‘I am a strong believer that today’s digital worker comes preconfigured’

26 May 2017

Accenture CIO Andrew Wilson. Image: Accenture

For our five-minute CIO series, we talked to Accenture’s Andrew Wilson about millennials and keeping his 400,000-strong workforce at the cutting edge of tech.

As chief information officer for Accenture, Andrew Wilson leads global IT operations and drives the digital agenda of a $32.9bn company. This includes the infrastructure, services and applications that enable people to work anytime, anywhere, to serve clients in more than 120 countries.

Wilson ensures that Accenture is at the forefront of innovation as a digital business, from mission-critical applications to the network, from e-mail and laptops to enterprise social media and collaboration tools.

‘60pc to 70pc of my organisational functions didn’t exist when I took over as CIO. That’s a reflection of our pivot to the new ideology, philosophy, character and content of what CIOs do nowadays’

Wilson leads CIO ecosystem products and services and, in this capacity, is responsible for Accenture’s buy-side relationships with strategic suppliers as well as supplier management services delivered to clients. He also serves as the company’s global LGBT network sponsor.

Wilson takes a unique approach to being CIO of Accenture. He hosts his own in-house TV show CIO Live, broadcasting IT developments in the business to the wider workforce. He does so on a quarterly basis to the entire IT organisation, opening with a monologue and including chats with guests from across the business and the Accenture leadership team. He uses this show as a communications vehicle to drive the digital agenda of Accenture, advocating that the role of the CIO lies in bringing technology into every aspect of the organisation in a proactive and forward-thinking way.

Wilson also helped with the formulation of the design of The Dock in Dublin, Accenture’s new creative design R&D work space. In February, it emerged that Accenture is to hire 300 tech and design professionals in Ireland this year, including 100 new roles at The Dock.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

We aren’t that big systems integrator of old – I actually support well over 400,000 and contractors as well. We are a big global workforce that is much more distinctive than it used to be, in that we have process operators, doctors and nurses, industrial engineers, consultants, strategists, you name it.

We are the largest non-TV digital ad agency in the world, so we have a lot of creative design types. It is a much bigger community.

And then we have the characteristics of being widely spread – 400,000 permanent employees in 200 cities in 55 countries.

My job is to run all of these systems and also to run the billions of dollars of P&L, as you would expect in terms of any large corporate. My job is to work out what an IT posture will be for the next generation.

We are very heavily millennial. We brought 95,000 millennials on board last year, an influx of new, younger DNA. The work we do is very different to the classic programming-type things we used to do – we are a lot more agile and liquid. We move faster, we are more cell-like, using agile and new techniques.

I like to be a sandbox for all of that.

How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it?

My technology posture: I am 72pc in the cloud, which is a very progressive position to reach by way of cloud, and tends to eclipse most organisations that we work with or speak with. We are the fastest deployment of Windows 10 in the world, we are heading towards 260,000 Windows 10s this week, and we’ll be at 300,000 and ultimately 400,000 within a few months.

We are big on platform consumption. The days of doing it yourself in the data centre are gone. The platform providers such as SAP, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Office 365 etc are the major platforms that power everything. I configure, integrate, broker and orchestrate those through a series of microservices, and that is the new IT posture.

We spend a lot of time working with our clients to transform to that posture. My job is to ensure that we will get there first so that we can be a beacon for this and eat our own dog food, which is at the heart of the digital strategy that I have had.

My driver really was that I had to create a relevant workspace in its broadest term that would compete with Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc, who are big, exciting, worthy brands that offer a distinct career proposition for the young, digital native. I have to look and feel like that and pivot from the old.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology roll-out across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

We have a very defined technology organisation. We don’t have lots of shadow IT, which is a big win in an organisation of 400,000 people who all think they are the CIO. We run services that are sticky, social, friendly and informative, to keep them focused, creative and productive.

My objective is to create a firm and open environment in which to work. You will see evidence of a lot of that at The Dock in Dublin. That is pretty core.

The backroom has become the front office. We are a great credential in the market for ourselves.

I tell Satya [Nadella] in Microsoft that we are great credential for you guys because we have more Windows 10 than you, we are more in the cloud than you and I am not you. They like that and we enjoy that glue within the ecosystem and that, hopefully, gives you a flavour of the sort of things we do.

