InterSolve Group... has made a business out of
promoting... alliances, working with chief executives to assemble teams from diverse sources to create new business opportunities."
– Reuters

From the Monthly Publication On Achieving Excellence

by Tom Peters (February 1994)

This month, we offer sketches to exercise the imagination. The InterSolve Group raises the virtual-corporation concept several notches. It's a talent broker, basically, that gathers specialist resources at the drop of a hat to tackle tough problems. Its sterling client list suggests some people understand the value of InterSolve's imaginative network-creation skills.

The "Just-in-Time Talent" Network

How 26 people came together to save one bank $14 million

In more than one expert's vision of the corporate 1990s, partnerships will become everything. Companies will pare down to a few key functions, hand once-integral parts of their business to outsiders, team up for short-term alliances and solve problems with ad hoc teams from around the world.

But how will the lean, mean virtual machine of tomorrow choose its partners? Chances are it will turn to a network-resource organization. A network might be as simple as a database of independent environmental engineers or an evolution of the conventional executive-placement service. Or it might be an organization like InterSolve Group, a virtual company in its own right that assembles teams of experts to work on a client's specific problems. The teams stay for a week, a month, a year, then disband.

InterSolve has been networking its way toward the future since 1989. Edward R. McPherson calls his service "just-in-time talent."

Custom solutions

"We don't consider ourselves a conventional consulting firm," says McPherson. For instance, InterSolve doesn't keep a stable of MBA troubleshooters equipped with off-the-shelf solutions. It doesn't even employ a secretary or a receptionist. Instead, it pulls together teams of managers, technical experts, marketers whatever the project requires. This approach results in custom solutions, says McPherson, rather than generic fixes. it also reduces overhead expenses, one hallmark of the virtual company.

Another difference, McPherson says, is that InterSolve acts, rather than simply offering advice. Its teams have broad latitude to make decisions and carry through a project to its conclusion.

One of the four InterSolve directors always leads the project. Fees are structured as a retainer, flat fee, performance-based sliding scale, or a mixture of the three, instead of the more common billable hours. InterSolve, in turn, pays the team members.

InterSolve has cultivated about 80 regular clients -ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to Forbes 400 individuals. In one of its largest projects to date, it assembled 26 people in four teams to help First Interstate Bancorp streamline its credit card, loan and deposit operations. Typical of his approach, leader McPherson knew only one of his team members before the group came together. The team worked on the project for about three months, helped the bank realize $14 million in savings and then dissolved.

Consultant as integrator

First Interstate decided not to use a conventional consultant for this project. "We chose instead to use InterSolve as an integrator, to pick specialists in certain functional areas," says First Interstate Executive Vice President Hayden B. Watson. The bank could have created an internal unit to run the project, he acknowledges; but given its short duration, it made more sense to outsource.

Most team members are successfully employed managers from other companies. The teams do most of their work in the client's offices, McPherson says, but communications technology allows them to maintain contact even when they're not under one roof.

As with all relationships, corporate alliances of the future will require some nurturing and practice. Partners will have to learn to handle such issues as intellectual property rights, management control and territorial disputes - as well as the potential revenues surrounding them. McPherson is undaunted by these pitfalls.

"As time passes, American business will become more comfortable with the trust issue," he predicts. "There will need to be a heavy absence of greed."

Certainly, life in the virtual business community is likely to be more transient, with free-lance talent hopping from project to project and company to company. The paternalistic "one person, one job" formula will be a dim memory. "More people will have a career without having a job," McPherson acknowledges. "What is long term is the relationship." For more info...

Contact Edward R. McPherson at 202-550-0011.

Portions of this article also appear in the book, The Tom Peters Seminar Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations, Vintage Books, May 1994.