Bill Marion, managing director at Accenture Federal Services, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding his experience with the company over his first two years, including the core drivers of his role that made him want to join AFS.
In addition, Marion also discussed the key factors that have led to AFS’ company-wide success as well as the influence that emerging technologies and digital transformation efforts are having on Accenture Federal Services and its customers during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.
“We have to think differently about how we protect data and move it, especially following the pandemic when everyone is spread out. We’ll never fully go back to the way we were before, so how we manage data and data flows is actually the more important discussion around zero-trust technology as it starts to become a norm.”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight interview with Bill Marion below:
ExecutiveBiz: Congrats on joining Accenture Federal Services almost two years ago! Why did you want to join the company and what do you hope to accomplish with the company?
Bill Marion: “One of the core challenges with the DoD has been the speed and scale. I fundamentally believe that system integrators have a significant role in the federal space, but they have been ignoring the scale and speed issues.
One of the reasons I joined Accenture is because it’s at the same level of complexity and size as the Air Force, which is currently almost 700,000 people. The constant question becomes how to move and modernize faster. I saw the scale, speed and commerciality with the Accenture footprint in the federal space.
I thought this was the best place because I still wanted to serve the DoD and use the lessons from the commercial practices and other aspects like automation, rapid agility and digital monetization.
My focus is on the aspects that drive scale and speed because that’s where you add value. I was also very impressed with Accenture’s tremendously strong cyber practice and its equally strong work around digital platforms.
Both of those areas can either help, or hurt your speed and scale. In turn, they can kill your speed and scale. Accenture is a leading cyber company and a leading digital platform player. Salesforce and ServiceNow are huge accelerators for the Department of Defense.
The reason why SaaS platforms are so important right now is we have all these business processes in the DoD that are based on forums and processes from the 1980s. That’s an area where Accenture excels. How do you balance and drive the view on the next generation cyber views and mitigate the potential risks?
Traditionally, we think of speed as the antithesis of cyber, right? The perception is that you need to slow the whole process down to be stronger in cybersecurity. I think it’s just the opposite. I would argue it’s about moving faster. You can modernize and deploy the latest patch much faster and maintain a better more agile cyber position.
That’s my focus here at Accenture Federal Services and why I joined the company almost two years ago. As we talk about our quarterly earnings, we definitely have been performing very well in the market. I think the question becomes how emerging technologies drive company value.
ExecutiveBiz: Following the success of your recent quarterly results, what were the key factors that led to that company-wide performance and how will you continue to work to capitalize on that success moving forward?
Bill Marion: “As we talk about Accenture’s company-wide performance, I’d highlight how we look at our business from a 360 degree value perspective. I believe that really sets us apart from a lot of the federal organizations in our sector.
Our 360 degree value is another dimension of change management and human capital for us. It’s the softer dimensions and how they all fit together. Any restaurant can have the ingredients, the wait staff and a facility, but it’s how you tie those elements together to determine whether your restaurant is five stars or less.
The DoD is really good about understanding where the ingredients are delivered. They have a facility and a staff, but what Accenture has done is tie it all together with our 360 degree value perspective.
That’s how we’ve been able to create the ‘five-star experience’ for our customers in the DoD. Technology is a huge piece of the puzzle, but it’s about the bigger picture and we think it’s a game changer for us and the federal landscape as a whole.
We are very focused on change management in the DoD space. A difficult aspect surrounding technology implementation is the people and the cultural changes alongside the process and human centered design changes. That’s a core of what we do every single day here at Accenture and that’s why we continue to grow so strongly year over year.
We fundamentally understand it. A lot of people can sell a platform, but few can actually accelerate the business value that you get out of those digital platforms, which you could argue that for basically any product. I fundamentally think that’s around change and human centered design. Our design studios are walking the journey and working with our clients.
We’re not just selling a platform that is going to fix all of your problems, but that’s seldom the case. You need to walk the journey with the customer, change processes and design. Otherwise, it just becomes another bespoke government solution that’s built on a cutting edge platform.
Sustainment numbers are up to 70 or 80 percent because that works for a point in time, but it doesn’t help you scale or operate the commerciality of the platform and capability with a configuration mindset that allows you to scale without getting bogged down by customized DoD-centric solutions.
On top of that is that even if you develop the best solution and you can help people through the necessary changes, it never gets anywhere inside the DoD. It’s just a giant bubble of 4.5 million users and that changes across a larger install base is extremely difficult and it’s critical to recognize that fact.
I think the other big piece that we’re ahead of the curve on is with automation and data. I think a lot of other companies, with all due respect, are very focused on putting people in seats and their work processes. Again, that just doesn’t scale and the labor market doesn’t match up either.
The demographics have been heavily exacerbated following the pandemic in the labor market. If you aren’t focused on automating processes as well as building repeatability and speed into your delivery services, I think you’re doing a disservice to the workforce in the federal market.
We should be focused on data and data driven outcomes. I’d also say the digital engineering side is also a big part of the practice. We’re doing a lot of great work in that space and it’s just about seeing the value that provides your company long term. Data drives the world now and if you’re not a data centric organization, you have to question your future in this sector.”
ExecutiveBiz: With the influence of emerging technologies impacting every aspect of business, how has your company been able to drive digital transformation efforts to stay ahead of innovation in the federal landscape for yourself and your customers?
Bill Marion: “I think we’ve developed some very powerful products and product center capabilities. I believe Accenture Federal Services has matched up very well in terms of our cyber practice with a huge amount of capabilities on our platform as well as one on the cloud business and sensory integration. There’s a litany of things that we do to further underpin the Accenture value statement for our customers.
On the other side of all of this is partnerships. Some people in the sector will look at us a little cockeyed, but that just goes back to our strengths in scale and automation. I just know on this side of the fence that I used to question why this company was working with that company, but now I understand the logic much better.
I’ve definitely learned the importance of partnerships. At the end of the game, it’s all about the team and how the team comes together. That’s one thing that I’ve learned.
Another big thing I’d like to mention is the impact of zero-trust. That’s a big discussion and I think the main takeaway should be that Accenture is very data-centric with a net view. A lot of people talk about the individual tech pieces but zero-trust is as complex for the DoD as anything else this big.
How do you orchestrate data protection? How do you develop data flows and new ways of working? There’s all kinds of zero-trust capabilities with mobile devices and cloud, etc. I’m particularly bullish on how we’re shaping the data discussion around zero-trust because fundamentally, that’s the whole premise in a nutshell.
You’re protecting data and not necessarily as focused on protecting a perimeter. It will be really interesting to see how companies enable a data center zero-trust architecture environment. I try to imagine a world where you don’t trust your device and you don’t trust the Internet, but you still need to operate. I would argue there are models out there that can make that successful.
We have to think differently about how we protect data and move it, especially following the pandemic when everyone is spread out. We’ll never fully go back to the way we were before, so how we manage data and data flows is actually the more important discussion around zero-trust technology as it starts to become a norm.”