Accenture: Access to a Broad Spectrum of Knowledge – Umar Riaz

With emerging markets on the march and changing technology resulting in the implementation of more collaborative business models, the consultancy and outsourcing business is going through a period of significant adjustment. Accenture’s Umar Riaz tells Rod James how his company’s technical expertise and extensive delivery network make it well placed to face the challenges of an increasingly competitive industry.

As the consultancy and outsourcing industry continues to grow, so an increasing number of competitors are queuing up for a slice of the pie.

Large, established players such as Accenture face competition not only from US and European heavyweights, but from a raft of Indian IT services and outsourcing firms. In addition, the global economic downturn has hit the industry hard and companies that battened down the hatches in response are slowly beginning to open them again. Senior executive Umar Riaz is confident, however, that Accenture still has a superior package to offer its customers.

Accenture’s main driver is adding value to a customer’s business. Increasing efficiency and reducing overheads on fundamental IT and business processes frees up valuable time and money to be spent on moving a company forward. But with IT systems needing to be constantly maintained and upgraded, striking the right funding balance between maintenance and innovation is not easy.

A good example of this need to compromise is the $200m deal Accenture struck earlier in the year with hotel and leisure giant Starwood for a range of IT application and infrastructure outsourcing services.

"IT is no longer split between software and hardware, but is offered as a service in its own right."

"With more businesses becoming IT intensive, the hospitality industry being a great example, innovation in technology becomes the mark of a company," Riaz says. "We work with management teams to help lower the cost of technology and make it more efficient, freeing up our customers’ resources. We also carry out day-to-day operations, allowing our clients’ valuable resources to be geared towards innovation."

The creation of this value is supported by a vast internal network. The sheer size of Accenture’s business reach, spanning more than 200 cities, affords it the flexibility to respond to business challenges and gives it a foothold in the increasingly important developing world. It has conducted business in China for more than 20 years and has a strong presence in Brazil, India, Russia and South Korea.

"We have resources across the globe that allow our customers to react quickly to market conditions," Riaz explains. "We have a delivery network that can serve clients on virtually every continent and major city in the world."

As well as expansive delivery capabilities, the expertise of Accenture’s employees extends across 18 industries under five operational categories. The company’s research and development laboratories combine technical knowledge with sharp business acumen to find ways to apply technological principals to company operations and boost efficiency. Customers have direct access to these insights and can harness them in the development of their own processes.

"One example of this is in the hospitality sector," Riaz notes, "where we have put a lot of work into developing assets for property management systems. Using pre-built assets and capabilities such as this gives our clients the ability to jumpstart their own internal expertise."

This depth and breadth of knowledge combines with strong interconnectivity between the company’s consulting, technology and business process outsourcing divisions, making Accenture a one-stop shop for all customer requirements. This broad capability, in Riaz’s opinion, is one of the company’s major advantages.

"Our clients demand deep industry insight and partnering with us gives them access to all of our resources and knowledge capital," Riaz explains. "We are differentiated because we have end-to-end capabilities and knowledge across the spectrum."

Ongoing value

This amalgamated service, besides offering a comprehensive package, allows a great degree of flexibility to adjust to changing customer demands. Accenture deals with many different kinds of clients, some sophisticated outsourcers, others just starting out.

The company’s agility allows it to provide a range of services, from carrying out broad system overhauls to squeezing extra value out of established models, a key capability at a time when globalisation is leading to increasingly diverse and fragmented corporate operations. Such versatility is also useful during times of financial volatility, when strategic priorities, costs and project scope can change overnight.

"We have a flexible business model," Riaz says. "This allows us to scale or de-scale our services according to business needs and ensures that our clients are always optimising costs."

The true value of Accenture’s service is not just in the product itself, however, but in the way that the product is offered to the customer. The company’s services are delivered through a collaborative partnership model, not sold in a one-off transaction. Its teams look to gain a detailed understanding of the client’s operations and the strengths and weaknesses of its balance sheet, often becoming involved in the day-to-day running of its IT or business arm.

"You can’t just provide one-time value. We offer an ongoing value proposition," Riaz explains. "We make a point of getting to know our client’s business and make arrangements with them that are outcome-based. We take shared responsibility for the results. This ensures that we are working with our clients to maximise the benefits that they can extract from our service."

 As well as helping clients derive as much as they can from Accenture’s expertise, such a collaborative approach allows employees to make a smooth transition from old models to more efficient, yet unfamiliar ones. Offshoring and outsourcing often involve change. Helping individuals adjust to new systems is, according to Riaz, as important as the efficacy of the new model itself.

"For example, employees may have to get used to IT resources being provided from a different time zone to the one they are working in," Riaz notes. "We have to ensure that we work with all of a client’s stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition, because, if left unchecked, it could prove a significant barrier to successful outsourcing."

Technology in a new light

This increased level of collaboration is in keeping with the paradigm shift being seen in information technology. New innovations such as cloud computing, in which physical infrastructure is discarded and server space rented from a third-party provider, will require much closer inter-company cooperation and could lead to significant cost savings.

"With regard to business process outsourcing, you will see more and more moving from non-core to core."

 Over the medium term, Riaz sees these developments fuelling demand for consultancy and outsourcing services and believes that Accenture will become even more deeply imbedded in its clients’ operations.

"Technology is evolving in a way that is more focused around partnership," Riaz says. "IT is no longer split between software and hardware, but is offered as a service in its own right."

He also foresees a broadening in the range of services deemed suitable for outsourcing, with more core processes coming under consideration. Areas such as finance, accounting, human resources and procurement have already become fairly routine partnerships for companies working with Accenture and this list is likely to expand.

"With regard to business process outsourcing, you will see more and more moving from non-core to core," Riaz explains. "Examples of this include revenue management in the travel industry, clinical data management in the pharmaceutical industry and inventory management in the retail industry." Accenture, with its broad range of expertise and a global delivery network, combined with a flexible, outcome-based approach, will undoubtedly continue to play a leading role in this development.

"We have built a formidable advantage in terms of our deep industry expertise," Riaz says. "And when you couple that with our core knowledge of consulting, technology and outsourcing, it creates a powerful combination in the market place. We are a great partner for a lot of our clients going forward."