Is This the Next IBM?

Accenture (NYSE: ACN  ) is a hungry tiger, aiming to take a bite out of its principal rival in the innovation-on-demand business: IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) .

According to BusinessWeek, Accenture is now custom-building hardware for clients in concert with a New York start-up called Bug Labs. Bug's devices are essentially a collection of components. They start with the open-source Linux operating system and add features as needed, including perhaps a GPS device or motion detector. To me, that approach is reminiscent of modern software design, in which objects -- i.e., chunks of related code -- are assembled into a greater, customized whole.

Software is the key here as well. Accenture plugs each new device into AMOS, an intelligent network that processes raw data to produce meaningful outcomes for clients. That's similar to what Big Blue is trying to do with its varying technology specialties. Consider "Green Sigma," an IBM consulting practice that depends on networked sensors and data analysis software to help companies and governments reduce carbon emissions and conserve water.

I'll grant that's an imperfect comparison. In both instances, IBM and Accenture are creating technology. The difference is that Accenture is selling Bug's boxes and charging clients transaction fees for their use of AMOS. That's much more like salesforce.com's (NYSE: CRM  ) model than your typical consulting gig.

And that difference makes this hardware-on-demand program dangerous for Big Blue and every other would-be tech consultant, including Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) . The client-perceived value of many consulting contracts diminishes when a project can be reduced to a few boxes and a subscription fee.

In short, Accenture has changed the game. Your move, IBM.

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Accenture is an Inside Value pick. salesforce.com is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of IBM and Oracle at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy wonders why you're still here. Have you seen how beautiful it is outside?


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