Data is the foundation of AI: Bhaskar Ghosh, Group Chief Executive, Accenture Technology Services

Bhaskar Ghosh, Accenture

The global economy is entering an exciting and unprecedented time in technology, with business models continuing to be disrupted by the advent of emerging technologies. In an interview with Express Computer, Bhaskar Ghosh, Group Chief Executive – Accenture Technology Services, shares his perspective on how technology can be used as a catalyst to create a future that fits our needs.

With new emerging technologies coming into play, how should enterprises deal with the pace of disruption and business challenges?

Enterprises with a leadership perspective will recognize that technology has undergone a transformation from playing a supporting role to one that is driving business growth and strategy. Technology is disrupting many industries by reinventing business models, processes and customer engagement and shaking up traditional norms that have defined industries for years. Retail, travel, entertainment and banking are prime examples here.

Today, a software strategy is in many ways a business strategy. New technology waves are forming, led by Artificial Intelligence, automation, Internet of Things, big data, and connected ecosystems. Enterprises must have a vision to rotate to this new world of technology to get ahead in their business and industry.

Key to this is to adopt a software applications strategy that is centered around three tenets:

• Liquid, where applications are platform-based and adopt re-usable components for rapid assembly for modification, and are based on new engineering innovations like DevOps,
• Intelligent, where applications leverage the latest advances in cognitive computing and machine learning to manage the growing complexity and velocity of change, and,
• Connected, where applications become the interface to a larger business ecosystem of partners, suppliers, and customers, and to the larger world of Internet of Things.

How do you see the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the IT services industry?
Intelligent Automation is delivering real benefits today, including better quality and consistency of services, faster, more informed business decisions and lower costs for services. Advancements in the AI domain are simplifying interfaces and adding tremendous intelligence, giving rise to new opportunities and driving unforeseen outcomes for enterprises and people.

While digital was a key reason for technology transforming to a proactive business function, the effect of both automation and AI is far more. Service, speed and experience become more critical and the focus for the technology function is beyond productivity and cost reduction; it is more about how technology can enable enterprises to operate and grow. Enterprises and business leaders are not fully aware about where they can apply AI or how to automate to achieve the best results, they rely on advice from strategic IT services advisors. Enterprises today are dealing with a multi-dimensional technology world having a plethora of tools and offerings. They are uncertain about the best choice to make and turn to IT Services experts to deal with this complexity. At Accenture, we apply our capability in identifying the “right fit” solutions for our clients and incorporate them in our automation platform, myWizard. We are making it far easier for clients to understand the ecosystem explosion and take quick decisions by taking to them a synthesized world of solutions that is in their interest.

Automation and AI are also transforming the workforce significantly and enterprises are unsure of how to manage technology investments and blend technology with people. In conclusion, a successful automation and AI strategy should include the following key aspects:

1. Strategy: First of all, it’s critical to establish an automation strategy so that the focus is not about the selection of the right tool, but about the selection of right goals for automation.

2. Scope: Enterprises need to think about the scope of automation and AI. Technology and business leaders have to decide whether the scope of applying AI is to make internal operations more efficient or to create greater impact in the business.

3. Change Management: Implementation of automation is just like change management, and the two change agents here are culture and capability. Focusing on building the right culture and capability is paramount, else enterprises will fail in their strategy.

4. Workforce Transformation: Automation and AI require that companies transform the relationship between humans and machines. It also calls for the development of new roles and skills, with the right mix of technical knowledge and business acumen.

5. Data: Data is the foundation of AI, so before enterprises embark on an AI strategy they should have a strong data strategy in place to make AI meaningful.

6. Ecosystem Innovation: To be effective, automation and AI technologies can’t be applied in isolation. The best solutions are technology-rich, integrating multiple technologies, rather than leveraging just one tool or capability. So having the right partner to offer this expertise and implement the technology strategy is critical.

How has Accenture aligned itself to this new world where automation is the norm (Some details on internal platforms being created, the type of people being recruited would help)
Continuous innovation is a mindset at Accenture. We strive to continually disrupt ourselves so that we and our clients don’t miss important shifts occurring in the ecosystem. A proof of this is how we have rotated our business to the new – in the first two quarters of our FY17, we have generated more than 45 percent of revenues from “the New”, which comprises of digital, cloud and security services.

We introduced our intelligent automation platform Accenture myWizard to clients in early 2016, and have since deployed the platform across more than 2,000 client engagements globally. We have made significant investments in automation platforms over the past two years, including our primary investment in Accenture myWizard as well as our Omni-Channel and Touchless Testing Platforms and the Accenture Robotics Solution (RPA 2.0). These investments help clients leverage the latest innovative automation and AI tools, use data extensively, scale automation in their enterprise, govern automation investments and measure outcomes.

