Behind the Scenes of an Acquisition: SolutionsIQ at Accenture

One year ago, Accenture acquired SolutionsIQ, the leading pure-play Agile consultancy in North America. We invited two key players from each side of the acquisition – SolutionsIQ’s CEO John Rudd and Accenture Technology’s practice lead Jeff Emerson – to give a rare behind-the-scenes peek into the process of an acquisition while using Agile practices and embodying an Agile mindset and culture.

How does a little company that is based on Agile values move into a very large organization, in a way that doesn’t destroy the little company and the same time allows the acquiring company to get the value and the promises out of that acquisition?… And yet that’s exactly what happened. – John Rudd

We didn’t make an acquisition to have SolutionsIQ come and do more of what Accenture does. We did it to bring that special sauce, that special consulting and transformation expertise that SolutionsIQ has led in the market with. We want to help get that with our clients and with ourselves. – Jeff Emerson

Accenture | SolutionsIQ’s Howard Sublett hosts.

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Howard Sublett: Thank you for joining me for another episode of Agile Amped. I’m your host Howard Sublett. On today’s show, we’re gonna be talking about the one-year anniversary of the SolutionsIQ acquisition by Accenture. I’ve got a couple of really, really interesting guys on the line here today. My guests for this episode is John Rudd and Jeff Emerson.

Now, as the chief evangelist for SolutionsIQ, John Rudd’s goal is to enable organizations to bring humanity to the workplace and to help create environments where people can pursue and achieve their passions. After SolutionsIQ was acquired by Accenture in mid-2017, one year ago, John transitioned into his role as a managing director for leading the Agility Service in North America, where he continues to help clients navigate the complexities of business agility.

Jeff Emerson leads the Advanced Technology and Architecture practice in Accenture Technology North America. Jeff is responsible for advancing business within Accenture Technology, maximizing use of emerging technologies to bring innovation to his clients, leading and scaling Accenture’s team of technology professionals, and leveraging the breadth of Accenture’s technology assets to deliver best-in-class business results for clients.

Jeff and John, thanks so much for taking time out of, I know, your crazy, busy days to record something with me. So thanks for joining me.

John Rudd: Couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be, Howard.

Jeff Emerson: Glad to be here.

Howard Sublett: Yeah, I’m sure you are. Trying to get time on your calendar for this was actually crazy. As context, because some people that are listening probably don’t know who John and Jeff are, so Jeff … By the way, you’re in advanced technology, so why is it I have you on and John on? So, we said SolutionsIQ was acquired by Accenture, but why you in this, Jeff?

Jeff Emerson: A large part of what my organization does is deliver new, custom solutions that are digital in nature, that are very complex in their custom delivery aspects and so on. And as we focus on delivering in new IT, agility is an important part of that. And there’s certainly two aspects to that: first is, just the normal routine aspects of executing Agile delivery in software delivery and now we can do that now day-in, day-out, til the cows come home but it’s always more valuable to us and to our clients, when our clients come along with us.

Howard Sublett: Right.

Jeff Emerson: And are fully a part of that Agile journey, Agile delivery practice. And so, bringing together the SolutionsIQ and the Agile transformations business, helps our clients get to business agility, is helpful to us in terms of getting to successful delivery of these new IT, digital, tech solutions.

Howard Sublett: So I guess that would be why SolutionsIQ is interesting in a way, because you lead advanced technology and architecture within Accenture Technology, so basically you were the acquirer, you were the one guy who said, “That looks interesting and shiny, I want it,” right? And kind of started the … Basically this is all your fault. This whole marriage of two companies together is your fault, right?

Well, not your fault, you were the orchestrator of this, maybe that.

Jeff Emerson: I was an instigator, certainly.

Howard Sublett: Instigator of it. And so, John, how did that sit with you, cause I know Jeff reached out to you and said, “hey, let’s look at putting these companies together.” Why was that thing with Accenture now interesting for somebody that’s run an Agile company like SolutionsIQ.

