Innovation comes as standard

Friday, April 25, 2008

Accenture CIO Frank Modruson explains how he standardised systems across the company and introduced Web 2.0-based collaboration tools

Frank Modruson has worked at management consulting and technology services company Accenture for many years, moving through a number of different roles before settling into the one he was most comfortable with – one that would overwhelm many other individuals.

As Accenture’s CIO, he oversees all business applications and technology infrastructure, enabling thousands of employees across 49 countries to work anytime, anywhere.

“I have been the CIO at Accenture for six years, which is a pretty long time in this business, and not a lot of my peers have weathered the storm,” he said. “I would say that I grew up here. I have worked in client-facing roles, and various other parts of the business. Now, I am responsible for the IT systems that are used by 178,000 staff – this is an interesting experience.”

Interesting is an understatement, judging by the demands these clued-up users put on Modruson. “There are a lot of very technically savvy people working at Accenture, they all really understand the technology that we work with,” he explained.

Many of the staff at Accenture are passionate about technology and would, given the chance, experiment with anything and everything that took their interest.
This kind of enthusiasm, while in many ways laudable, can cause administrative problems in an IT department that has to serve so many users, so unauthorised downloading is discouraged.

“We try to give people a lot of flexibility,” Modruson said, “but at the same time our IT systems are tightly governed. Overall, our IT is very standardised, even down to the laptops staff use, and we ensure everyone has all the software they need to do their job. We spent a lot of time planning it, and made sure we included all the relevant best practices.”

Standardising IT across such a large international business was no easy task. “It took a lot of effort to transform our IT set-up. We were dealing with a very distributed arrangement where many of the same tasks were done in different ways around the world, using different tools,” he recalled.

In order to achieve IT uniformity across the firm, Modruson promoted a transformation theme labelled “One”.

“We wanted one of everything. Through using standards I knew that we could both drive down costs, and have one version of the company ‘truth’, and we did that right across the application portfolio. By cleaning up our technology we have driven down costs,” he said.

Simplified management

One way this approach has reduced costs is by simplifying management tasks such as rolling out software updates and deploying brand new applications.
“It lets us build in new things easily, because there is only ever one thing that needs modifying. This is not the case at most companies, where there are a lot of legacy systems in place. We have been able to consolidate, and are reaping the benefits,” Modruson said.

One of these benefits has been the relatively painless rollout of Web 2.0 tools. Staff have access to Facebook-like community pages where they can post personal details and publicise their skills, and provide other information such as hobbies and interests.

“We wanted to bring social networking into the organisation because we felt it would help to enhance productivity,” Modruson explained. Accenture’s business involves a lot of remote working, which can put a strain on team cohesion. “It is not unusual for our people to spend much of their time working alone out in the field, but they still need to work as part of a team. [Social networking tools] bring staff closer together. On a simple level, you can go and look at a person you are speaking to on the phone, and you are more likely to work better with them if you know that you share some common interests,” he said.

Video-based knowledge sharing

Another Web 2.0 service was named in homage to a popular online social site. Modruson describes AccentureTube as an attempt to keep business-relevant information internal, while still being able to share it with as many people as possible in a manner that they are accustomed to. “We are trying to minimise the amount of our material that goes on the public internet, so we put all of our content in one place where it can be searched and viewed,” he said.

The Accenturepedia wiki is another example of how Accenture is adapting consumer-oriented tools for business purposes.

The idea, according to Modruson, is to give staff at work the mixture of interactive sites and user collaboration that they enjoy in their spare time.

“With these new technologies we are seeing a blending of work and social life, but at Accenture the purely social stuff is done outside of the office,” he said. “People are really curious about our internal Web 2.0 sites and are keen to share information on them.”

This transition has seen the firm stop using some of the mainstay applications found in most other enterprises. “We used to use things like Lotus Notes, but now we have much more of a web environment,” said Modruson.

Because of all these activities, and the proliferation of self-service tools, Modruson believes that his role, and indeed that of all IT directors, is changing.
“IT has become the life blood of the organisation, but it is not the brain. It is the blood that both communicates and shares things throughout the body,” he said.
Modruson believes IT managers have to move away from being the people that are concerned with the nuts and bolts of company systems and start working with the business, showing departments how they can make things happen.

“It is increasingly the case that to be successful an IT leader has to be less of a technologist and more of a business person. You need to be able to communicate to colleagues where technology is going, and how the business can benefit from it,” he advised. “IT should be invisible if possible, and when it is successful that’s just what it is. One of the things that I get the most enjoyment from in my work is telling people about a new technology that they haven’t even noticed that they were using.”

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