Royce Bell steers Accenture's massive commitment to information management.
As CEO of Accenture's Information Management Services, Royce Bell is the public face of an aggressive, $100 million practice aimed at managing and leveraging both structured data and unstructured content for clients. Launched in July 2005, with an initial commitment of 5,000 consultants, the reorganized information management arm already marshals closer to 10 percent of Accenture's 120,000 global specialists covering dozens of information services. Backed by estimates of nine percent annual growth and a $27 billion market in 2007, Accenture's foray into information management has been embraced by partners that are among the largest hardware and software vendors in the industry. Recently, DM Review Editorial Director Jim Ericson sat down with Royce Bell to sort out the dimensions of the new information boom.
DMR: You're at the head of a huge umbrella of roles and services at Accenture. What was the thinking behind the creation of your CEO position?
RB: The CEO role I was given is a bit of a departure for us, but the premise was that I should spend more time in the marketplace and less time on internal stuff. My job is to get our vision out to the marketplace, make sure our alliances are working properly and attract as much talent as possible to the group we've built. Those three things are the focus of my average day.
DMR: How long has information management been a formal practice within Accenture?
RB: We have always had a practice within architecture and technology consulting that looks after business intelligence (BI) and, of course, there's a content management practice. The idea to bring them together actually started a couple of years ago when we did some research with our friends at IDC. We saw that structured and unstructured data were coming together, and since then we've seen all the consolidation of both software companies and technologies. We decided we should be looking at it in terms of an overall information management view. Don't get me wrong; I don't think the market is there yet, but if we're talking about horizons, we're at horizon one-and-a-half now.
DMR: Some would observe that information management looks like a bundling of services for data, BI, content management and portal services with no end-to-end solution.
RB: I think that's absolutely fair to say. "Holistic" is not one of my favorite words though it is an interesting view of the world. At this moment, information management is an approach that addresses what information is important, what you should be doing with it, how you should be measuring it and then technology is the last bit. Up until now we've only gotten to the diagnostic and strategic stages; beyond that there isn't a single product set without a lot of weaknesses. We think about how we can deal with one or two critical components within an architecture that will grow as we get into them. It is separately interesting, though, that we've seen Business Objects and Informatica acquire data quality providers. We've seen Hyperion move into BI, and the BI guys move into finance performance management. They're all trying to get out of being a single-thread technology and trying to provide a more complete solution.
DMR: Does that make information management a series of point projects with some sort of enterprise strategy behind it?
RB: The Accenture story is all about trying to align what we're doing with the value levers that create high-performing businesses. It's simply asking, "In what ways can we make the best use of information as an asset?" and then picking the right stuff. Of course, compliance has really brought this into focus. If you're a bank and you don't watch what's happening in your email, it will cost you money. If you don't manage the data in a knowledge-driven business like ours, you're not managing the important stuff. The consultancy world is always going to be there if you want a point solution, but we'd rather be in the transformational game because that tends to add more value. We sell information diagnostics and a strategy that helps you determine what's important. When we talk to a CIO about a new document management or reporting tool, we'd like to say, "Have you thought about what you've already got and where you're going generally?" or "Where will you be in two years if you carry on the way you're doing things?" You want to learn from the past and not end up with different solutions that don't talk together so you don't have to come back and fix it with enterprise integration or something else.
DMR:Is the CIO the preferred level to engage with the client and set strategy?
RB: In some cases, yes. A lot of the work also comes through CFOs and CMOs, so we provide a matrix of services. We've got people who understand the utilities industry or the insurance industry or a subset of an industry. Then we have horizontal groups of people who know what CFOs and CMOs worry about. In those cases, we're much like the CIO component, though the whole thing is fuzzier than that because of the way the world works. Much of the work has come from CFOs or CMOs asking an "I don't know who our customers are and what business we've done with them" type of question. But as we launched, CIOs themselves started to see their shops running out of control. They have departmental solutions; they have data flying all over the place. The CIO conversations I have had are either about sorting things out internally or possibly about outsourcing in some form, which is a whole different topic in terms of the business model.
DMR: How are you managing this organizationally at Accenture?
RB: We've recently made a decision to break out the whole data management architecture piece into a separate domain. We've tended to leave data management, architecture and related things under BI, which sat alongside content management and portals in our older presentation. That doesn't fit with the idea of getting people to understand and embrace the whole information management picture. So, we're breaking out our data and architecture gurus into a group that will look at structured and unstructured data rather than just being data warehousing geeks.
DMR: Does this take us back to the old enterprise architecture discussion?
RB: It does, though the enterprise architectures we were looking at 10 years ago at the height of the ERP wave, at least in my old industries, didn't think about data properly. We only thought about specific data types like transactional or perhaps master data. We'd have these wonderful process-oriented ERP systems turning transactions, but we were making no real use of all the information inside. We augmented that with non-ERP stuff to make some contextual sense of it. In those days people drew their architectures in terms of applications and pointed arrows everywhere to describe data flows. And then someone would come in with an overlay that had Oracle or SAP written on it. That was pretty much an enterprise architecture project in those days. Now, people are starting to think more about sources and uses of information concepts akin to the way they think about sources and uses of financial concepts.
DMR: Are these information concepts directed at specific business process issues?
RB: Absolutely. One of the most exciting investments we're making is in near real-time or point-in-time, process-aware BI. There's a lot of work going into that because people would like to avoid doing business activity monitoring for the whole enterprise. They pick a critical process and see if they can measure that in a sort of operational dashboard rather than an "Uh, oh, our results were down last month, let's go find out why." We have read many comments in your publication from people like our friends at Teradata and QlikTech who are saying the same thing. I think that's quite an early technology; it will probably be 12 months before we start to see anything big coming from that space.
DMR:Doesn't it start by diving into a business process and elevating data at the stress points?
RB: One of the interesting things we're doing now involves sampling techniques. I like the concept of the data warehouse, but the idea of embarking on a project in which you put every single bit of data or metadata associated with your company into a repository would bore most people. The same thing applies if you decide to look at every process in your company. I think technology has made a little leap forward that now lets you intervene in a given process by sampling and finding the chokepoints. We could look at all the process points in customer acquisition, but it might be more interesting to try to make an intuitive guess about where the blockages normally arise. We can measure a blockage in transaction processing or telephone wait time for a little while and see if our guess is true. Coming out of that, you can perform root cause analysis that might get you to some nonintuitive point on the process that you should be measuring. Everyone is looking for an actionable event, as the expression goes, and it might be anywhere along the process. Now, the idea is, "Let's pick one," and preferably you're doing this by talking to someone on the job rather than someone who just manages the measure.
DMR: How do you make information management evolutionary as opposed to just more work on everyone's plate?
RB: I sometimes tell people that ERP started with a group of people who had this weird idea that we could take all these individual applications, put them into one and link it all up. I think information management has to go the same way. But there's a lot of work ahead to make sure that the conversations go on at the industry level with clients before they're at the technology level of architectures or frameworks.
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