AI Business recently caught up with Accenture’s Chief Technology Officer, Paul Daugherty, who told us about where he sees the future artificial intelligence and its opportunities within his industry growth.  Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. With approximately 384,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture drives innovation to improve the way the world works and lives.

Paul Daugherty 

Paul Daugherty is Accenture’s chief technology officer and leads the company’s Technology Innovation & Ecosystem group. He is also a member of Accenture’s Global Management Committee. In addition to overseeing Accenture’s technology strategy, Daugherty is responsible for driving innovation through R&D activities in Accenture’s Technology Labs; maximising value from the fast-changing and dynamic technology ecosystem; and leveraging emerging technologies to bring the newest innovations to clients globally.

He also leads the company’s highly skilled technology architects, who apply new technologies and architectural foundations in building solutions for clients across industries. In addition, Daugherty is responsible for managing Accenture’s alliances, partnerships and senior-level relationships with leading and emerging technology companies, and runs Accenture’s CIO Council of more than 200 global CIOs.

AIBusiness was interested to know why Accenture believes that now a pivotal time for AI in the technology landscape, and how they see it impacting everyday businesses?

We believe that AI I is poised to transform business more than any of the previous ways of information technology” Daugherty says. “The combinatorial effect of AI, cloud, sophisticated analytics and other technologies is already starting to change how work is done by humans and computers, and how organisations interact with consumers in startling ways”.

Artificial intelligence is exploding, and this new reality changes everything for business and economy

“IDC has predicted that the worldwide content analytics, discovery and cognitive systems software market will grow from US$4.5 billion in 2014 to US$9.2 billion in 2019” Daugherty explains. He mentions Accenture’s Technology Vision 2016, a research project that gathers information obtained from more than 3100 global business and IT executives, revealed that 70% of corporate executives are making significantly more investments in artificial intelligence-related technologies than two years ago, with 55% stating that they plan on using machine learning and embedded artificial intelligence.

“Clearly, the market demand and opportunity for AI are rapidly growing”

It might come as a surprise to some that Accenture, as a professional services firm, is heavily immersed in the AI world, so AI Business was eager to know more about this connection, and whether it will continue in the future.

AI is embedded in Accenture’s DNA. We have been helping advance the field of AI for many years through extensive research, development and delivery of AI solutions”, Daugherty reveals. He explains that Accenture’s involvement in AI goes as far back as to 1989 when Accenture established the AI Lab, Institute of Learning Sciences, that they established at Northwestern University, to the 6-year development and pilot of AI-based Software Engineering. Accenture completed this in 1996 in collaboration with Stanford’s Kestrel Institute, for US Air Force; they delivered Biometrics at US-VISIT in 2004, and since then have bolstered the Singapore government’s safe city programme with video analytics innovation.

“We use AI to both enhance and grow our company and also to serve our clients. In fact, our AI capabilities, that span a continuum of technologies, when implemented holistically, improve productivity, reduce costs, and enhance innovation”, Daugherty says.

Accenture is also focusing on research and development, including releasing a new report outlining the positive impacts of AI on people and the economy. The research examined why and how AI is the future of growth, looking at 12 developed economies that together generate more than 50% of the world’s economic output. We were curious to know what their key takeaways from this research project were?

Paul Daugherty explains that the three high-level findings were:

  1. AI has the potential to double annual economic growth rates by 2035 by fundamentally changing the nature of work, contributing to a new relationship between man and machine.
  2. AI can increase labour productivity significantly – by up to 40 percent. This improvement will not be driven by longer hours but by innovative technologies that enable people to make more efficient use of their time.
  3. AI dramatically reduces the number of years required for economies to double in size. For advanced economies, these leaps in labour productivity are huge and are indicative of the pervasive impact of AI.

Accenture is not only focusing on what AI can do for other businesses but also looking at what this technology has done for their own company as well. AI Business asked what Accenture is doing to capitalise on the potential benefits AI offers within its own business.

“Essentially, Accenture is infusing AI in their own business to improve the outcomes they provide”, Daugherty explains. He looks at the example of Accenture myWizard, which is one of Accenture’s signature investments built on state-of-the-art analytics and AI.

“The platform has already been deployed in over 275 engagements, with more than 7000 active users enabling us to deliver better, more effective services to clients. With myWizard, some of these organisations have become up to 60% more productive”, Daugherty explains.

myWizard currently consists of six virtual agents with machine learning capabilities. They perform tasks such as the Virtual Data Scientist that mines petabytes of data and detects risks and issues, such as potential cyber-attacks and opportunities to improve service. Another example is the Virtual Project Manager that helps the project team deliver on-time and on-budget and alerts human project leads of potential problems that would otherwise be difficult to detect, so they can take immediate corrective actions”, Daugherty tells AI Business.

Expanding beyond their myWizard, Accenture is also working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a part of their 10-year-collaboration, working on an end-to-end AI-predictive modeling system to augment human project managers of large-scale software projects.

