Accenture's Infrastructure Overhaul: A Single Version of the Truth
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Building a robust IT infrastructure is a daunting proposition for any multinational company. But for global management and information technology consulting firm Accenture, which serves clients in 120 countries and has approximately 236,000 people scattered across the globe, it's the foundation for success.
Although Accenture's business focuses on helping other organizations build and manage complex IT environments, overseeing the firm's internal IT infrastructure is an ongoing challenge. CIO Insight spoke with Accenture CIO Frank Modruson about how the consulting firm addresses the complexity of today's business environment, and what his plans are for the company's future IT infrastructure.
CIO Insight: What steps have you taken to build an IT infrastructure that's equipped to handle the challenges of today's business environment?
Frank Modruson: If we go back to 2001, Accenture had what would probably be described as a traditional IT approach. Various countries managed their own systems. We had a variety of tools, applications and systems that functioned together within a 'federated' model. We had a lot of cutting-edge information technology and we were able to run the business effectively. But it wasn't cost-effective. In fact, if you look at the benchmarks for our industry, we were pretty much average. For a consulting firm that's advising others, that's not good enough.
CIO Insight: What changes did you make?
Modruson: By 2005 we had dramatically consolidated and modernized our IT infrastructure. We had consolidated everything into a single platform. In 2001 we had roughly 2,100 applications running across the enterprise. Today, we're down to about 500. We cleaned up IT and became a lot more integrated. Along the way, we saved money. Our per-person technology cost is less than one-third of what it was when we started this initiative and we support nearly 240,000 people instead of 75,000. But that wasn't the biggest gain. We benefited by having better quality information [than we previously had]. When we eliminated duplicate data sources, we got to a single version of the truth.
CIO Insight: What was involved with this transition and how did you get to a single version of the truth?
Modruson: We moved to a single ERP system worldwide. Every financial transaction across the globe goes into the system. So, for example, when an employee submits a Web-based time report, it's there. The beauty of this approach is that we don't have to do any roll-ups or consolidations. Everything is standardized and all the data is available at any moment on a 24x7 basis. Contrast this with the way we were doing things 10 years ago. One of our key metrics is chargeability. We used to get different numbers when running the same report for the same thing at two different locations. Then things would degrade into an argument over which report and data to use. We also have the same recruiting capability and analytics capabilities worldwide. This level of standardization has made things a lot simpler and better [than under the previously system].
CIO Insight: How did you go about upgrading and changing your network infrastructure?
Modruson: In 2001, we were very much a PBX, voice-based organization. Today, we have an all-IP-based voice, data, and video infrastructure. So all our applications are on the web, all our voice traffic is over IP, and all video is over IP. This was a huge undertaking but now one network accommodates all three technologies. The ROI was about two-and-a-half years. Along the way, we also migrated from Lotus Notes to Microsoft and consolidated mail hosting, we cleaned up storage, and moved heavily into server virtualization. About 90 percent of our servers are now virtualized.
CIO Insight: How has the IP network boosted productivity and changed the way people work?
Modruson: The ability to use telepresence and desktop video has been a game changer. My phone isn't really a phone anymore. It's my laptop. It's the same phone number and it follows me wherever I go around the world. We view each other when we speak to one another. All laptops have high definition video capabilities and we also have about 100 telepresence units scattered around the world. In some cases, we've had meetings with as many as 30 people from around the world--Paris, New York, Mumbai, Chicago, Singapore and from a home office in Raleigh, North Carolina--seeing each other and interacting in real-time. We are also using video bridging that combines groups using telepresence and desktop video. It's the future and it's happening today.
CIO Insight: How does mobility factor into the equation?