Orchestrating a technology vision for 400,000 people to follow simultaneously cannot be easy. How do you do this with clarity?

I am a strong believer that today’s digital worker comes preconfigured and pre-trained. To fight that kind of DNA would be silly. It would be expending effort you don’t need to expend.

If a digital worker is used to Netflix, Wikipedia, YouTube, Skype, Snap, Slack – that informs their lives. If they watch content on demand or binge on House of Cards or watch half an episode a week, they have all that choice. The enterprise has to feel like that.

I don’t want to see communications in email. I don’t want people overwhelmed with an inability to search a massive global database. I want them to be able to go to what they need when they need it, and present it to them in subscription-based, channel-based, socially-based construct.

I want them to bring their own kit to work. I want them to be able to use Windows and Macs, I want them to be able to have fun.

I like to try and be a role model. The CIO Live TV show, that came out of the fact that my technology organisation runs a lot of things that are actually not technology services. So we built and operate our own TV network. It was a bit of a forward step because we are not a marketing and comms operation, and yet, through that, we have built the best relationship with marketing and comms we’ve ever had.

We are a content producer and we do it to broadcast standards – we have our own producers and directors.

When Oprah closed down in Chicago, I was a little bit opportunistic with resources and that’s how we built our production capability. We had a lot of history using telepresence technology, so we brought it all together and now do hundreds of events per month with different levels of production value – Tonight show meets technology, which is what CIO Live is.

What other ways have you harnessed social and new enterprise to good effect?

We are influenced by the social tools our millennial workforce are accustomed to. For example, we have The Stream, which is our take on Facebook. We have the ability to participate in real time in surveys through the fabric of the show. We are also the biggest consumer of Skype for Business on the planet. We do 309m minutes of audio a month – that’s how Accenture works and operates.

We could not exist in a telephone era.

And all of that will change when Microsoft Teams arrives.

Microsoft Teams, Slack, Trello, Wrike … all of these are the new face of productivity and collaboration. How are you employing them in Accenture?

I like them but you will notice I am veering away from them because they don’t secure or scale in the way the enterprise needs. I need something that is much richer than Slack, I need it to be able to leverage other investments I’ve got.

Microsoft Teams, for example, is not equal to Slack because it is going to be much, much more.

I have the biggest OneDrive in the world, 1.3 petabytes and rising. That is a huge, latent, untapped data source that used to be hidden on everybody’s laptop.

No one is producing PowerPoint decks or emailing each other anymore. When it comes to training, for example, we are influenced by platforms such as Wikipedia.

Training has changed forever. We have created what we call Learning Boards, which are self-curated, massively subscribed, incrementally updated, digital places that eradicate the need for the classic hour-long or day-long training modules.

I am working to ban the old style of training. We don’t want people flying all over the world to attend classic training centres. Instead, we have created Learning Boards, where faculty and staff can beam in and learn in their own time.

The Dock in Dublin is a great example of a whole series of newly imagined spaces that we have at Accenture, under banner of a reconfigurable start-up atmosphere, with an open, warm culture. Teams can wheel things around and build the spaces they want.

60pc to 70pc of my organisational functions didn’t exist when I took over as CIO. That’s a reflection of our pivot to the new ideology, philosophy, character and content of what CIOs do nowadays.

As the impact of WannaCry becomes apparent and more shocks will no doubt follow, as CIO, how do you go about securing 400,000 people?

It’s a constantly changing landscape. You put security at the heart of the agenda, not a wraparound or the thing you do at the end. You design services with security at the core. You challenge the organisation to upgrade to a user experience that includes security like two-factor, like mobile device management.

You educate. We have produced Hackerland, which is similar to the TV show 24, with all the split-screen graphics, dramatisation etc. It teaches through drama what to do and what not to do in a personal security situation. I am not going to say it makes it fun, but it makes it digestible.

You make security part of your operation. We have a very good patch currency posture on our mobile assets and fleet of servers, whether they are cloud-based or not.

Any CIO needs to have that very close to the top of their priorities because it is not a case of achieving and drawing a line or ticking a box, it is constantly maintaining that front against cyber incursion in all of its forms.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years