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Why technology leaders must drive post-Covid agenda

IT has shown its worth during the pandemic and in 2021, Accenture believes business leaders will need to apply IT more strategically

There is growing evidence that companies that are at the leading edge of digital transformation have fared better during the Covid-19 pandemic than those who are less advanced in their use of IT.

The top 10% of companies leading technology innovation achieve two to three times the revenue growth of their competitors – a widening divide that Accenture calls the “digital achievement gap”.

During the launch of the company’s latest Technology Vision 2021 report, Paul Daugherty,  CTO at Accenture, discussed how volatility and uncertainty require a change in business mindset. “We are in the future, but we haven’t caught up yet,” he said. “There is a digital achievement gap.”

The companies leading tech acceleration are likely to continue to pull away from their rivals in terms of revenue growth, according to Daugherty. Eventually, those that use technology most effectively can expect to outperform their rivals tenfold. 

According to Accenture, every business will need to become a tech business. As Daugherty notes, tech proved itself by being the lifeline for business during the pandemic. If the pandemic had happened five years ago, it would have had far greater consequences, he said. “To be a leader in tech, you need to be as good as the tech giants. IT and tech used to be the roadies at a rock concert; today, IT and tech are centre stage.”

“Look at Starbucks,” said Daugherty, pointing out how the coffee shop chain used IT to remain operational during the pandemic. “At the start of the crisis, they immediately introduced new apps, which had millions of downloads and 90% of orders were taken remotely,” he said.

The company also pushed out a new integrated ticket management system to combine orders from Uber Eats, the Starbucks app and drive-through customers into a single workflow for baristas, and introduced a new espresso machine laden with sensors to help staff track how much coffee was being poured and predict necessary maintenance.

Thanks to the use of a microservices architecture, Starbucks was not only able to weather the Covid-19 storm, but also expanded into an entirely new business opportunity by partnering with Uber Eats to fulfill customer orders, said Daugherty.

Accenture’s research, published a year into the Covid-19 crisis, illustrates how quickly the world adapted to change brought on by the virus and lockdown measures imposed by governments. “It was a moment of truth for the human experience,” said Daugherty. “Eight billion people instantaneously changed their behaviour.”

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As an example, he said there was a 350-fold increase in telehealth visits. “We have not yet appreciated what this means for the human experience,” he added.

Accenture surveyed more than 6,200 business and technology leaders for the Technology Vision 2021 report. The study found that 92% of executives say their organisation is innovating with an urgency and call to action this year, and tech is set to become a key ingredient of success for businesses.

Accenture’s research found that 41% of executives report the pace of digital transformation at their organisation is accelerating, with 22% saying it is accelerating significantly.

Daugherty believes all businesses need to be at the leading edge of tech innovation, and not merely fast followers. In the past, such fast followers were able to learn from the mistakes made by companies at the cutting edge. But, according to Accenture, the gap between digital leaders and laggards grows by the day and committing to a wait-and-see approach will land companies on the wrong side of that gap.

The report’s authors warned: “Leadership demands that enterprises prioritise technology innovation in response to a radically changing world. Small pilots and incremental scaling are an obsolete luxury, and the friction between research, development and large-scale deployment must diminish or disappear.

“We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn this moment of truth for technology into a moment of trust – embracing the power of exponential technology change to completely reimagine and rebuild the future of business and human experience.”

In the report, Accenture presents five areas of technology that organisations need to consider as they build out a post-Covid IT strategy. First is a strategic IT stack that has been architected to support future business demands. The microservices architecture implemented at the Department for Work and Pensions is one example of such a strategic stack. The technology was adaptable enough to cope with the unforeseen benefits crisis that resulted from coronavirus lockdown measures.

Role of IT alongside citizen developers

In a panel discussion looking at Accenture’s Technology Vision 2021 predictions, Filippo Catalano, chief information and digitisation officer at Reckitt Benckiser, who previously worked at CIO of Nestlé, explained why he was very passionate about the idea of citizen developers.

“The democratisation of citizen innovators in the enterprise is ramping up,” he said. “There will be big challenges for tech leaders in the enterprise, in the role we take.” 

Catalano said IT will need to deliver the right frameworks with modular capabilities that enable citizen developers to address the data layers they need for applications in a secure manner. 

Accenture’s second recommendation concerns digital twins. In the report, it said the growing investments in data, artificial intelligence and digital twin technologies are giving rise to a new generation of business and intelligence, which allows systems operating in the real world to be mirrored digitally.

The third area concerns citizen developers, where the masses are able to use low-code environments to build applications without involving IT. 

The report also recognised the shift in working patterns to home working and asynchronous working, and Accenture recommended that business leaders assess how they can take advantage of this trend.

“We won’t work from home for ever,” said Daugherty. “But the future of work will be location-independent, time-independent, asynchronous, hyper-automated and human-centric to enhance the potential of employees.”

The global disruption of Covid-19 ignited a scramble for enterprises to reimagine their partnerships. Accenture believes enterprises have the opportunity to avoid rebuilding the same mistakes of the past and craft a new path forward.

With multi-party systems, said the report, enterprises can gain greater resilience and adaptability, unlock new ways to approach the market, and set new, ecosystem-forward standards for their industries.

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