Accenture draws upon the widest range of ecosystem alliances in our industry, collaborating with market-leading and emerging technology providers to magnify our capabilities, deliver the best of the ecosystem, and help clients mitigate project risk and speed procurement and vendor evaluation. To drive innovation in application services delivery, we are actively engaged with key intelligent automation solution providers, open source projects and academic institutions including Google, IBM Technologies, Microsoft, RedHat, SOASTA, Splunk, and Tricentis among others. Accenture has extensive external partnerships with the leading RPA software companies including Automation Anywhere, BluePrism, Fusion, Pega Robotics (OpenSpan) and UiPath, as well as strong partnerships with AI companies like IBM Watson and IPSoft. We provide input on product roadmaps, conduct pilots and collaborate on client engagements and service delivery initiatives. We are also currently engaged in several research projects at MIT focused on data and AI.

Importantly, Accenture invests significantly in training and reskilling our workforce in NEW IT. For example, in just over the last year, more than 70,000 of our technology specialists have completed an extensive NEW IT training program, including AI, machine learning and analytics driven automation. We have more than 35,000 intelligent automation-skilled professionals across Accenture globally. Within Accenture Technology Services, our diverse group of automation specialists strives to improve client service delivery.

Can you give us specific examples (example, testing) where automation has made a big impact?
The Accenture Touchless Testing Platform is the latest example of how Accenture is using AI and analytics driven automation to disrupt every aspect of the application lifecycle, and make IT an agent for speed, change and customer experience. With this unique platform we are enabling a shift from traditional testing approaches and helping testers operate smarter and more efficiently. For example, the data visualization capabilities and real-time guided interventions offered by the platform help testers make better use of data volumes generated in a test cycle and thereby prioritize work based on failure and usage patterns.

We have successfully piloted the platform with 10 clients around the world. One insurance company that piloted the platform discovered they could accelerate their pace of delivery by improving their test suite. Using the platform’s cognitive engine, Accenture identified up to 22 percent test cases as duplicates or similar that could be eliminated. By applying such insights into defect detection and analysis, test execution and retesting, the company can significantly improve the speed and quality of the software development and accelerate overall cycle time.

In another example, a leading communications company sought to accelerate testing automation, improve time to market and deliver high quality customer experiences. Accenture implemented an end-to-end intelligent automation framework and its proprietary Accenture Intelligent Tools for Test Operations, underpinned by an outcome-driven model, to drive intelligence and automation into the testing lifecycle. As a result, the client is now equipped to handle increased volumes and complexity with greater agility, better testing strategies, lower delivery effort and improved productivity. It has been able to increase automation by approximately 80 percent, achieve cost savings of more than 50 percent and reduce cycle time by approximately 50 percent while tripling the number of test devices covered. More importantly, as the client’s technology landscape gets more and more complex, they are able to stay ahead of the curve with automation.

How has this focus on automation helped Accenture? Can you give us some measurable statistics (For example, productivity improvement of 30-40% due to automation?)
Accenture’s view on Intelligent Automation is that it has to be innovative, driver great value to clients, and enable humans reach their exponential potential. The Accenture myWizard automation platform is designed around this and delivers game-changing improvements in application quality, productivity, speed to market and cost optimization.

While our platform can help people become more productive in task-related work, our focus is more towards enabling our people to deliver on client business goalsin complex areas of technology projects such as System Integration, creating SAP blueprints, SAP implementations, or system and architecture design for new technologies, to name a few. These kinds of jobs are essentially non-repeatable and require greater judgment and complex thinking, and automation can help increase productivity in the range of 10 – 20 percent in such cases. Virtual Agents from Accenture myWizard collaborate with their human co-workers to manage projects, apply analytics, make better judgment-based decisions and monitor all aspects of application development and management.

For example, the Architect agent assistant recommends the right architecture for specific technology landscapes, and the Scrum master agent monitors numerous aspects of Agile development projects and alerts the project manager of any potential issues and providing possible solutions.

How do you see the opportunities for your firm in emerging areas such as Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain?
While the promise of Artificial Intelligence is becoming clearer for enterprises, they are dealing with a lot of complexity in terms of the technology landscape, applying AI to drive business strategy, organizational culture and workforce transformation. This is a significant opportunity for Accenture to work closely with clients and guide them on where they can apply AI, drive growth and manage change.

Blockchain has the potential to release efficiency in networked business of today and also enable new products and services. Blockchain is an important area for Accenture. We are one of the founding members of Linux Foundation Hyperledger project, Ethereum Enterprise Alliance and we have close alliances with top platform providers.

We are already engaged in multiple projects with various clients on Blockchain. Starting with strategy and business case definition, workshops, platform evaluation and support, pilots to production, we are engaged across various use cases. These include capital markets infrastructure, cross border payments, re-insurance, supply chain, trade finance, energy utilities, government and public sector services.

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