How Accenture helps firms innovate through data

Producing new ideas is at the heart of Accenture's business, with AI playing a crucial role as it faces the future.
Producing new ideas is at the heart of Accenture's business, with AI playing a crucial role as it faces the future.
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Building an inclusive and diverse business organisation is not a “nice to do” element or an add-on – it is a key driver of innovation and growth.  

Data analytics and data-driven innovation need to be viewed in the same way – as something running through the heart of any business that wants to succeed.

These two approaches are intertwined and embedded at professional services business Accenture, which employs almost 500,000 people globally and has a very strong presence in Scotland across a range of sectors.

The firm has also pioneered the concept of “applied intelligence” – a way of combining artificial intelligence (AI), analytics and data to help clients unlock business value, enhance productivity and help to create new products and services.

“Inclusion, diversity and applied intelligence are all crucial to our growth agenda,” says Les Bayne, managing director of Accenture in Scotland.

“They work together very effectively.”

Bayne says the business has passed “talking the talk” when it comes to inclusion and diversity:

“We have gone beyond facts and statistics and have baked it right into our business culture.

“We are a leader for inclusion and diversity as much as we are leaders across business sectors – and data is also key to everything we do in Scotland. In my view, sector leadership and inclusion and diversity leadership cannot exist without one another – and no business can move forward without understanding the value of data-driven innovation and how to apply it to deliver best value.”

Bayne continues: “Innovation and diversity are deeply embedded in Accenture in a corporate sense, through our diverse leadership team, through our recruitment processes and everything else. It’s a proven global method of unlocking the innovation agenda for business. It really is mission critical – in Scotland and beyond.

“If you have a diverse group, with a good mix of genders, ages and backgrounds, you will get more varied outcomes. We think Accenture is doing well but we are not complacent because we know the journey never stops.”

Megan Hughes, Accenture Digital’s artificial intelligence and analytics lead in the UK, says it is crystal clear that inclusion and diversity link directly and positively into innovation and creativity.

She explains: “Research shows businesses with inclusive and diverse teams are six times more innovative than non-diverse teams.

“There are no majorities –everyone is treated as an equal. It’s more open and creative and people are much more likely to put forward their ideas.

“If you can evolve your workforce in this way, you can deliver much better levels of innovation – and use that to serve your clients better.”

Bayne says Accenture has clear evidence that its approach is helping in terms of its recruitment processes: “This long-term commitment helps Accenture to differentiate itself and sets it apart in the market-place. It makes us more attractive to candidates and brings more value to our clients.

“This is the pathway that allows us to attract the very best talent to Accenture and to continue reinvigorating those diverse and innovative teams.”

Bayne says the data agenda in Scotland is exciting – and extremely important to Accenture.

“Data is such a growth area and we are obviously pursuing it vigorously across all business sectors, including financial services, utilities and oil and gas,” he says. “We are doing well at embedding data in all our work in Scotland, but see further strong growth potential across our client base and we continue to grow and evolve our own capability too.

“Scotland plc is putting a lot of effort behind data and we can see our clients embracing that and wanting to do more. The focus on data is a natural stepping-stone from Scotland’s strong engineering heritage and its ethical and robust approach to business. With that real ‘oomph’ behind the sector, we look to recruit and develop talent we can use in Scotland or export to work with clients worldwide.”

Accenture is actively recruiting data engineers, data scientists (including machine learning specialists) and AI engineers, and while there is a good talent pool, Hughes says the best people are very highly prized.

“There is a lot of competition out there and gaps in the data skills area that we want to bridge,” she notes. “When we recruit, we are looking for strong data skills, but also a wide range of soft skills. Problem solving is an absolute must. We want people who think outside the box and the ability to be innovative and creative is key. A desire to continually learn is absolutely fundamental.”

Applied intelligence

Talent is vital in helping Accenture deliver what its clients want in the data space – and this involves delivering applied intelligence. “At a high level, it’s about providing businesses with understanding and expertise around data, data analytics and AI – then how to derive insights from that data and subsequently business value from those insights,” says Hughes.

“In terms of specific solutions, we are technology-agnostic, so we can either use a client’s technology stack, if feasible, and adapt that – or, if a client is looking to upgrade, we can suggest a best-in-class solution. Normally, it will be a hybrid technology solution depending on the specific client business objectives being targeted, which we can also help define.”

Accenture also has strong capability in AI (including machine learning), notably ethical and responsible AI strategies and their implementation – particularly the definition of AI initiative roadmaps, correct business objectives, selection and implementation of the correct technological solutions, the establishment of AI labs, scaling up proofs of concept and, above all, measuring both strategic and project value output.

Hughes says: “Each client and industry in Scotland is at a very different stage in its AI journey. Some are more advanced than others, but while everyone is moving at a different pace, the direction is the same and AI is a theme that is playing out across all industries.

“Accenture can assist clients throughout all stages of their AI journey to deliver business benefit, and all this in an ethical and responsible as well as an inclusive and innovative way.”

The innovative mindset in Accenture means that it has embraced advanced AI technologies and enabled it to innovate around datasets. “That might include blending diverse datasets not previously combined or deriving insights from client data that haven’t been exploited to their full potential, thus unlocking value,” says Hughes.

“It’s also this mindset that lets us continually reinvent and reposition ourselves in the market place, locally and globally, enabling us to constantly challenge ourselves to be the best contemporary leading AI services company.”

This means both creating and developing bleeding edge technologies for clients, but also applying this intelligence internally and providing best-in-class solutions across all sectors.

Bayne uses a specific example where applied intelligence can add value to a business:

“Accenture has a great track record in taking proof-of-concept ideas and scaling them. Many companies are demonstrating proof of concept very well, but struggling to scale. We can help get them to that point where they can make meaningful breakthroughs.

“A key focus in Scotland is helping clients to make that jump. We are collaborative in our approach and believe that knowing the local business ecosystem, including start-ups with great ideas as well as the bigger AI players, is highly important in order to determine best in-class  solutions for our clients.”

Accenture is also keen on broader collaboration across the data space. “There is strong collaboration in the Data-Driven Innovation Initiative, especially between the public sector and academia,” says Bayne. “However, there is the opportunity to do more to amplify the agenda and get the private sector much more involved. DataLab has demonstrated the real value of collaboration to Scotland in this space and Accenture is committed to being part of that as it plays out over the coming years. It’s a really exciting time.”

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