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FEATURE

Cisco, Accenture Strengthen Strategic Alliance

The two companies are expanding their relationship to focus on helping clients transform their businesses through collaboration

February 24 , 2009

Five years after Cisco and Accenture first formed an alliance, the two companies are enhancing their relationship to focus on helping clients increase business productivity through collaboration, company officials say.

Andre Hughes, global managing director, Accenture &
Cisco Business Group

Collaboration – already widespread in the consumer world – holds the promise of greater productivity and reduced costs in the corporate environment. But before organizations and service providers can reap the benefits of collaboration, they must transform their business processes and underlying technologies.

With that in mind, Cisco and Accenture are expanding their go-to-market relationship to jointly develop, market, sell and deliver transformational business offerings – starting with offerings that focus on unified communications and collaboration, customer contact transformation, the call center and technology infrastructure, officials say.

For greater insight into the expanded partnership, why it's happening now and how it can benefit customers, News@Cisco spoke with Andre Hughes, global managing director of the Accenture & Cisco Business Group.

Cisco and Accenture have had a relationship since January 2004. Why are you expanding the relationship now?

Andre Hughes: Our clients have some very specific priorities they are trying to address, such as reducing costs so they can be more competitive, integrating technologies and solutions that increase productivity and drive growth, and improving customer service so they can do a better job of retaining customers. When we looked at these priorities, it became clear that skills beyond our respective four walls would be needed to effectively drive the solutions and the associated benefits in the market at the speed our clients need. Our joint, virtual organization, known as the Accenture & Cisco Business Group, brings our complementary capabilities together with the right combination of access, tools, expertise, solutions and technology.

Collaboration has been a hot market for years. What is happening now that customers need an expanded partnership between Cisco and Accenture?

Andre Hughes: Every revolution – the Industrial Revolution, the information revolution and the communication revolution, to name just three – has had technologies available that did not get used to their full potential in their early life. For example, it took 20 years for the typewriter to improve and get inculcated into the behavior set of corporate America. That's a long time. One of the barriers to adoption of a new technology, both then and now, is that people are used to a certain culture and dynamics and behavior set. The challenge is how do you get them to adopt change?

Collaboration will be as transformational as these other revolutions. It will be as significant as personal computers or office automation tools were in driving productivity. If we're smart about learning from the past, we quickly understand the need to combine capabilities. What's unique about the Accenture & Cisco Business Group is that it brings together Cisco's advanced and emerging technology with Accenture's industry-specific understanding of how technology impacts people, applications and business processes into a single seamless organization. This combination helps us to design, build and run collaboration solutions that are effectively integrated into key business processes so that clients can become more agile, more quickly.

How is this new relationship different from the existing one? Are you creating a new business model to service customers? What are you offering that is unique to your customers?

Andre Hughes: There are three main elements. First, we are putting in place a joint virtual organization of Accenture and Cisco personnel with the expertise and skill-sets to do the critical thinking required, and with the assets and technology and innovation that will drive substantial short- and intermediate-term solutions.

Second, that same team – because it's one team and not two teams – is committed to being the single point of contact for these complex and difficult challenges our clients face. It will be a joy for our clients to have one point of interface into a cadre of solutions that aren't typically provided by any one organization. Equally critical, this team will deliver solutions at speed that address these gaps in clients' current operations. This speed-to-benefit is a crucial, unique capability, especially in the current economic environment, where many clients are looking for real returns that quickly impact the bottom line.

"Collaboration will increase productivity in the same way that prior technologies like personal computers and office automation tools did."

— Andre Hughes, global managing director, Accenture & Cisco Business Group

The third element is how we leverage the complementary innovations from both companies along with skills, expertise and experience. That is going to be unique. If you're only a technology company, getting people to adopt new technologies will take a long time. You also need to offer change management, roadmaps, training and modified incentives to attract people to use technologies in a way consistent with their purpose to get the benefits promised.

Corporate customers are very much like individual consumers in that they like to consume innovation at a pace consistent with their situation and circumstance. So we've laid out a roadmap that can help them implement pieces at a time – covering strategy, design and implementation, and in some cases running operations for those same solutions. Many of our clients are interested in a do-it-yourself approach, so we are going to make resources available to allow them to implement solutions themselves. I think it will be very important to offer that capability and to really engage them as owners of the technology very quickly, to drive the uptake and style of the company after they have chosen the solutions we bring.

What strengths do Cisco and Accenture respectively bring to the table and what is their combined effect?

