Accenture: Old-style BPO dead and irrelevant
By Karamjit Singh January 3, 2017
- Artificial Intelligence, cloud, analytics, automation come together to change value proposition
- Biggest employee asset required today – intellectual curiosity, ability to learn new skills
ONE gauge of how Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud, analytics and automation has changed business can be seen in how it has led Accenture, global professional services company, to completely redesign its Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) proposition towards an As-a-Service model.
Where humans used to perform tasks that fell under the repeatable, measurable and transactional business processes of companies, today, Accenture relies on Robotic Process Automation or robots as its work horse.
Such has been the success of its robos that Manish Sharma group operating officer – Accenture Operations, declares the old style Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) as “dead and irrelevant”.
“We used to think of this as a labour arbitrage game where work that was based in higher cost locations would eventually be moved to lower cost locations in China, Europe or other parts of Asia,” he says. The work Manish refers to is any job that is measurable, repeatable and transactional in nature.
The technology, accounting, finance, supply chain and procurement functions in companies have been especially amenable to being relocated with companies such as Accenture building strong capabilities in managing this process for clients without compromising the value delivered and quality of work done.
But thanks to advancements in AI and automation, that work today, is now handled by robos and is no more labour intensive, with the result being that the entire outsourcing industry is changing the way it works.
Witness Accenture’s own definition. “The way we define BPO is that it is about AI driving insights and business outcomes, managed by engines, cloud and platforms with super intelligent people managing the role of robos rather than managing the jobs themselves.
And if you think the number of jobs that are now available have shrunk, no thanks to all the headlines about jobs eaten up by automation, then you will be stunned by the Accenture experience.
“In the last two years we have automated almost 20,000 roles and all the people who were handling those roles are still with us. We have retrained them to do analytics, to manage automation and to be industry advisors,” says Manish.
Which is why, when Accenture hires, it doesn’t look at any specific technical capability or skill set. Instead, relying on its internally developed aptitude test, it looks for what Manish describes as the biggest skill Accenture requires – intellectual curiosity. “That, and the ability to learn new skills set are the most important for us.”
In the new automation and AI driven world, Accenture needs talent that can adapt, learn quickly and change themselves every few years. It doesn’t want people who are stuck in box, defined by their job scope.
“Which is why we invest so much in our people, the only asset we have. And that’s my main focus,” says Manish. “How to reskill our people to be business advisors, automation experts and become business advisors.”
Automation and AI negate importance of scale
One advantage for Malaysia in the new reality of the BPO space is that the focus on higher value talent and robos means that the game is not about scale anymore – a weakness of Malaysia.
And having officially opened their newest Global Delivery Centre in Kuala Lumpur last November, but which has been in operations since June 2016, Manish (pic right) is well positioned to gauge the quality of his 300 strong KL based talent pool. And he likes what he sees.
With Accenture looking for “intelligent people”, Manish says with unequivocal conviction, “Absolutely, Yes. Malaysia has very smart, intelligent people with the right background that allows them to manage robos. You also have very good graduates coming out. There is no shortage of great engineering graduates, doctors, statiscians etc,” Manish adds.
With a pipeline of strong demand from current and new clients, Manish, in delivering a pep talk to the KL team, described them as pioneers with an opportunity of a lifetime in growing with the new robos focus.
“In India, when we launched a similar Global Delivery Centre in 2000, it took us more than a couple of years to reach the level of 300 people but in Malaysia, they have done it is a few months.”
The Malaysian Global Delivery Centre joins Accenture’s growing Global Delivery Network of over 50 centres (see chart) with Manish describing the company as having “had a great run to become the top BPO provider in the world. No one else has the size, skill and scale as us.”
With one of its core values being that all its centres should look, feel and operate in the same way with Manish not being to pinpoint any centre as being better than the rest, the key focus for Accenture is around intelligent automation platforms.
For example, one platform sits on top of client ERP or other legacy systems, able to extract the relevant information for Accenture to work on. It has another engine called, Global Productivity Hub that tracks all transaction times and productivity, with another engine that measures what percentage of a job can be automated.
Explaining the significance, Manish points out that having the various engines means that anything that is rules based can be automated. “We use the term AI because now we can even automate work that requires intelligence and we are investing a lot into both AI and Machine Learning in order to make the robos extremely intelligent.”
The belief is that this will help Accenture meet its As-a-Service model and deliver better outcomes for its clients.