North America are expected to accelerate because of this sort of collaboration between suppliers and customers. IT services are right in the middle of this trend.


Does Fifth Business describe our evolving role with our clients? The comparison might be a little juvenile, but I’m not Robertson Davies. As you go through our web site, try to keep an extended vision of IT services in your mind and I’d be pleased to discuss the possibilities with you. However if we meet on the hockey rink, please forget that I mentioned that whole book club thing again…


Robert Bracey,

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