I am writing this from Accenture’s Sophia Antipolis location, where I am visiting with a group of executive students taking a course called Strategic Business Development and Innovation (the second time, incidentally, last year’s notes are here). Much of this course is around how to use technology (in a very wide sense of the word) to do innovation in organizations. To turn this into practice, my colleague Ragnvald Sannes and I run the course as an innovation process in itself – the students declare an innovation project early in the course, and we take them through the whole process from idea to implementation plan. To further make this concrete, we collaborate with Accenture (chiefly with Kirsti Kierulf, Director of Innovation in Norway) to show the students some of the technologies that are available.
Accenture Technology Labs is a world-wide, relatively small part of Accenture’s systems integration and technology practice, charged with developing showcases and prototypes in the early stage where Accenture’s clients are not yet willing to fund development. While most consulting companies have this kind of activity, I like Accenture’s approach because they are very focused on putting technology into context – they don’t develop Powerpoints (well, they do that, too) but prototypes, which they can show customers. I see the effect on my students: I can explain technology to them (such as mobility, biometrics, collaboration platforms) but they don’t see the importance until it is packaged into, say, the Next Generation Bank Branch or an automated passport control gate.
Making things concrete – telling a story through hands-on examples – is more important than what most companies think. When it comes to technology, this is relatively simple: You take either your own technology, if you are a technology provider, and build example applications of it. If you are vendor-agnostic, like Accenture, you take technology from many vendors and showcase the integration. If your technology is software-based, or consists of process innovations, then you showcase your own uses of it. Here in Sophia we have seen how Accenture uses collaboration platforms internally in the organization, for instance. (Otherwise known as eating your own dog food.)
Having a physical location is also very important. At the Norwegian School of Management, we have a library that we like to showcase – a "library of the future" where the students have flexible work areas, wireless access to all kinds of information, in an attractive setting. This looks nice on brochures, but also allows us to highlight that the school is about learning and research, and allows us to tell that story in a coherent manner. I see Accenture as doing the same thing with their labs – they develop technology, but also showcase the activity and its results to the rest of the world. The showcasing has perceived utility, generating the funds and managerial attention (or, perhaps, inattention) necessary to sustain the prototype-producing capability.
Quite a difference from slides and lunch meetings, I say. And rather refreshing. An example that more companies should follow.