Debate: Remaking IT at Accenture

When the time comes to upgrade IT equipment and systems, isit better to repair what you have?patching and tweaking systems and software tokeep things running?or replace the old technology entirely and start with aclean slate? That was the dilemma facing Accenture CIO Frank Modruson.


I recently faced a decision familiar to any homeowner. Myfurnace was nearing the end of its useful life, and my choices were clear:replace a few critical parts at a modest cost in the hope of extending itsservice for a few more years, or replace the entire system at a considerablygreater cost.

As I examined these options, a key consideration was thefact that an entirely new heating system would allow me to take advantage ofthe latest and greatest advances in home heating technology and efficiency.That would be impossible to do if I were just going to refurbish the currentfurnace.

As mundane as this decision was, my furnace choiceexemplifies a dilemma familiar to many CIOs. When the time comes to upgrade ITequipment and systems, is it better to repair what you have?patching and tweakingsystems and software to keep things running?or replace the old technologyentirely and start with a clean technology slate?

Of course, the IT ?tweak or trash? debate is far morecomplicated than replacing a furnace. IT?s operational imperative to ensureuptime and avoid downtime at all costs creates a natural bias toward riskavoidance. A philosophy of ?it works, so don?t touch it? nurtures the growth ofhybrid IT environments in which multiple systems coexist, documentation andqualified programmers are hard to find, and it appears safer and cheaper tomake tiny patches rather than risk transformational change.

Over the last decade, we in Accenture faced a series ofdecisions more momentous than, but not unlike, my furnace call. Looking back tothe year 2000, when we were essentially a new company (having recently gonepublic), we had embarked on an accidental experiment?even though we didn?trealize it then.

We inherited legacy systems from our former parent andneeded to build separate technology capabilities. We had no idea that Accenturewould today have more than 244,000 employees or revenues of $25.5 billion. Butwe had ambitious growth strategies and knew we needed the IT infrastructure tosupport that growth. While we did not plan it in advance, our efforts over thelast decade to create a world-class IT organization effectively became anaccidental test of the tweak-versus-trash debate.


Set a Coherent Strategy

Our first task was to set a coherent IT strategy and buildan independent capability. Then we concentrated on running IT just as we wouldany other business, with a focus on efficiency. We centralized, rationalizedand standardized, cutting our global applications from 600 down to 267 andlocal apps from 1,500 to 255.

We migrated from multiple country-specific platforms to asingle-instance global ERP. When we came up against the
tweak-versus-trash decision, we opted for trashing what we had, mainly becauseinnovations in IT kept making the newest available solutions much more powerfulthan any legacy systems.

By the middle of the decade, we had our IT shop in order andwere in a position to tackle even bigger changes. These included a completenetwork transformation, which gave us the bandwidth to build out one of theworld?s largest high-definition video conferencing networks, as well asenabling us to introduce an entire suite of powerful collaboration tools. Thesetools have already had?and will continue to have?an enormous effect on ourevolution as a virtual enterprise.

Take video conferencing as a case in point. I recentlythought about how my business travel had changed over time since we startedusing video conferencing to replace travel. My sense was that I was travelingless, so I took a look at my mileage records for the past five years.

Although my air miles for client meetings had remainedroughly constant, miles traveled for Accenture management meetings had beenreduced 35 percent because we now do so many of our internal meetings via videoconference. I benefit, my family benefits and Accenture benefits.

As our universe of 45,000 Webcam-enabled Accentureprofessionals expands and we continue to bridge our video network with clientsystems, we expect these benefits to multiply.