How AI is influencing Accenture’s new technology mix

Artificial intelligence is set to play an increasing role in how Accenture solves customer problems.

Artificial intelligence (AI) still plays a relatively minor role in Accenture’s brimming arsenal of technology products and services, but the company is seeing an increasing amount of interest from clients in the maturing technology.

Accenture has made great strides over the past several years to make the transition from being merely one of the world’s largest consulting firms into a multi-disciplined professional services company that encompasses digital services, technology, operational services and, of course, consulting.

In the expanding range of technology solutions the company employs to help solve its clients’ problems, AI still plays second fiddle to some of the more widely-used options, such as cloud-based enterprise software or outsourced data services.

But according to Accenture’s operations lead for Australia and New Zealand, Jordan Griffiths, AI is becoming an increasingly popular topic for clients, with the technology set to pave the way for some big changes among enterprises over the coming years.

“AI is growing,” Griffiths told ARN. “There’s a lot of interest, which is great. It’s still at quite an early stage, however; it's in the incubation stage.

“It’s fair to say that in the corporate world, AI isn’t mature, but there are some really good examples of it being used in bespoke areas.

“Right now it’s not a huge part of my business. But it will be in a year’s time, two years’ time; I would expect it to be growing, and we are getting a lot of interest from our clients about it now."

According to Griffiths, automation has played a part in Accenture’s services portfolio for a long time, and the evolution of AI in the company's offering has emerged from this background, with the growing demand for process automation playing a big role in how AI is being employed.

“[AI] is going to be part of the service offering, and it’s going to be more relevant for certain activities,” he said.

“The areas of a business’s operation that are knowledge work, or repeatable, AI can go in and figure those out, leverage all the analytics and data much faster than a human can. I think AI will play a huge role in that.”

Accenture is doing much of its automation work through the use of mini-bots, which can handle small, single-task transaction automation.

When many of the bots are put together, the can combine to create a consistent end-to-end process, according to Griffiths.

As for the AI and learning involved in automated processes, Griffiths points to the use of so-called cogni-bots which, like mini-bots can be combined in numbers to learn and work together.

“Then we have Artificial intelligence,” Griffiths added.

From Griffith’s perspective, up until a few years ago, AI was still very much in the scientific and university spheres.

Today, however, Accenture works closely with its ecosystem partners like autonomic and cognitive technology company, IP Soft, to collaborate on “proper” AI,

This capability, according to Griffiths, is helping Accenture to recognise business problems from a customer's perspective.

“These things are real, and they’re live, and we use them for our clients,” Griffiths added.

"The benefit of them lies in solving the client’s problem, which is often about improving customer experience, eliminating and reducing cost, or providing an adjunct to a new service.

“AI plays a crucial role in that because it provides new experiences, and a better experience in terms of getting a customer problem solved faster."

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Not only does the use of AI in automated processes have the potential to improve things like customer experience, it also presents the opportunity to replace real people with technology.

While Griffiths does not shy away from the likelihood that such technology will lead to the loss of certain roles, he stresses that it won’t necessarily lead to additional unemployment.

“In the next three years, this technology is likely to impact around 20 per cent of the jobs in the market, but I would expect that 20 per cent to be reinvested in new jobs and new opportunities,” he said.

“Digital creates that new opportunity, and it creates so much more agility for businesses to get into new services and new products, so it’s not that it won’t be reinvested, they just will be different jobs.

“A accounting and auditing – very clearly, they are process driven, driven by rules – and those rules evolve and learn over time. They are perfectly suited to artificial intelligence.

“The jobs that are clearly going to continue in Australia, will be artists, creative roles, and roles that involve meeting with people."

Accenture’s adventures in AI are just a small part of the company’s broader technology push, which has seen it acquire a number of smaller technology players to build out its offering, and enter a raft of technical partnerships with other organisations to extend its breadth of expertise and bolster its capabilities.

In addition to IP Soft, Accenture claims around 10 other core partners that it works with in the automation space, including Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism.

Even its relationships with more traditional partners like SAP and Oracle have helped the company push into the AI and automation space.

Meanwhile, the company has not been shy about forking out to buy technology companies it likes the look of.

In 2013, Accenture completed its acquisition of service design consultancy, Fjord while locally, the company bought digital agency, Reactive.

It also bought cloud advisory and technology services firm, Cloud Sherpas, in 2015 and, more recently, acquired Australian consulting company, Redcore, which plays in the security space.

“We’re continuing to evolve our business and spending, globally, a significant amount of money in ventures – which is what we call acquisitions, and sometimes in strategic partnerships,” Griffiths added.

“We’re investing in the bits that are unique to the industry or the client challenge that we focus on. Some of these partners that we leverage, they’ve got the capabilities that cover multi-industries, and therefore that allows us to invest specifically on a problem."

It is no secret that Accenture is continuing to evolve its business. It is pushing “very hard” into innovation, according to Griffiths, who views the company as no longer a traditional player, but rather a facilitator of overall strategy execution, which might involve consulting, technology, operations, and digital -- or all of the above.

The evolution of the “new Accenture”, however, does take some customer education, according to Griffiths.

“Often, we take the time to educate our clients, because often our clients think of us as being only a consulting company, or just as a technology company," he said.

"Sometimes, now, people think of us as a digital company. We are a bit of a fabric of a whole bunch of different companies that have come together to support our clients."