Threes Company

Share an e-business gig with two of your rivals? iXL's George Corbin knows the drill.

Theres partnering in the usual sense, and then theres partnering. For most solutions providers, teaming up with a product vendor or another service firm with a complementary skill is a routine occurrence. But DuPonts Journey Leader program takes partnering to the extreme. The $28.3 billion maker of Teflon and Lycra is working with three e-business consultancies to help shape its Web strategy: iXL, MarchFirst and Proxicom. The rivals are expected to play nice and collaborate when appropriate.

"It keeps each of the Journey Leaders on its toes," says George Corbin, e-business strategy team director of DuPonts program in iXLs Washington, D.C., office. Although the Journey Leader arrangements were announced in February, DuPonts screening and selection process came to a head last summer. Companies were evaluated according to their capabilities and track records at DuPonts 100-plus business units. The three firms that made the cut are charged with managing projects from strategy through implementation, hence the term "Journey Leader."

The common goal is to translate DuPonts scientific research and product development into e-business. "How can you take that to the Web?" is the question that sparks projects, according to Corbin. Tasks range from helping a business unit develop a consumer-oriented Web site, to working out supply chain linkages between a business unit and its partners.

Corbin says theres an implicit understanding that a consultancy with a history of working well with a particular business unit may continue that relationship under the Journey Leader program. IXL, for example, had been working at various DuPont business units for months prior to the Journey Leader announcement. So, to a degree, each member of DuPonts e-business team cultivates its own work stream.

However, DuPont and the Journey Leaders also look for opportunities to work together. All three members have participated in collaborative sessions in DuPonts Wilmington, Del., headquarters. The challenge, is to work closely without revealing proprietary methodologies. "Its a tightrope for us," Corbin says. And then theres the system of checks and balances to consider. "If one of us drops the ball," notes Corbin, a business unit may turn to another Journey Leader.

DuPonts decision to standardize on a limited number of IT service providers is not without precedent. In the late 1980s, Eastman Kodak created the outsourcing odd couple, selecting IBM Global Services to run its data centers and Digital Equipment Corp. to run its networks. In 1996, J.P. Morgan launched the Pinnacle Alliance, an outsourcing deal that teams four integrators, including Accenture and Computer Sciences Corp., among others. Meanwhile, DuPont that same year awarded a $4 billion, 10-year outsourcing pact to Accenture and CSC.

Industry observers believe tight economic times will propel such outsourcing relationships. Indeed, Web integrators arent the only companies feeling the pinch and reducing headcount. DuPont earlier this month announced plans to cut 4 percent of its 93,000-employee global workforce.

Still, Corbin says his company is developing e-business strategies for a number of business units. Finding room to maneuver shouldnt be a problem at DuPont. Even with two rivals at ones elbow, concludes Corbin, "Theres enough there to keep us all happy."