InsightaaS.com perspective: ICT has long been recognized as a primary means to productivity improvement, but with technology advancements, ICT is also viewed increasingly as a conduit for innovation. Cloud in particular has driven this shift in thinking, as additional capabilities in test/dev and operation have introduced new levels of speed to production. For many organizations, the outcome has been an environment of continuous innovation, which is in turn heightening competition in business markets. But the real value in IT implementation can be elusive if business managers are not brought into the process of innovation, a message that Wayne Ingram, managing director of technology at Accenture, stressed in a recent lunchtime address to a heterogeneous group at the Toronto Regional Board of Trade.
The Conference Board of Canada’s recent "D" grade for Canadian innovation has stimulated soul searching in many quarters. The negative assessment has government, business and academic leaders wrestling with the impact on Canadian productivity, competitiveness in global markets and standard of living. In the ICT world, the D grade has pealed as a clarion call for additional investment in the technology tools and solutions needed to spark the innovation process. This tack is not new - the productivity gap between Canada and the U.S. has long been attributed to more conservative adoption of technology north of the border - but the message has taken on urgency with growing global access to IT and increased global competition.
In a recent address to 86 attendees at the Toronto Regional Board of Trade, Wayne Ingram, managing director of technology at Accenture, noted the global change that is currently underway: the "tectonic plates of the world’s social and economic geography have radically shifted." The right path for Canada, he argued, is shift to a knowledge-based economy, but as the title of his talk stressed, for this transformation to occur "every business must become a digital business," regardless of industry. As Ingram sees it, Accenture’s mission is to encourage this process by "bringing technology and innovation to clients," which are typically Fortune 2000, and include many of Canada’s largest companies in the resource sector and across the vertical spectrum.To help organizations better understand the potential in digital business, in his presentation Ingram outlined four technology areas that are providing new opportunity for those with the requisite "digital mindset." The first is "mass personalization," or "relationships at scale," which roughly translates to the harnessing of data from new social channels to applications such as customer relationship management to create customized, "real human interactions" on a mass basis. According to Ingram, the integration of social, mobile and context-based (GPS) services are now providing a "fresh approach to consumer engagement and loyalty" - one that extends beyond basic customer segmentation to respond to individual customer behaviours and may involve the real time push of marketing communications to customers on the go. A boon to ecommerce and emarketing, solutions that combine networking (cellular and WiFi), data on customer preferences that can be collected real time through on-premise sensor data, mobile devices and social media with marketing technologies are revolutionizing the shopping experience, and with it the retail industry.
Interestingly, the introduction of these kinds of technologies has implications for organizational structure and internal processes. Ingram described the application of mass personalization as "a classic example of the case where the CMO would play a much bigger role than he/she would have historically," requiring co-innovation with IT as the solution evolves. This type of solution is heavily dependent on data analytics - Ingram’s second emerging technology area - but as yet, most organizations do not have the business processes in place to capture, manage and share the data in a way that will derive full value from the solution. Business managers, then, are becoming increasingly important in the development of new IT-based solutions, and collaboration across the enterprise critical to the creation of digital strategies.
If LOB managers will play an increasing role in this activity, a new category of worker, the ‘digital scientist,’ is also attracting attention as an in demand resource that knows the right questions to ask. Ingram described the latter as people who sit between the business manager and the data analysis. In an "innovation session" with clients, Accenture would bring in the data scientist, in addition to representatives from business and IT, to set the collective mind to hammering out new ways to use technology solving business challenges. In Ingram’s view, "these days, it’s really hard to find a business strategy that does not involve IT as an enabler, but technology doesn’t solve problems on its own. You need this co-dependence to drive the innovation around how to adopt it." Executive buy-in is also a critical element in the adoption equation.
Another key technology that Ingram pointed to is cloud - and its mobility handmaiden. We have transitioned from a fixed wire world, he noted, to a mobile life/work style, enabled by a proliferation of mobile devices that provide access to data and applications stored in cloud environments. As a major systems integrator and consultant, Accenture has worked from early days with many of the key cloud providers, is now the largest integrator on the Salesforce.com, Microsoft Azure, Workday, SAP and Oracle cloud platforms, and with major infrastructure providers such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. In Canada, Accenture counts cloud as one of its specialist areas.
In its own client base, Accenture is seeing better traction for cloud in certain industries despite security and regulatory concerns that continue to act as barriers to greater adoption in particular jurisdictions. Companies that are already comfortable with cross-border business, Ingram argued, are likely to have fewer issues with The Patriot Act, while companies that are venturing beyond Canadian borders for the first time may be more reticent about deploying cloud. Over time, he believes that technology will evolve to address these security and regulatory challenges to broad adoption.
In Ingram’s view, the most important feature of cloud is its ability to enable innovation. Cloud capabilities are growing stronger, and more cloud players are developing new capabilities every day, he explained, which clients are taking advantage of, deploying cloud as an innovation tool since it allows for rapid experimentation, pilot and scale. Ultimately, he observed, competitive pressure within industries will force the laggards as well the leaders to consider cloud: Ingram sees competition as the primary driver of cloud adoption. In the interim, cloud deployments will likely of the hybrid variety, meaning demand for integration and advice on what areas are ripe for cloud investment will continue to offer companies like Accenture continued business opportunity. Target areas for innovation in cloud include collaboration, test/dev, CRM and simple ERP and personnel management.
In terms of Accenture’s own in house commitment to innovation, the company supports an industry focused "innovation skill domain" with virtual contributions from Accenture staff from around the world, including those housed in global research centres, who work to maintain edge on emerging technologies and with clients looking for new approaches. According to Ingram, Canadians participate in this work, and the Canadian operation also maintains an innovation team, including a Montreal-based innovation lead, dedicated to leveraging technology and other skills to stimulate innovation within client organizations. This past January, the Toronto head office also launched an Innovation Centre to help clients visualize and test out IT solutions.
On an annual basis, Accenture conducts a survey of its global client base to identify "high performers" based on IT industry metrics: as Ingram explained, the survey has shown that in any industry there are typically leaders who are "well versed, have been doing large [IT] programs for years, have made the investments, are steadily looking for value and looking for ways to use technology to drive innovation" as well as laggards that "may have dialed the spend back for many years in a row, and are now looking to catch up as they realize they have fallen behind." Which stands to achieve greater productivity and market benefit from technology enabled innovation?
For more on Accenture technology predictions, access the Accenture 2013 Tech Vision Report here.