“The system uses automated and natural language features to help predict the success, or delay time, of large software projects in real time. In initial tests, client satisfaction status a short time in the future reached a prediction rate of more than 90%”, Daugherty says.

Daugherty reveals how Accenture have used automation and AI in 72% of their clients and transformed 17000 roles in the last 18 months with their Business Process Outsourcing business. “All 17000 people have been retained and freed up to innovate and achieve greater impact by moving up the value chain”, Daugherty says. “Also in our BPO business, we have invested in developing more than 7250 robotic process automation solutions that are being embedded in more than 80% of our largest client engagements across every industry”.

In addition to this, Accenture has delivered a project to use IPsoft’s Amelia, a virtual agent that handles invoice inquiries for procure to pay processing. Amelia works in the way that vendors interact with “her” to check the status of invoices or payments, upload invoice statements and make changes to their vendor information. “Amelia can run multiple sessions in parallel well beyond human capacity, no need for breaks and the quality of the responses consistent for every interaction. When fully operational, Amelia can handle about 70% of the inquiries received” Daugherty explains, outlining the benefits of using the virtual agent.

A challenge that companies might face when implementing AI is to ensure that the clients perceive and understand the AI landscape as well as they do. So do Accenture’s clients view AI as an opportunity or a challenge? And in what ways are Accenture helping their clients understand this new landscape, helping them to capitalise on AI for their business?

“There’s a lot of hype and doomsday headlines surrounding AI that are frankly intended to sell movie tickets and newspapers”

Part of what we see as our role at Accenture is to separate the facts from the fiction, debunk the myths and dispel the misunderstanding around AI so we can help clients better understand AI and how to apply it to generate new growth and business value. We have a unique formula to achieve AI success: Future Business Value = [Human x Process x Data]AI.

“Accenture believes that the full power of AI can only be unleashed through a People First approach. AI should put people at the centre, augmenting the workforce by applying the capabilities of the machines so people can focus on higher-value analysis, decision-making, innovation and creativity” – Paul Daugherty.

Paul Daugherty shares a few examples to paint a picture of how they’ve put this into action with clients across a wide cross-section of industries and geographies.

“We used robotic process automation with a European telecommunications company to transform processes in billing, marketing, sales, order intakes and service assurance. In just one year, productivity had skyrocketed, freeing up the equivalent of 72000 hours of manual work and enabling the client to redirect its focus to driving product development and customer satisfaction”.

Daugherty explains how Accenture is transforming customer service for a major Italian government agency, relieving their employees from doing routine customer queries that were very time-consuming, to automating the process with artificial intelligence in the form of an AI solution powered by IBM Watson.

“We are implementing an intelligent Virtual Agent application, able to understand the context of the words in customer requests. The Virtual Agent will also autonomously handle real-time voice calls or web-chat interactions, using a combination of cognitive-semantic analysis and machine-learning algorithms. At the same time, employees will be able to take on more demanding and rewarding tasks, which is expected to positively impact their engagement. After just three months, the Virtual Agent application is already successfully serving more than 70000 users. We expect a service level improvement by 30 percent after just the first six months”.

So what does the future of Accenture look like? Given the success you have experienced with implementing AI, what AI trends do you see for 2017 and beyond?

Daugherty predicts three specific trends for the next five years: 

  • AI will become a first-class citizen in the enterprise: “Right now, the AI market is exploding. IDC has predicted that the worldwide content analytics, discovery and cognitive systems software market will grow from US$4.5 billion in 2014 to US$9.2 billion in 2019. In our Technology Vision 2016 survey results, we found that 70 percent of corporate executives are making significantly more investments in artificial intelligence-related technologies than two years ago, with 55 percent stating that they plan on using machine learning and embedded artificial intelligence. AI startups in the U.S. alone have increased 20x in the past four years. These are just some of the stats showcasing that we are in the midst of a technology revolution. As AI becomes more and more seamlessly ingrained in everyday business processes and procedures, and organically part of workers everyday job functionalities, the intersections between humans and machines will become more closely aligned, and AI will be recognised as an integral part of the enterprise”.
  • AI will unleash a new level of human productivity and creativity: “With people’s time freed up from having to perform routine, monotonous, labour-heavy or dangerous work, they will be able to move onto roles that capitalise on their interest areas, talent, and creativity. As shown by our recent research findings, AI can serve as an integral part of an economy’s labour productivity. With the shift in technology, people can move onto higher value roles that will not only increase labour and productivity for the company, but more broadly the economy, while also satisfying their creativity output”.
  • AI will transform enterprise architecture and the enterprise software landscape: “Most organisations are pursuing AI solutions with a “bolt-on” approach, applying AI at the edge of the enterprise.  As AI becomes more pervasive, it will turn enterprise architecture on its head, requiring new approaches that place data techniques such as management, knowledge representation, symbolic reasoning, and intelligent interaction at the core.  AI will also disrupt the enterprise software landscape, with AI features such as intelligent agent-based interaction and machine learning becoming key differentiators among vendor solutions”.