Ready and remote
Our global IT team’s response to COVID-19
Business continuity used to mean handling work from country to country or from one operations center to another. But in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for scale to reach across continents and individuals’ homes has created a new normal. In handling the necessary shift in practices and procedures, Accenture looked to the skills and capabilities of our global IT team to take a bold path forward to respond to change.
Our way of working “in the new” means that we already had a vision and strategy to handle the disruption of the pandemic. Our approach has not only enabled us to maintain our operations, but also positioned us to offer support and guidance to others. Starting from this strong foundation, with digital at the core, we have maintained the smooth running of our platform-based business, fully in the cloud, and with the security and standards needed to be resilient in the future.
The Accenture strategy aims to materially improve the working lives and experiences of our people with effective solutions. Actions taken to help Accenture to successfully transition our business during a period of great uncertainty while sustaining business resiliency include:
We put cloud first.
We decided several years ago to move our infrastructure and apps to the cloud—a massive 95 percent of Accenture applications are in the cloud and supported by the platform economy. A cloud environment means we can be a browser-based organization to make a difference and deliver an effective response. Also, this emphasis on the cloud—for instance, already using OneDrive for our storage services—meant we could easily scale and connect people to support a working-from-home policy.
We equip our people to do the job, wherever that is.
In recent times, we have needed to provide home computers for our people in vast numbers—placing an order for a significant quantity of machines in early March, ahead of the demand spike once the pandemic hit. For example, in China we distributed more than 2,000 desktops in just a few days. In all, we sent home more than 80,000 desktop computers within a week. We also purchased more than 33,000 Wi-Fi hotspots and enabled more than 230,000 concurrent connections using an on-premise or cloud-based Virtual Private Networking (VPN) solution so that our teams could gain secure access to client resources. As the lockdown rules began to be enforced, we made individual follow-up calls to make sure everyone was ready to make the transition to remote working.
We collaborate using the best tools.
Accenture is one of the largest users of Microsoft Teams in the world, with more than 500,000 users. Being an early adopter, we set some aggressive targets that meant we were able to outpace our competitors and quickly embrace home working. During this time, our Teams audio usage increased by 257 percent from 350 million minutes a month to around 900 million minutes a month. While our video minutes has seen the most dramatic increase—up 642 percent from 14 million minutes a month to around 90 million minutes a month. We also used the extensive functionality of Teams to create a new on-demand support facility for our leaders. The tool offers chat response services, across every time zone, on questions around Teams and virtual meetings. It means our business leaders can help our people around the world to be better prepared, informed and equipped as we adjust to remote working.
We embrace a digital worker strategy. We have equipped our people with leading capabilities so that they can connect, create and collaborate—and in these difficult times we are helping our clients to do the same. Our digital worker strategy has been to move away from traditional, PC-centric ways of working to more mobile ways with mobile apps, cloud-based capabilities, and giving our people access to some of the newest technology as it becomes available. We have shifted our approach so that our people can be innovative and engaged in a virtual environment. Having the right tools to work in a modern way has been instrumental in making this happen. We set up a dedicated Working Remotely website and Know How with CIO training series so that our people could take advantage of more resources and training to ease the transition.
We take safety and security seriously. With many of our professional business consultants teaming with clients on site, we are already a seasoned leader in remote working. We have a long-established award winning Information Security learning program that has easily amended our employee learning assets to address COVID-19-related changes in our work environments. We support a zero trust approach which enables security access policies and controls to adapt dynamically based on the risk of each access request. And as part of everyday business operations, we have a multi-layered process to Virtual Private Network (VPN) access, which involves robust authentication before any remote workstation connects to our internal network. Despite weeks of global lockdowns and remote working we have found productivity is higher and absenteeism is less. Existing robust security tools, such as our preferred phishing blocker and Web filtering agent, have come into their own and we have not seen an increase in successful cyberattacks against our people.
We create innovative apps. A dedicated COVID-19 app team and a committee of key stakeholders has accelerated governance processes around developing new apps. More than 25 apps have been processed in just a few weeks; these often served regional requests that could be scaled for a broader global benefit, such as in China where we developed an app to manage health attestation. Metrics from Web analytics and adoption rates are used to assess the benefits to the business and influence future investments. Established processes, such as using Microsoft Intune mobile application management (MAM) for downloading and securing all mobile apps, and a single point of contact has helped to secure high user engagement. The team is continually assessing what apps are needed to handle the return to office experience for Accenture people, taking on board government guidance, as well as our own stringent workplace health and safety measures, to shape the next wave of how we work.
We share value-add analytics. To drive data-driven decisions during this time of uncertainty, the CIO Applied Intelligence team collaborated with business sponsors to understand their concerns around COVID-19 impacts and co-create insights solutions to address them.
As the Accenture workforce is a primary concern, the CIO Applied Intelligence team provided daily supply and demand insights for the office of the CEO and CHRO. The CIO Applied Intelligence team partnered with Procurement to more quickly assess impacts to contractor agreements and staffing. For Finance leadership, we developed a one-page metrics report with data, trends, and commentary across Finance, Treasury, Sales, HR, and Corporate Services & Sustainability in just a week. We initiated travel policy updates quickly, creating a travel expense analytics dashboard, and offering self-service querying capabilities to empower our people. Also, in less than 48 hours, we developed dashboards to understand impacts to buildings and leases.
