Hewlett-Packard’s May 8 announcement concerning a formal alliance with Accenture brings up two points. First, HP wanted to reassure us as to its commitment in the IT services arena. This was definitely a statement for positioning purposes.

The second and more interesting point is much more difficult to understand. By formalizing what we can only infer was an informal alliance, HP calls into question the whole nature of alliances and partnerships in consulting.

Allow me a rather old-fashioned observation: This is like dating vs. engagement vs. marriage. HP sees its deal with Accenture as step two in an evolving relationship. The two sides obviously enjoyed their three-year collaboration. They are convinced a more formal union is in order. But each side stopped well short of exclusivity (and certainly no one would view this as a precursor to a merger or acquisition).

In other words, this is kind of like an engagement with the option to date. Polygamists should approve.

Nobody likes marriage in consulting because the business thrives on easy entry/exit into markets. Growing organically into IT services is costly and time-consuming. Buying into that business is also costly and time-consuming. But HP backed itself into a corner by boldly stating that its future lies with IT services, not gadgets. While it pursues acquisitions, HP needs to solidify its relationships with other service providers—the more formal the better.

Accenture already has alliances and partnerships with a host of technology companies. Adding HP is another piece of the portfolio puzzle. There is no need to pump this relationship as anything more than that.

On the heels of these announcements, we’re often asked the effect on other “partners.” Is HP ditching its other channel providers for Accenture? Do value-added resellers, application service providers, and business process outsourcers blanch when a company signs a big deal with a competitor? The answer relates back to dating: If no cares who you’re seeing, there’s no problem. Microsoft, Sun, and Oracle work with everybody, and everybody works with Microsoft, Sun, and Oracle.

Ironically, clients rarely think about the promiscuous nature of alliances and partnerships—formal or exclusive. They know that advisors rarely have the urge to marry other advisors.

Heard on the street
The Management Consultancies Association, an organization that caters to management consulting firms in the United Kingdom, is hosting a panel discussion on the future of e-business consulting on June 13. If this meeting matches a recent MCA-sponsored conference I attended in London, attendees should gain some very useful insights.
Inside Consulting is written by Tom Rodenhauser as a free weekly supplement to The Rodenhauser Report. The report informs senior advisors and business executives of consulting trends and best practices. Subscription cost is $295 per year for 10 issues. Copyright 2001, Consulting Information Services, LLC. Reproduction is prohibited. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.