John Rudd: It’s a good question. I mean at the time that Jeff and I first chatted, it was about 18 months. [inaudible 00:04:34] at that time, SolutionsIQ was not really looking to be acquired. That being said, we knew that ultimately for us to be able to kind of achieve what we wanted to achieve, that to be able to get to that bigger platform was gonna be necessary. We just didn’t have the on the top of the backlog in terms of looking up, but I knew within 10 to 12 to 18 months from that point in time, that would be something that would become more and more of a consideration.

So, we started out, and it was actually initially discussions just around, “Is there opportunities for partnering, given the skillset that SolutionsIQ had and a great depth in delivery that Accenture had?” – And then that quickly evolved into a discussion around, “Well, does it make sense for us to do something more?” And initially I kind of thought, “Boy, I don’t know, could that work out,” and I had some questions. Well it wasn’t about Accenture, it was more about how does a little company that is based on Agile values move into a very large organization that’s got hundreds of thousand of people around the world, in a way in which you’re not going to destroy the little company and the same time that the acquiring company’s gonna be able to get the value and the promises out of it, so.

What I really appreciated about Jeff, and it was from that first meeting, is I kind of raised my skepticism, stated similarly to that, and kind of Jeff, your point was, “Yeah, that’s probably the case, or that may be the case, but does it make sense for us to at least talk about it?” And I think, even he kind of demonstrated what we agilists like to see, which is, let’s not try to jump too quick to the end, let’s start to kind of learn about each other. And that initiated kind of a courtship for which there was a fair amount of very deep discovery for both sides that went on for months, and I think to the point where both Jeff and I naturally got to the position that this really felt like a good fit.

But if you had asked maybe either of us on day one, “What would that path have looked like?” – my sense is it would be a little bit different than the path we actually ended up taking.

Howard Sublett: Yeah I was gonna say, Jeff, when you first met John, did you immediately say, “I hate this guy, and this is not gonna work”? Or … Did it start out natural or did you have to learn to actually like this guy too and like what he says because he can be a little off there.

Jeff Emerson: My wife’s been working 25 years on that, by the way,-

Howard Sublett: I know.

Jeff Emerson: … just so you know, Jeff, you’re in good company.

Howard Sublett: I know.

Jeff Emerson: It worked out pretty well though, despite our mutual skepticism, right, John?

John Rudd: Yes.

Jeff Emerson: Yes. Yeah, now it’s worked out quite well.

Howard Sublett: So it sounds like, you mentioned something about a pond and a fish, so that whole analogy of a little bitty fish in a great big pond, and from a consulting company that is being acquired … so “acquired” is a hard word and usually acquiring means, everything changes. You just get absorbed. But I, as many of the listeners will know, I’ve lived through this process, so I have an insight to kind of what these guys are gonna say, so I’m not asking it blindly, but it hasn’t really been that way. So can you guys tell me a little bit about this: the acquisition process and how we tended to bring, what we brought to the table and what Accenture changed in bringing that to us, kind of that Agile mindset, through that acquisition?

John Rudd: You want me to go ahead and start-

Howard Sublett: Yeah.

John Rudd: … Jeff-

Howard Sublett: That’s alright.

John Rudd: … and then you can jump in. Yeah. So, I think there are a couple things. One is, I love the fact that there was a lot of wisdom, I think, to the approach in which Accenture took in the acquisition. Jeff was a primary sponsor and in that, it meant that he not only needed to understand kind of the business elements of what SolutionsIQ is bringing, but there was really a fair amount of talk about the culture of that pre-acquisition company, and the impact of bringing it in to Accenture and what that would mean. So, one of the things that I really appreciated about the approach that Accenture took was not only did we have Jeff’s interest through the acquisition process, but Jeff continued to be our sponsor after the acquisition. And he was initially, I think a good shield for a small company in a large company, and then as we started the transition and learned more and more about the system and get acclimated, he became a good partner to us and he continues to be, kind of, a very important sponsor to us. But, the day-to-day involvement, which was really necessary on the front end, has waned, so we’ve had this nice kind of transition with, I think, the appropriate amount of sponsorship throughout it, which has, I think, led to an extraordinarily successful, kind of, first 12 months for something like this.

