December 12, 2000, 9:46 AM — Industry insiders call it convergence. Some customers call it an integrated
solution. In the old days, which, by the way, were just a couple of years ago, it was
an unheard of practice. Today formerly fierce competitors are joining forces to deliver
robust solutions to some very complex technical challenges.
"This is a new area for a lot of folks," says Jack Claypoole, client executive
at EDS, a systems integrator in Southfield, Mich. "It's a great admission to say we're
not all Renaissance people."
Not everyone understands the cultural and legal pitfalls to avoid in intercompany
strategic technical partnerships. But more and more companies are grasping the business
and technical advantages of working with organizations that bring different technical
and industry expertise to the table.
"We don't always have all the competencies to provide my client with the best
solution," says Claypoole, who oversees the IT and business process support for EDS
client General Motors. In his client's best interest, Claypoole turns to folks who
historically have been EDS' competitors. "I look at the needs of the customer, then I
look at the competencies we can bring. Where there are fundamental complements, we will
go into a partnership."
Such a technical partnership exists between consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers
(PWC) and EDS, which are "robust competitors in the IT market," Claypoole says. GM
wanted to implement a set financial process using SAP. "We felt PWC had the financial,
audit, and tax background within the industry that we needed. We had the particular
subject matter expertise at GM. We saw an opportunity to leverage [combined PWC and
EDS] competencies, rather than compete, to bring a better and more economical
Tearing down the walls
As the competitive walls come down, managers must address legal, business, and
cultural fine points of strategic technical partnerships. For example, how do these
companies prepare a proposal and still protect their unique skills and talents?
The reality is sometimes "you have to share information [that would otherwise be
hotly guarded from the competition] to move forward," says David Zolet, vice president
and general manager of civil systems program divisions at TRW Systems & Information
Technology Group, in Reston, Va.
"[Subcontractors] will want to protect their intellectual property, and the
[primary contractors] will [typically] demand reuse rights to a product or intellectual
property" says Mark Bloom, vice president of the Web e-commerce and enterprise systems
group at CACI, an IT contractor, in Chantilly, Va.