These efforts were delivered alongside existing analytics. For example, the Accenture Legal Intelligent Contract Exploration (ALICE) tool with natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) made contracts more easily searchable and translated with high accuracy to help Legal leaders quickly evaluate the COVID-19 impact on existing client contracts.
We scale to meet business demands. Responding to a pandemic means moving and scaling fast. Accenture was already running the in-memory database SAP S/4HANA, a powerful “single system instance” for our global financial data which meant that we were able to support our company’s goal to achieve digital transformation, meet the operational needs of our business—like working from home during the COVID-19 crisis—and deliver our financial reporting and quarter end accounts without skipping a beat. Along with a shift of our production instance to the cloud computing service Microsoft Azure, Accenture has been able to run applications and services through managed data centers in line with the demands of the business. Our readiness and human-first approach—supporting our teams through virtual calls and regular communications—coupled with tools, such as our time capture tools that can monitor work location and flow data through into our SAP S/4HANA system, have helped to manage our remote working capabilities effectively.
Accenture supports our people, how and when they need us. We use the cloud-based IT Service Management from ServiceNow which helped us to facilitate our responses to workflow demands far more easily and quickly. Through ServiceNow, we have been able to procure laptops and desktops to enable full-time working from home, offer remote technology support, and remain compliant with our policies.
We were also well prepared for our people’s return to offices. Using an Enterprise Asset Management solution built on ServiceNow we can automatically “check back in” workplace and technology assets when lockdowns are lifted. Even with peak usage, the platform has given stable access for all.
Finally, adoption of any new way of working starts at the top and Accenture has a committed leadership that had already taken a path which prepared us for these unforeseen circumstances.
"The investments we made positioned us to support Accenture’s rapid move to work from home when we needed it most. I’m inspired daily by the work that our Global IT family has done to make it happen."
Throughout the pandemic, we have looked for ways that could not only benefit our people, but bring innovation and value to our clients:
We collaborated to fill jobs. Accenture was part of a group of leading companies to form People + Work Connect, an employer-to-employer initiative that brings together companies laying off or furloughing people with those companies in urgent need of workers. There is no cost involved for the 126 employers1 who are participating in the global initiative. Designed by CHROs from Accenture, Lincoln Financial Group, ServiceNow and Verizon, was developed at remarkable speed in just 12 days, from idea to the launch. People + Work Connect is not only an example of iterative design and agile execution, but also a lesson in the power of collaboration—everyone was focused on the greater good during difficult times.
We created a library of thought leadership and recommendations. To help our clients navigate both the human and business impact of COVID-19, our global IT team created an online hub in a matter of days for all of our latest thinking on a variety of topics. Global IT also helped to create Accenture’s first COVID-19 point of view “Productivity in Uncertain Times through the Elastic Digital Workplace.” Each perspective highlights specific actions which can be taken now, and what to consider next as industries move toward a new normal. Also, we partnered with Microsoft to help develop the Microsoft Teams Rapid Resource Center, which provides how-to instructions, best practices and additional resources to help people stay connected.
1 As at early May 2020
of Accenture applications are in the cloud and supported by the platform economy.
computers were sent out within a week to enable remote working.
increase in our Microsoft Teams audio usage, from 350M minutes to 900M minutes a month.
increase in our Microsoft Teams video minutes, from 14M to 90M a month.
Throughout the pandemic, we have looked for ways that could not only benefit our people, but bring innovation and value to our clients:
Invest in the journey and your priorities ongoing. Accenture had already made moves to support our workforce in a way that meant we were agile in the face of difficult decisions in how we run our business. We always want to serve our clients “on our best day”, but we also aim to keep our people safe and healthy. With our offices closed, we needed to find a balance between these two priorities—and we were ready to do so because of the investments we had made, coupled with the support of strong, empathetic leaders.
Understand where you are, then fill the gaps. As part of our analysis into how to create an elastic digital workforce we created a diagnostic with a series of questions about readiness which we completed ourselves and also made available to clients. Based on a score of 1 to 3, where three was the ideal score, Accenture scored three for the majority of answers. By contrast, most of our clients found they scored 1s across the board. Your organization can benefit from seeing where your own gaps lie so that we can work together to address them.
Communicate freely and frequently as a way of life. Having a strong and regular communications strategy that includes employees, clients, suppliers and partners is an important part of being transparent and aligned. Ongoing, daily updates help to cut through the noise. What is more, our video production team, Accenture Productions, has been a key enabler for remote working. The entire team moved to virtual operations and is handling internal events—such as the biggest and most complex all-employee broadcast ever produced featuring our own CEO, Julie Sweet—and client events, such as virtual workshops.
Accenture has invested in a strategic vision which has prepared us well to help ourselves—and other organizations—weather the storm. Whether serving IT needs or making sure Accenture people are protected, our global IT team is ready to adapt and to meet future demand. All our corporate functions—and Global IT in particular—will continue to be “together, greater than ever” as we innovate to improve the way the world works and lives.