I got a chance to catch up with Russ Cobb, Vice President, Alliances and Product Marketing at SAS about the SAS/Accenture announcement recently. One of the first questions, of course, is whether this was just a “Barney” relationship (I love you, you love me) or if it had any meat. Russ understood completely and said that SAS was always concerned about Barney relationships and had contemplated an announcement last year with Accenture but delayed it until they had a better sense of what they were going to do – they needed to be clear how the organizational change and implementation will work. The result is a strong partnership that is not a physical JV (like Avanade – Accenture’s ten-year-old JV with Microsoft) but resembles a virtual one.
Russ went on to point out that the SAS/Accenture relationship is focused both on delivery resources and on new software development opportunities. These opportunities might use either existing Accenture IP or Accenture experience, in particular their experience with developing analytics or embedding analytics into operational processes. This last, of course, is an area that I consider SAS to be relatively weak in so it is interesting to see this be a focus area. With Accenture’s strength in both business process consulting and business process outsourcing this seems likely to be a fruitful area.
While Russ would not go on the record about numbers, the partnership has quite aggressive targets for increased first year license fees and associated service and outsourcing fees. He did say that SAS expects this additional growth to be split roughly 50/50 between core analytics and domain-specific applications but there are no specific targets for SAS in this regard.
The key drivers for the relationship are two-fold. First, clients want to know how to do what books like Competing on Analytics say they should – they want to know how to become analytic competitors. Second clients want to understand how you move analytics from the offline/back office environment to the front-office/operational/real-time environment. Overall, as he said, the focus of the relationship seems very much on the operational piece which is the right one, I think.
Accenture has more than 181,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries and delivers management consulting, technology and outsourcing services to clients through 18 industry organizations globally. At SAS, the partnership is going to house 15-20% of the trained resources in a physical organization (managed centrally) with the rest deployed to regional units in SAS.
SAS does a lot of work as analytical subcontractors to Accenture (and others) as SAS is not primarily a consulting business, he said. As a result SAS estimates that consulting would be 15-25% of the scope of SAS work in joint projects, focused on the analytical area (rather than ETL experts, for instance). Initially all this would be SAS resources but the implication is that Accenture would develop its own analytic experts to handle some portion of this going forward.
I will be interested to see how this relationship develops. Clearly the focus is in the right area – the intersection of analytic and operations, where SAS has not historically been strong but Accenture has. The possibility of new software is intriguing and I do like the model of SAS providing a core of analytic experts inside an Accenture managed development project. While they are up against IBM Global Business Services and its Business Analytics and Optimization service line, I think this is likely to be more threatening to other consulting firms. With both IBM and Accenture taking analytics so seriously I expect to see the others make real investments too.