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As Accenture plans a $3 billion spend on AI, CEO Julie Sweet outlines her tips on the generative phenomenon

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 15, 2023
Accenture and Salesforce are partnering to accelerate adoption of generative AI. CEO Julie Sweet has some 'tough love' advice for enterprises.

Accenture CEO
Julie Sweet

Accenture this week became the latest enterprise behemoth to roll out a major generative AI pitch, this one in the form a commitment to invest $3 billion over the next three years on building out its expertise in this field. 

Part of this spend will involve doubling the size of the firm’s currently 40,000 strong Data and AI practice, bringing it to around ten percent of the total workforce. The company is also launching a Center for Advanced AI, one objective of which will be to re-imagine service delivery using generative AI, as well as a series of AI Accelerators across 19 industry verticals. 

In the official announcement, Paul Daugherty, Group Chief Executive of Accenture Technology, is quoted as stating: 

Over the next decade, AI will be a mega-trend, transforming industries, companies and the way we live and work, as generative AI transforms 40% of all working hours. Our expanded Data & AI practice brings together the full power and breadth of Accenture in creating industry-specific solutions that will help our clients harness AI’s full potential to reshape their strategy, technology and ways of working, driving innovation and value responsibly and faster than ever before.

Salesforce, AI and Accenture

By happenstance, Accenture’s overall CEO Julie Sweet was a guest at Salesforce’s AI Day event in New York earlier this week and went into more detail about how the firm is currently advising clients around generative AI and what their concerns/needs are. 

Accenture announced last month that it is partnering with Salesforce to create an accelerator hub for generative AI. This will, according to the formal announcement at the time, assist clients with: 

  • Custom AI Strategies and Accelerators for Growth: Senior leaders from Salesforce and Accenture plan to work with customers to develop customized AI strategies using new accelerators for Einstein GPT, user interfaces, and process automation, which can help increase productivity and profit for their businesses.
  • Innovative Use Cases for Sales and Service: These use cases will showcase generative AI’s benefits and potential return on investment, with an initial focus on sales and service. Examples of these use cases include:
  • Sales: Generative AI can increase seller productivity with automated tasks to help drive ongoing engagement with customers and prospects.
  • Service: Generative AI can also help improve customer experience and agent productivity for every customer service interaction with trusted CRM data and automate knowledge management to help companies respond to the needs of their customers more effectively.
  • Industry-Specific AI Models: Salesforce and Accenture intend to build industry-specific AI models for customers in the financial services, health, manufacturing, and public sector industries.
  • Generative AI & Data Cloud: Using Data Cloud to connect and harmonize information, Salesforce and Accenture will explore how generative AI can learn from customer data to create more personalized experiences for customers faster.
  • Upskilling for AI Success: Salesforce and Accenture plan to develop learning resources that help teams develop and enhance their generative AI skills, fostering the next generation of talent within the Salesforce ecosystem. Specific areas of focus include programming Einstein GPT, AI literacy, data science and analytics, and ethics and responsible AI.

So where are Accenture’s clients at on their generative AI journey? According to Sweet, it all begins with trust and security, a core message that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff pushed at the same event. She said: 

I would emphasize that this technology is really early. One of the big advantages that I think you have by working with Salesforce, is that trust and security are being built in from the beginning, and you're bringing together that with the deep expertise around the use cases. That is really resonating with our clients, who want to make sure that they don't get ahead of themselves before some of these things have been worked out.

And yet at the same time, they believe, as we believe, that generative AI will transform how they work, how they engage with clients. I have a very simple thing when we talk to clients  and they're saying, 'How do I get started?'. With Salesforce [customers], one of the first things I say is, 'Well, first make sure you're using all the AI that you've already paid for’, because it's incredibly powerful…Lots of our Salesforce clients are not fully using it, so make sure you're doing that. 

Then it's all about data, she went on, pointing to the central role of the Salesforce Data Cloud. From there, she argued, it’s vital that organizations make sure that they're using business criteria to evaluate the use cases:

That's where the work we're doing is so important with the AI Accelerator Hub that we just announced with Salesforce. That's about bringing the power of Salesforce and Accenture, and all of our industry knowledge, our knowledge about customers and marketing and sales and service, with [Salesforce] and the clients together to say, ‘How do we create the absolute, most powerful use cases that have a return?'.  

I know that Accenture is thinking about this and Salesforce is thinking about this. We know that our clients need a return fast, so we're trying to really focus on, how do you take the technology, the maturity it's at today and bring it together with all that Salesforce has, and really deliver value early to our clients?

Accenture's view

According to Sweet, Accenture thinks about AI in three ways: 

How do we help our clients? How do we use it to deliver for our clients? And then how do we use it to operate Accenture? We've been using diagnostic AI, which tells you what happens, and predictive AI, for years across our business, and particularly in our sales function with Salesforce. 

But Accenture not that long ago was itself not tapping into all the AI capabilities that Sweet says the firm advises clients to do: 

When I became CEO in 2019, we had not done a great job of making sure all of our 55,000 users were using the predictive capabilities. We have a phenomenal sales officer, who I appointed, who was deep into Salesforce, who very smartly made sure that we were using that. 

We have proven now for three years that bottom-up forecasting is never as accurate as what we do within Salesforce. So now the idea of being able to take the power of all of that, which is already a part of our process, and add on generative AI to draw more connections, to be able to get to insights faster, we think that is hugely exciting. 

Don’t forget the human factor along the way and the needs of the workforce, she advised: 

Just like we had to change our processes and train our people on how to use predictive AI, this is just technology until it becomes embedded in how you work and [you need] change management to make sure people understand it and the skilling. I think that's where our partnership [with Salesforce] is so important, because it makes sure that the technology actually delivers value, by coming in with a point of view on how do you change, how do you get people to adopt, how do you rewire your processes, and, very importantly, how do you get your data?

Sweet also had one very practical piece of ‘tough love’ advice to organizational leaders: 

If you are not able to pick up the phone, call someone in your company, and have them tell you where is AI being used, what are the risks, how are they being litigated, how are they monitored, and who's accountable, then you do not yet have responsible AI. 

It’s essential to understand where risk lies, she concluded: 

When we go into companies and help them set up these programs, we have pre-populated views, and when we get to Salesforce, we say, ‘Here's all the AI that you have in your organization, and here's the low risk, because it's built-in’. That is really important as you move along this journey of generative AI, understanding every time you're using it, where is the risk, and making sure that you're partnering with companies, like Salesforce, where you can understand that it's either low risk, or you absolutely are clear on what the risks are, how to mitigate them and how to monitor it.

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