A Strong Network of Friends

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Aside from its own core competencies, Accenture is willing to admit that it can't do everything by itself. That's where its "network of businesses" strategy comes into play. One of its closest relationships, for example, is with software giant Microsoft. Aside from Avanade, a joint solution provider formed in 2000 as part of a "$1 billion pact" between the two companies, Accenture is also a strong advocate of Microsoft's .NET vision and strategy, and one of the most supportive when it comes to funding training, services and solutions to help make that vision a reality, according to Microsoft.

When questioned by VARBusiness as to why he chose to sit on Accenture's board, Ballmer cites his existing relationship with Forehand and other executives and says he's impressed by Accenture's flexibility and its ability to act quickly in a global market.

"Companies need the ability to act quickly,both to be competitive and to survive in a dynamic global economy. Accenture has all of the elements to bring clients that level of agility: They offer a combination of deep industry expertise, business acumen, technology leadership and global reach," he says, crediting the company's network-of-businesses approach as giving it that flexibility.

But just as important, Accenture has made sure to remain agnostic and reach out to a wide variety of vendors. So its network of allies includes many aligned against Microsoft, including the likes of Oracle and BEA. In November 2001, for example, Accenture introduced a Java application framework for BEA's WebLogic platform to provide infrastructure solutions for enterprises. As part of that agreement, Accenture dedicated a business unit within the company to support the solution full time.

"Accenture is our biggest integration partner," says Alfred Chuang, CEO of BEA. "They have (more than 3,000 staffers) trained on our products." While Chuang says BEA is always looking to add top-line alliances to its stable, he considers Accenture a one-of-a-kind partner that provides global leverage, skilled professionals and technical support to help BEA compete effectively.

While a friend to many, Accenture is also a nurturer of start-ups, thanks to Accenture Technology Ventures, the company's investment arm that has invested more than $300 million to more than 70 early-stage e-commerce companies that help extend its core solutions to specific verticals and technology areas. Through the venture company, Accenture has helped software and services companies including Asera, Blue Martini, Entrust, Jamcracker, Retek, SeeBeyond and Indeliq, an e-learning company formed last March. It was the combination of Indeliq's pure e-learning expertise and Accenture's global reach that sealed the aforementioned deal with Avaya, for example.

"With Indeliq, we can offer capabilities to our core business to actually transform companies' training programs in a more cost-effective way," Forehand says. "Basically, it's about offering them a better service than what they were able to do themselves."

Like most tech companies, Accenture has been forced to scale back some of its venture efforts because of the difficult environment. The company is expecting to take a charge of some $90 million this quarter as a direct result of its venture portfolio. CFO Harry You told analysts recently that the company is repositioning its investment portfolio to mitigate quarterly earnings' volatility and expects to present its board with an alternative by the end of the first quarter.

But Forehand says the company is not planning to abandon its venture business, since "it's a big part of what we do."

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