Accenture: digital means never giving the wrong answer again

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan January 26, 2014
"Analytics is the lynch pin. Once you engage in digital, it’s just not OK to be slow or to give the wrong answer any more," says Accenture Digital MD Mike Sutcliffe.

Mike Sutcliff 6887 hi res 5x7
We’ve written a fair amount in recent months about Accenture’s digital ambitions. Last week I had the chance to sit down in London for an exclusive chat with Mike Sutcliff, recently appointed as managing director for Accenture Digital.

According to the Accenture pitch, Accenture Digital has been set up to provide clients with:

a comprehensive portfolio of business and technology services, from developing digital strategies to implementing digital technologies and running digital processes on behalf of clients.

Through the combination of Accenture’s analytics, mobility and digital marketing capabilities, Accenture Digital will help clients leverage connected and mobile devices, extract insights from data using analytics, and enrich customer experiences and interactions.

It’s a set of capabilities which Sutcliff says builds on Accenture’s existing credentials.

“We have been investing in digital for more than a decade now, across a lot of digital channels including marketing, sales and customer experience. In many industries, such as media and consumer goods, that’s been the primary focus.

“At the same time we’ve been working in a lot of industrial and process-centric industries such as oil, gas and chemicals, and in those the subject of interest has been the industrial internet.

“And now attention is turning to the digital enterprise and that includes supply chain, manufacturing, connected products and so on.”

There are ambitious expectations for the role and scope of the new digital division. Sutcliff states:

“We are very deep in different skills across the whole of Accenture. We have people who are very good with specific types of expertise. At Accenture Digital, we are the leading edge group inside the firm, working with alliance partners that exist outside the firm.

“We have 23,000 people currently inside Accenture Digital, but 281,000 across the whole of Accenture. We will grow from that 23,000 with the goal of doubling over a few years.

“We’ll be building out digital muscle from within our own employee base, educating them and exposing them to different pieces in the digital world.”

Digital enablement

The digital transformation challenges faced by clients is of course the market opportunity for Accenture, argues Sutcliff:

“We see ourselves as the enabler of bringing industrial expertise and digital technology to the table. So we’re thinking about Accenture Digital in two big categories: digital customer channels and the digital industrial enterprise.

“We’re organised by industry so we’re well placed to think about how digital capabilities interact across different industries. That’s how we organise our thinking. We organise around the problems that clients have and look at digital technology as an enabler to address them.”

Digital transformation is a challenge - and potential opportunity - for organisations of all sizes, explains Sutcliffe:

“Many people believe that disruption can only happen with start-ups, but we believe that a lot of innovation will come from there but there will be more successful disruptors who will be the ones with established industry strengths who will have to think about their operational models.

“We are looking at how digital capabilities can be disruptors to existing business models. There will be a fundamental blending of industry boundaries as well as very specific industry disruptions.

“Clients need to decide whether they will defend against that disruption or whether they will become digital disruptors themselves.”

He adds:

“Your priorities will depend on the competitive strategies you’re trying to execute. Digital channels and customers enable a whole different source of revenue growth. At the same time, they create a different set of cost demands internally.

“Customers have a different set of expectations of your ability to respond to their needs so you start experiencing the idea that you need to serve those customers differently. The costs of addressing that are different.“

C-suite conversations

One of the primary strengths of Accenture’s ‘traditional’ business model has been the firm’s ability to engage at the most senior levels of enterprise organisations, an aspect which Sutcliff sees as being equally true in the digital world.

“Digital technology is certainly picked up and added into the mix of the IT department as a normal part of what they do. What we find interesting in client examples is that it is the CEO or the business unit executive who is asking us to think about how digital capabilities can bring transformation .to them.

“The C-suite is very connected to this. We do see Chief Digital Officers being announced, but that will be a transient position for a period of years. In about 5 years I can see the role being blended back into the organisation.

“We’ve seen people who are proven executives who are bringing new skills to bear. At the same time we see people who are just good business executives who are being asked as internal hires to take on this role because they understand the organisation and what it historically has needed.”

Another key consideration - and from Sutcliff’s perspective, a major competitive asset for Accenture Digital - is the essential role played by analytics in the new digital world:

“Almost everything we see has some kind of analytics to enable understanding in real time or to predict. It takes a lot of different capabilities to be effective with a combination of capabilities that are unique to each client.

“Analytics is the lynch pin. Once you engage in digital, the expectations from the other side of the transaction change. It’s just not OK to be slow or to give the wrong answer any more. It is expected that as people engage with you, you are prepared with the right response or prepared with what it should be.

“Analytics has changed in the digital world. Over time I can have a persistent set of measures for a client and understand how the client experience has changed. Maybe we have had a customer issue with a missed delivery or a product failure. I can remember all of that and learn about the issue or the product in a much more sophisticated way than was historically possible.”

With a round of client meetings ahead of him, Altanta-based Sutcliff was in London with a hectic agenda, reflective of the current high level of interest in digital transformation in Accenture’s traditional enterprise heartland, a heartland increasingly sought after. Sutcliff acknowledges a highly competitive landscape:

“We compete with the boutique strategy firms, we compete with the very specific technology providers, we compete with industry specific consultants and we compete with all the major technology providers.

“The same will be true in digital. We see announcements in the markets every day with firms saying that they are announcing a digital capability. So we will be working in a space that is very very active.”