Editor’s note: Patrick M. Heffernan is Professional Services Principal Analyst and Practice Manager at Technology Business Research.
Accenture envisions future clients asking for technology‐laden, inherently connected, and artificial intelligence‐ enabled advice, assistance and solutions. For companies, offering anything less won’t suffice. To meet those demands, Accenture has begun remaking itself into a data‐ and experience‐driven consultancy, fusing all the elements of Accenture’s innovation streams into a consulting methodology structured enough to scale, yet flexible enough to adapt to emerging technologies and truly innovative solutions to client problems.
If Accenture succeeds, it will pull the rest of the consulting market along behind it.
On May 4, Accenture hosted a handful of analysts for a day‐long tour and client simulation session at its year‐old, purpose‐built, research‐consulting‐design‐technology center in Dublin. The center has been appropriately labeled “The Dock,” for both its location on the water and its function as a place where a multitude of diverse people and things come together. In addition to executive discussions and detailed presentations by consultants and technology geeks (data scientists, artificial intelligence engineers and analytics freaks), Accenture led the analysts through an exercise intended to mimic what clients experience in the first part of a multiday stay at The Dock.
Industry, function and technology — changing consulting at its core
The Dock could change Accenture’s consulting business, and have a ripple effect on the entire consulting industry, in large part because Accenture has moved smartly to align with three trends cutting across all consulting and IT services. First, R&D investments have shifted from bleeding‐edge innovation for innovation’s sake to quickly scalable, monetized and applied innovation. Second, automation now changes a broader array of services, driving down the costs of goods (and services) sold, with at least some of those cost savings pouring back into R&D. And third, Accenture has been making what it considers a “wise pivot,” both going digital with clients and being digital in its own operations. Capitalizing on all three trends, The Dock could put innovation and analytics inside Accenture’s consulting methodology, shifting the emphasis from experience‐based consulting to data‐led consulting. Tellingly, the concept of The Dock initially revolved around R&D and innovation, but rapidly — inside five months of operation — evolved into codeveloping with clients on‐site to address client‐specific needs. While R&D continues into areas not explicitly tied to one specific client, Accenture repeatedly confirmed a commitment to applied innovation, creating solutions that can scale and improve the company’s bottom line.
Accenture designed The Dock with an initial focus on Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, digital marketing and analytics, with industry‐specific concentrations in life sciences and public safety. As a stand‐alone facility, The Dock’s physical separation from the rest of Accenture in Dublin reflects the “agnosticism” of the center itself, operating outside the confines of Accenture Strategy or Accenture Consulting (or Accenture Technology).
Created with R&D in mind, The Dock combines elements and capabilities of Accenture Research, Ventures, Labs, Studios (Fjord and Liquid), and Innovation Centers. Staffed with plenty of emerging technology experts, Accenture also rotates through consultants who bring working knowledge of current clients and return to the client site (eventually) to ensure follow‐through. As one Accenture executive noted, “At the end of the day, it is our consulting workforce that is in the market delivering to clients what has been done at The Dock, so [it’s] critical to keep that in mind.”
Managing talent — perhaps the secret artistry that makes The Dock work
Technology wizards want to create innovative solutions, constantly pushing boundaries and melding old, current and bleeding‐edge technology. Designers craft things people want, marrying function and form. Consultants seek to solve clients’ business problems, by any means necessary, but preferably in a manner that encourages the client to seek additional advice. Somehow, someone needs to lead these disparate groups to both apply innovation to real‐world client problems and make money for Accenture. While evident artistry in leadership at The Dock has produced a successful and vibrant atmosphere to date, the obvious challenges will persist: keeping it fresh, operational and successful. Notably, most of the professionals at the Dock have been with the company for less than one year, while a small group (roughly 20%) have an average of 10 years of experience at Accenture.
TBR considers this a somewhat unorthodox move for Accenture, which has consistently invested in building decades‐ long relationships internally and organically among its managing directors. Previously, we stated, “Organically built, trusted internal relationships beyond the conversation serve as the cornerstone of Accenture’s ability to secure core business while expanding share into the company’s new domains, such as interactive services, analytics, IoT, cybersecurity and cloud.” In total, The Dock’s staff, split between Irish nationals and citizens of 24 other countries, makes up roughly 10% of Accenture’s overall Ireland‐based headcount.
Accenture showcased ongoing project work applying analytics, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies to address client problems, such as zero‐based budgeting and countering money‐laundering activities. While other professional services vendors have presented case studies and client examples, Accenture’s examples consisted of current client projects that are using bleeding‐edge technology and already demonstrating considerable cost savings or other value.
Collaboration, experience, innovation: Does it matter and can it scale?
TBR’s examination of collaborative centers continues with upcoming visits to PwC and EY in June and July, during which TBR will be looking for many of the elements Accenture pulls together at The Dock. TBR will also closely watch to see the impact of The Dock on Accenture Consulting as a whole. Having observed other collaborative centers, TBR continues to search for answers to the question: Do clients get what they expect? Can these centers retain top talent? Will the innovative work done at these centers scale? Will these centers fundamentally change the way their owners operate?