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Accenture stakes out the Salesforce industry cloud

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright September 22, 2015
Accenture is getting into the Salesforce industry cloud early, investing in Vlocity's comms solution and rebuilding its own CPG app as a native package

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Professional services giant Accenture aims to take a lead in advancing industry cloud solutions built on the Salesforce platform. Earlier this month it announced it is building a Salesforce-native version of its CAS software suite for the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. Meanwhile, as part of its investment in industry cloud vendor Vlocity, it is collaborating to create a Salesforce-native solution for the communications and media industries.

These two initiatives are the start of a strategy that will see Accenture build out other solutions on the Salesforce platform, I learned during Dreamforce last week in conversation with Saideep Raj, who will become head of the newly formed Accenture Cloud First Applications Team once its acquisition of Cloud Sherpas closes.

When you peel it back, Accenture has been using Salesforce's platform for our projects now for many years. Accenture is in the mode now, as you've seen with CAS for example, where sometimes we build a solution ourselves and are providing those apps on the platform, and in other cases we work with others to do it. In some cases, we do it custom in a template model, and we take that template and apply it elsewhere.

I think we're on an early part of that journey honestly, because we've had two of these big industries, the rest are templates, but there's so much more headroom to grow, in our view, to be able to start to leverage the platform.

The distinction between templated solutions and packaged native applications is important. All of Vlocity's offerings and Accenture's own CAS solution are managed packages that remain continuously upgradeable on the Salesforce platform as new versions come out, whereas templated solutions can be customized in ways that may require testing and modification before an upgrade is applied.

Accenture has numerous Fullforce certified template solutions for a variety of industries and has found this model very successful. But the managed package approach allows for a closer synchronization with Salesforce's own upgrade path.

Siebel replacement

The investment in Vlocity is part of Accenture's 'cloud first' approach that will see it recommending cloud solutions to support business innovation in specific industries, Raj told me.

It's one of the things [where] Accenture stuck our neck out. We looked ahead at the telecommunications industry and we said, this is the way it's going to go. It's going to take a few years to get there but we want to be in the driving seat as we're positioning our clients.

In its work with Vlocity on the communications and media industry cloud solution, Raj said that Accenture will reuse some of the intellectual property (IP) it originally built up when it worked with Siebel to produce a vertical CRM platform for the same industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There's a certain irony in that Vlocity is now going to market with the aim of replacing the original Siebel solution in many enterprises that are still running on that 1990s-era software. As Raj told me:

When we built the assets that we had around Siebel for communications for example, there was some unique IP that we had around the sort of telecoms clients that we were serving. We've basically taken that packaged IP and provided support to Vlocity as they're building out the engine.

That's important, because we want Vlocity's solution to absolutely map to our clients' needs. We didn't want them to go on a certain path and basically find out after a year that there's serious gaps that would not solve some of the needs that our clients have.

So we have some of our deepest experts — for example, we have a communications center of excellence in Milan. They have been spending the last several weeks in every sprint in San Francisco with the Vlocity team and actually working with their product development and then shaping that solution.

That's an example of how Accenture is guiding and shaping the solution because we perceive that this is not just an alliance. We don't want to just turn up at a client arm-in-arm. We want to be able to go to them, [and say] Accenture has helped design, provide insight and industry expertise around this solution. So we go in together.

The clients that are more progressive and are starting on that journey incrementally, we're together with them. The ones that are longer and further out, looking at Accenture and saying, 'Well, I'll be there but can you say that we're going to have a solution that's going to do all these things that I currently expect all of these more traditional vendors to do?' — we're telling them, 'Yes'.

The reason why we can confidently say that is because we're in the engineering.

CPG goes cloud-native

The CAS project is a major initiative to completely rebuild Accenture's existing on-premise trade promotion management and retail execution engine as a Salesforce-native application. Acquired several years ago, it is now the leading application of its type in the CPG market. Bringing it to the Salesforce platform will allow Accenture to add mobility, analytics and other capabilities that Salesforce builds into its platform.

Although customers will be able to choose a hybrid strategy in which they use the Salesforce version alongside their existing on-premise implementation of CAS, the new application is a completely new Salesforce-native package rather than being a simple port of the existing code and data model. Raj explained:

We've basically made a strategic decision that says, with the broader transformative change that we see around Salesforce, we're platforming CAS around Salesforce's solution.

Accenture becomes the solution that's driving that CPG market. We already had the software assets, now we're positioning it around the replatforming on the Salesforce platform, and now we're taking that to market together to our biggest joint clients.

Just like the comms industry for Vlocity, it's sponsored by our chief executive for that industry across the globe.

The Accenture CPG solution also has the support of Salesforce president Keith Block, said Raj.

We went to them six months ago and said, 'We want to transform this industry, are you in with us?' And they said, 'Yes!'

My take

As an early partner in Salesforce's industry cloud strategy, Accenture is in a position to cherry-pick which industries to focus on first. This gives it a significant advantage in establishing a predominant position in those industries, and in reinforcing its role as a stalwart ally of Salesforce as the vendor penetrates deeper into the enterprise market.

At the same time, the decision to entirely rebuild its CAS functionality on Salesforce is a significant endorsement of the cloud vendor's platform. This is not a brash, opportunistic startup doing this but the goliath of enterprise software professional services. If it's good enough for Accenture, that's a telling milestone.

Disclosure: Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner. My travel to attend Dreamforce was funded as part of a paid consulting engagement with Vlocity.

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