On the brink of a mass cloud and analytics uptake

10 Jun 2011

Accenture senior executive Edel Lynch points Siliconrepublic.com to a unique moment in the business world’s use of IT where revolutions in cloud, analytics and skills combine to give organisations undreamed of flexibility and insight.

Siliconrepublic.com: Do you believe firms still distrust the cloud or do you think we’re on the eve of mass uptake?

As with many new technologies, platforms and services, there is almost always some apprehension around adoption in the initial period when teething problems are being uncovered and addressed. Certainly, the security breaches of recent months have not helped to allay companies’ fears about moving to the cloud but increased risk is part of the new technology world we live in, and many organisations view it as something to be carefully managed on a phased basis. Our clients are already using cloud and those who currently are not are considering how to begin.

The Harvey Nash CIO Survey 2011 finds that private cloud services have been exploited for core business activities to the greatest extent of any innovation technologies (22pc) in the last year, suggesting cloud is very much to the fore of the IT agenda. Although perhaps not surprisingly, public cloud services have the highest discontinuation rate at 17pc. This may down to security concerns but it’s just as likely to be a result of the short-term nature of some projects being delivered via the cloud. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that this finding is a negative, it could, in fact, be interpreted as an example of cloud playing to its strengths: a turn-on, turn-off service that doesn’t require the same level of capital investment as traditional approaches.

Many of the same principles apply to cloud computing as with other IT systems and solutions. Companies have to be comfortable with the level of protection offered to data by their cloud service provider and ensure the audit and data management capabilities are sufficient for their needs. This means having in place preventative, detective and reactive processes; obviously the preference would be to detect and prevent problems before they become full-blown data breaches, through auditing of people, processes and technology, but it’s equally important to have established procedures and protocols for if and when a breach does occur so that it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

While migration to the cloud is not one-size-fits-all, it can provide flexible and cost-effective solutions for certain elements of the IT function and in our view, companies need to start with a set of limited objectives and then grow into the cloud. This kind of incremental approach can promote learning, mitigate risks and reduce the difficulties of replacing existing technologies, organisational culture, structures and sourcing arrangements.

It’s also important to get detailed information about suppliers’ capabilities and consider these in the context of a company’s own business strategy and technology trajectory. Involving business sponsors who have compelling business goals for cloud can help drive adoption and realise the business potential residing in cloud technologies. Above all, though, cloud is a service-based phenomenon, so success will ultimately depend on everyone – clients and providers alike – adopting a strong service ethos.

Siliconrepublic.com: Analytics is tipped to be the next big wave in IT investment. How do you think analytics will be realised in the ordinary business world?

In the past few years, the ability to mine and use analytical data to shape business decisions has become a growing source of competitive advantage. In fact, Accenture research shows that high-performance businesses are five times more likely to use strategic analytics compared with low performers. The application of business analytics technology has become increasingly sophisticated over the years, evolving from an operational level which provides real-time information, to a strategic level, which provides predictive information.

Analytics has applicability across many and varied industries and for both large and small organisations. Every organisation should understand the data they posses and using statistic modelling to some degree or another to help make sense of this information for commercial purposes, delivering a more sophisticated understanding of their business and their customers’ needs and behaviours. This drives better business strategy, more informed decision making and better business outcomes. 

From a compliance point of view, analytics is an invaluable tool in the detection and elimination of process error and fraudulent activity.  For example, it has already been widely used by the insurance industry for claims processing. In its most sophisticated form, predictive analytics can be used to forecast future trends and therefore new sources of revenue and in time, the Dublin centre will expand to wider cross-functional and cross-industry predictive analytics services.

In the Harvey Nash report, business analysis has been identified by Irish and global CIOs as one of the top 3 skills required by the IT department over the next 12 months. While business analysis and the ability to use analytical technology is not strictly the same thing, it nonetheless highlights the fact that companies are thinking in this space. It also demonstrates that management is paying greater attention to cross-functional information and outcomes in order to develop a view spanning the entire organisation and not just one element of it.

In May this year, we opened an Accenture Analytics Innovation Centre in Dublin, which will initially focus on the development of sophisticated compliance-related analytical solutions, to help clients better manage fraud, waste and error. Client work is already under way at our Dublin centre, which will not only provide services to the Irish market but to clients in the UK and beyond. We will be working with our local Revenue client out of the new centre and we are actively recruiting people for 100 highly skilled positions over the next three years. 

Accenture has been involved with business analytics for over three decades now and it constitutes a critical component of our business offering. This is evidenced by the fact that we have a global network of specialised innovation centres dedicated to the research and development, and delivery, of predictive analytics. Each of the nine existing centres has a specific remit but they all serve to address a wide range of issues that companies may be facing as they seek to glean deeper insights from data and to improve decision-making processes.

The 13th annual Harvey Nash CIO Survey will be unveiled on Tuesday, 14 June, at 6pm at The Gibson Hotel, Point Village, Dublin.

Photo: Accenture Ireland senior executive Edel Lynch, who will be speaking at the launch of the 13th annual Harvey Nash CIO Survey

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