If there was any doubt about what direction organizations globally are heading, Accenture’s $3 billion investment over three years to develop a new multi-service group called Accenture Cloud First squashes them.

Announced in September 2020, Accenture Cloud First stars 70,000 cloud professionals that bring together a wide range of services and capabilities across the Accenture business to help organizations move to the cloud quickly and effectively.

In Canada, where digital transformation isn’t exactly synonymous with speed, Jennifer Jackson will be tasked with combining her 20 years of experience working for the consulting giant and guiding the industry towards a “future-ready” state. That means becoming an intelligent company anchored to cloud computing with all kinds of automation and predictive analytics running in the background. Easier said than done, of course.

Jennifer Jackson, Canada’s Accenture Cloud First Lead, says one of her goals will be to develop specialized skills in the market.

“We see clients moving to the cloud and getting stuck,” Jackson told IT World Canada in an interview before her appointment as Canada’s Accenture Cloud First Lead was announced. “Over the years, they didn’t change the way they operate, and so they don’t know how to run in the cloud.”

The numbers suggest this sluggish movement towards cloud supremacy is widespread.

In late 2018, Accenture reported that just 35 per cent of companies had fully achieved their expected outcomes from cloud. That number has barely moved since and in 2020 remained at 37 per cent. However, the businesses that are leveraging IT channel partners – that’s typically larger enterprises according to Accenture – reported achieving the full benefits of their cloud initiatives (48 per cent) more frequently than those that do not (35 per cent).

Reaching their potential

In 2020, Accenture surveyed more than 1,100 C-suite and VP-level executives across 11 countries – including Canada – and 13 industries to better understand the connection between business operations maturity and performance. The company identities four levels of operations maturity: stable, efficient, predictive and future-ready.

According to Accenture, moving up just one level—from predictive to future-ready—yields a profitability increase of 5.8 percentage points and efficiency gains of 18.8 per cent.

Jackson says the Accenture Cloud First will help organizations achieve similar results but not before the company retrains employees on a laundry list of technologies. 

Last year, Accenture invested nearly $900 million in training and development for its workers. Over the past three years, it has trained more than 300,000 staff in new technologies – including automation, agile development and intelligent platforms. Accenture supports a variety of organizations in Canada focused on building digital skills – NPOWER and ACCES Employment among them.

Jackson says another 30 per cent of the company’s staff is being retrained in emerging technologies. Out of the $3 billion over three years, $1 billion is allocated to retraining. 

“The investment we as Canadians need to make in retraining our people to be able to manage all this complexity of the cloud, I think, is the main thing on most people’s minds,” she said. “We’re trying to automate a lot of the work that happens around the shift to cloud, taking some of that skilling out of people’s hands and into the hands of a machine. But you still need people to manage that automation as well.”

An early example of Accenture Cloud First delivering results is the transformation of a large Canadian financial services company that had embarked on a massive data migration project. Through some of the latest investments, Accenture helped the customer reduce its migration spending by approximately 60 per cent.

“I was thrilled,” Jackson said.

Acquisitions – can’t live without them

In 2020, Accenture acquired more than 20 different companies to expand its cloud migration offerings and add more full-stack engineering talent.

That activity isn’t slowing down in 2021. On Feb. 1, Accenture unveiled plans to acquire Imaginea, a Mountain View, Calif.-based cloud-native product and platform engineering firm. Imaginea helps clients innovate with emerging technologies to transform their business. It’s a match made in heaven, says Jackson.

“It’s absolutely a Cloud First acquisition,” she confirmed, adding a large chunk of that $3 billion investment is for future acquisitions. “We’re thrilled to add all those professionals because they’re the full-stack engineers that we need to do all the heavy lifting around migration.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada