There’s little doubt that operational and business continuity has been a hot topic for C-suite leaders in recent months. The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on every aspect of how and where we work—and for some organizations, it has highlighted some inconvenient truths about how their business operates. Now, with an economic crunch adding to the pressures, there’s no better time to take a long hard look at how we can innovate and automate to help us all be more efficient and effective.

At Accenture, our Global IT team was making moves toward the transformation of our internal operations long before the pandemic struck. And being miles ahead of the curve in what we’re doing has not only served us well during these troubled times but also added value. With more than 40% of our applications and processes automated, we’ve seen a 35% operational cost reduction over three years, and created 10% capacities annually for expansion. Interested in how that’s happened? As we advance our automation maturity, we’ve learned some lessons along the way that I’d like to share to help your organization outmaneuver future uncertainty.

Beating a path to intelligent automation

We started our automation efforts in the same way as most—by automating standard and repetitive tasks and eliminating manual work. From that simple start, we had an opportunity to make an even greater impact. In fact, we decided to drive a global IT-wide intelligent automation program. What do we mean by intelligent automation? Well, it’s a combination of things—artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) analytics with robotic process automation (RPA) supported by an end-to-end automation architecture, standards and frameworks. In short, new tech that’s suited to a new normal.

To supercharge our efforts and take advantage of automation opportunities, platforms and technologies, we established an Automation Center of Excellence (CoE). Automation architects, machine learning developers, bot designers, robotic process automation experts, data scientists, DevSecOps specialists and others are developing tools and solutions for more than 900 Accenture applications. And we tasked our Global IT Operations leads along with their teams to identify relevant automation opportunities, based on guidance from the CoE.

Our three milestones

For us, the road to intelligent automation has three stages. We’d like to cover these in more detail—and you could think about how they might work in your own organization:

  • Lay a foundational framework: enhance processes according to industry-leading practices, improve data quality to enable automations and develop an intelligent automation platform. In this stage we used the guiding principle of taking an intelligent “shift left” focus, meaning we put a focus on prevention.
  • Accelerate the adoption of intelligent automation and artificial intelligence: expand the application of cognitive chatbots, AI-powered virtual agents and intelligent bots for all possible IT operation automations, optimizing processes and preparing for a digital operations model. Machines with automated intelligence comprehend vast amounts of data, analyze patterns, understand and learn “on the go”, and intelligently automate processes to introduce more operational and business efficiency.
  • Create a vision of touchless operations: explore ways to deploy highly intuitive solutions; use machine learning to predict events and recommend next-best actions; mature self-learning, self-healing capabilities and auto-resolution processes; and minimize human-engaged transactions. Our own strategy focuses on guided solutioning through platform adoption, operating in the cloud, reflective intelligence, self-service offerings, interactive bots and gamification triggers.

It's important to note that by introducing more automation, we aren’t suggesting there’s no need for human intervention. In fact, we believe the next-generation workforce is going to be human+. Technology is helping individuals to be more empowered by skillsets and knowledge plus a new, growing set of capabilities. Automation frees up our people, reducing manual work and enabling careers to evolve to roles that drive creative thinking and working with machines for problem solving.

One of the simple ways we are working as human+ is in the area of test automation. Our team is driving test automation adoption with tools, methods, frameworks and capabilities. We built a strong community of test practitioners, test architects, automation experts and a DevSecOps culture. The mantra is to automate the delivery pipeline and fix closest to source. Today, Accenture benefits from more than 360 applications completely testing-automated, a 75% reduction in testing efforts and a 25% increase in delivery speed.

Take a look at our case study on how automation helps improve our internal operations productivity, quality, performance and user experience. As we all work to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, we need to look at how we can innovate to thrive in the long term.

Rahul Maheshwari

Managing Director – Global IT, Intelligent Technology Operations

Rich Palumbo

Managing Director – Global IT, Intelligent Technology Operations

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