Andre Hughes: Without question, Cisco brings innovation in emerging technologies. Cisco's prowess in the voice and data marketplace around Internet Protocol (IP) in particular is second to none. On the Accenture side, we are known for understanding our clients' industries and their businesses, and how those businesses conduct and deliver services to their customers. Another strength of Accenture is our ability to integrate technology based on our experience in how our clients' employee bases consume new technology, and put it in practice so it's applied and the benefits are secured by the organization. Because it comes from those two parents, the Accenture & Cisco Business Group is able to deliver the essence of these two companies. And because Accenture and Cisco are market leaders in their respective areas, people will be hard pressed to find anything quite like it.

What are customers looking for in the area of collaboration that is driving the formation of this tighter integration? What pain point does it address?

Andre Hughes: The clear pain point we're all talking about these days is cost-performance and how to further optimize an organization's resources to get increased returns and incremental productivity. I think the next wave of innovation that's embodied in this word "collaboration" contains the promise of addressing this pain point.

As a proof point, take an organization's legal department. It's not usually a target for innovation, but like many other parts of the company it has to carry out certain business functions and processes to accomplish its job. At the simplest level, we're talking about contracts – contract administration, contract deliberation, negotiation and compromise to get to a final contract. But what's particularly challenging is that the legal department needs to create trust and credibility inside of their business process.

Talking on the phone is not particularly conducive to creating a significant amount of credibility or trust. As a result, there is a coyness, a potential lack of trust that comes along with those discussions, which elongate the process and challenge the terms and conditions on both sides.

But collaboration will completely transform the way lawyers work across companies. Can you imagine two lawyers in two different places having a conversation using Cisco's WebEx technology? They are able to now see precisely the document they're talking about and can each make changes online, in real time, so that one lawyer can not only hear what the other is saying but can actually see it. With the kinds of credibility and trust that will come from this, we expect the elongated process of negotiation will be significantly reduced, and the efficiency of that process will be born again.

In any process, be it legal, research and development, or supply chain-related, collaboration will increase productivity in the same way that prior technologies like personal computers and office automation tools did. Collaboration is the next wave and has the promise to drive real bottom and top line growth because of the productivity gains it will create in the enterprise marketplace.

By collaboration, what specifically do you mean? Is it more telepresence or social networking or wikis, or all of the above?

Andre Hughes: With the iPhone and technologies like YouTube and MySpace, we have seen a viral spread of usability across the consumer marketplace. We envision similar types of solutions that drive this kind of uptake in the corporate marketplace. For this to happen, two elements will be crucial.

The first we refer to as pervasive collaborative infrastructure, which can be thought of as a blueprint that encapsulates things like WebEx; TelePresence; White Space, which allows you to do annotation online; the Expert Locator Tool, which helps you find subject matter experts; and a technology that we plan to embed in WebEx called Grapevine, which will allow research and development organizations to effectively create and transform the process of ideation.

The second element, which we call business process collaboration, builds on the pervasive collaboration infrastructure, but will go further in driving out how unique business processes can be modified. In healthcare, for example, it might be used to virtualize consultations when a doctor is not physically present. It also has applications in retail, utilities, energy and government.

You are talking about collaboration, but will you look into other areas as well?

Andre Hughes: Yes. In addition to our unified communications and collaboration solution, we will also be launching a joint offering focused on call center transformation, which virtualizes the historical call center, allowing people wherever they are to take part in supplying service to the customer. It also allows you to leverage people and skill-sets wherever they are, thus connecting callers to what they need quickly and accurately, and it reduces the cost to serve across the board. Accenture has decided to implement this solution in its own operations, which will provide empirical evidence for our clients that are contemplating this solution.

We are also launching a third joint offering focused on infrastructure transformation. It cuts across multiple domains, including security, the network and the data center, and creates the foundation for the other solutions I've mentioned. We're very excited about these three entrée offerings that we're bringing to market, and we have already started down the path of joint development to create other offerings that address other priorities.

What are your thoughts on the Unified Computing trend in the data center?

Andre Hughes: There is a vision that many services and solutions that have traditionally been capitalized will be transformed through network or cloud computing. Software will be turned into a service, and these managed services will depend solely on that Unified Computing environment. Just as we purchase caller ID, call waiting and call forwarding as features of the infrastructure in the voice world, in the future we will also see Unified Computing solutions offered as managed services. We believe that network-enabled solutions will be the next wave that drives out or brings to life this notion of software as a service.

 
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