With $100M market cap, >$35 billion in revenues, and 425,000 employees, Accenture is arguably the largest professional services firm in the world. With no products, Accenture’s greatest asset is its people… they sell human capital. Therefore, decisions about how to deploy that massive complex asset are crucial to the business.
There are a host of challenges that come with managing such a large human capital machine, both internally and externally. As it moves forward, Accenture is thinking about leveraging the power of the crowd in many ways.
Accenture Operations’ is Accenture’s business unit that grew out of BPO (Business Process Outsourcing). The unit now manages BPO as well as Cloud, infrastructure services, and other “operational” offerings. Accenture has become the market leader in BPO, with >$8B in sales and hundreds of thousands of FTEs. The core of this business is labor arbitrage. Accenture manages and executes entire business functions (i.e. administrative processes) for its clients, usually using well-trained labor in global markets (i.e. India).
While this business has been an excellent source of growth for Accenture, the overall BPO business is under pressure due to rising labor costs, increases in automation, and other competitive factors. Many of Accenture’s competitors are struggling in this business, while Accenture has maintained a strong position. Despite this position, Accenture realizes that it cannot continue to dominate business operations services by just having a large offshore workforce. Furthermore, even as a market leader, Accenture could be far more efficient in the way it deploys labor and utilizes its workforce. Therefore, Accenture is exploring ways to leverage the crowd to improve its Operations business. The company is piloting several models, including leveraging external crowdsourcing capabilities or building its own internal capability to source and deploy the right labor for the right job. Ultimately, I see Accenture developing a sophisticated internal platform for its core BPO offerings (F&A, supply chain, marketing, infrastructure, procurement), and using that platform to efficiently allocate resources. These resources may be FTEs (full time employees), or we may eventually reach a state where many of the resources are external contractors or external “crowds” of professionals that Accenture allocates and manages.
One of the most difficult parts of running a massive consulting operation is project staffing. Accenture HR not only has to hire a massive workforce, but they also have to work with upper management to staff the work that is sold. Like most consulting firms, much of this is done on an ad-hoc basis – through internal networking. Sometimes it is done randomly. Either way, Accenture understands that they need to become more efficient in allocating the right people to the right projects, and to make sure its resources are not underutilized (FTEs sitting on the “bench” is a major cost for all consulting firms). Additionally, from an employee perspective, one of the largest pain points is getting staffed on projects. Everyone who was worked in consulting has been staffed on a project they had no interest in or didn’t have the right skill set for. This is less pronounced in high-end strategy work, where the pool of resources is smaller and the employees have broader skills sets. However, even within strategic consulting, there is lots of under-utilization and plenty of bad staffing. In large consulting engagements like change management or in large systems integration projects, efficient staffing of the right people becomes paramount.
Accenture is constantly searching for a more efficient allocation mechanism for all its projects. One solution is to develop a firm-wide internal matching platform for staffing.. basically an internal crowdsourcing platform. As I mentioned earlier, Accenture’s greatest strength is its people, hundreds of thousands of them with varied skill sets. An internal tool that housed employee skills sets / preferences and used matching algorithms (or maybe even AI?!) to staff the right people based on project criteria could be a major efficiency leap for Accenture. As of now, they have basic software that can assist with this undertaking, but it is still arbitrary and too reliant on human intervention.
Ironically, Accenture’s greatest innovation may be in its ability to remove people from the people allocation process.