E-Services Becoming Land of the Giants

As the boutiques that once dominated e-consulting fade, larger players, such as Hewlett-Packard Co., are moving in on multiple fronts to secure a bigger share of what remains.

As the boutiques that once dominated e-consulting fade, larger players, such as Hewlett-Packard Co., are moving in on multiple fronts to secure a bigger share of what remains.

In an interesting twist on the transformation of the industry, HP is preparing to launch an online consulting business designed to offer bite-size Internet consulting services focused on the needs of midsize customers through HP channel partners.

The services, initially focused on security, are intended to help customers "be more self-sufficient," said John Bologna, general manager for online consulting worldwide at HP Consulting, in Mountain View, Calif. "What we think will take hold is the ability for a customer to buy tools that can help them at a fairly low cost and the ability for us to take what we learn from engagements and distill them to best practices to offer to our clients," Bologna said.

Among the first such offerings is the eSecurity Alert subscription service, which distributes to customers information on network and platform security issues culled from HP Internet-based resources.

"We send these alerts with information [on] how critical it is and what the recommendation is for solving the [problem]," Bologna said. The information is filtered to provide only what the customer needs and costs just over $1,000 per month.

The eSecurity Scan service searches an IP address or Web site for security vulnerabilities and then sends clients reports on what was found, along with a recommended action plan. The service costs $500 for four IP addresses. Other online services, such as Best Practices, provide pragmatic lessons from the field on specific issues and their implications, while HP Guru provides direct access to HP consultants.

By providing such services at low cost, HP opened the door to additional business, according to one early customer.

"We got off on the right foot—thats important right there," said the customer at an engineering company, who used the eSecurity Scan service and asked not to be named. "When you have a good experience with a vendor, you tend to go back and ask what other services they provide."

The new HP online consulting business, systems integration and Express Services operations will roll out as part of HP Consulting in North America, then in Japan, Europe and Asia, officials said.

In the meantime, rumors persist that HP is looking to acquire an e-services company. The rumor of a Scient Corp. acquisition died when that company merged with iXL Enterprises Inc. late last month. That merger of equals is intended to provide greater financial stability for the combined company. It was announced the same day that both companies recorded still more financial losses.

Whether two smaller companies combined can last against deep-pocketed competitors is questionable, analysts said.

HP rival Compaq Computer Corp. is also still looking to find a good fit with one or more boutiques after its failed bid this spring to acquire Proxicom Inc. Compaq was outbid late in the negotiations by South Africas Dimension Data plc.

Compaq, which is actively looking at several e-consulting companies to find a good fit, is executing a "string of pearls" acquisition strategy, according to Laura Farnham, Compaq Global Services marketing vice president, in Stow, Mass.

IBM, for its part, is playing both sides of the fence by growing its own e-consulting force and by partnering with boutiques through its channels organization.

At its Solutions conference in San Francisco this week, the Armonk, N.Y., company will announce new service offerings or expanded partner alliances with Answerthink Inc., SBi Inc. and Dimension Data.