Howard Sublett: Jeff?

Jeff Emerson: I think that both of us come from consulting roots, both companies and both John and I, and a big part of that is, meet your client, meet your customer, meet your friend, where they are. And, find a way together to where you want to go. And so that, I think that guided both of us in the activities here. And, for me there was no “I’m going to go and apply the big Accenture stamp to everybody’s forehead,” or anything like that. And it wasn’t about, “Okay, well, I’m picking up 200 and something more Agile resources…” [laughter] “No! It’s a company of people, of individuals-

Howard Sublett: Right-

Jeff Emerson: … and a growing company, growing concerns, on its own – let’s amplify the strength that is SolutionsIQ and put that together with Accenture’s strengths to see what we can make together.” And so that’s starting, meeting each other where we were, was just a critical part of I think this process from the beginning.

Howard Sublett: Yeah, speaking from an employee perspective, I fully expected the onboarding experience – because we moved from one payroll system to another, we moved from a SolutionsIQ system to an Accenture system – and I expected it to be, like you said, the big rubber stamp on our forehead, it was fixed and it was rigid. But I think the thing that I really appreciated about, even during that acquisition section, that those teams said, “This is what we normally do, but help us customize it to fit your people best.” We asked them to do things in that very first contact. First contact’s important, and the Accenture team was actually really, really responsive to try things that they’d never tried before in that first contact and that told me a lot about that kind of willingness to meet people where they are, just like you were talking about, Jeff. So there were several things like that that were really good.

So what has changed? It’s been a year, so what are you seeing changing internally for Accenture, Jeff? Is there something that you’re seeing – is this little fish making ripples in the big pond yet? Are you seeing some impact at all, what are you seeing in that?

Jeff Emerson: Yeah I absolutely believe that to be the case and in several different ways. Some of it’s just the day-to-day operations of, how we do the little things, but more importantly, it’s getting integrated into many of the large delivery activities that we have going on and changing, just like we wanted. Changing the way that our teams interact with our clients, in order to get to a better business result together. In some cases it’s now amplified in a global means: So, we have clients that are all around the world and are doing things, projects across many geographies and so, injecting some of the things that are going on here, into what we’re doing in other places, is also very helpful and bringing new perspective to all those teams.

Howard Sublett: Yeah. And, John, I know that from the SolutionsIQ perspective, things have changed, as well. So what’s kind of happened to us, in our go-to-markets and how we’re engaging and how we’re perceive in the marketplace now as being a part of Accenture?

John Rudd: Yeah, it’s a good questions and we’ve maintained some brand identity, which is not always the case when a large company acquires a smaller one, and I think, there’s a really good reason for that. One is, Accenture has an exceptional brand in the delivery side and SolutionsIQ came in with an exceptional brand in Agile transformation. And those are not the same things, although as Jeff mentioned, both sides can leverage each other. So what I’ve found is, being able to show up as we do, branded Accenture | SolutionsIQ, is it [inaudible 00:14:39] as a company we didn’t necessarily have before. And that is, right now it’s across regions. I don’t know, what do we have, 126 different countries that we operate in. We, as agilists, started out on day one and just as an ambassadorship started to reach out to other Agile practice areas, a large organization like Accenture was not waiting around for the SolutionsIQ acquisition to actually get active in the market, so there already were a good collection of great agilists here.

We continue to work collaboratively with that community, as we look right now, our ability to, in a collaborative fashion, share some of the solutions that we brought to market, with some of the great practices that have been developed here, is ongoing, so we would see that collaborative reach is now stretching into other parts of the globe as well. So, we were all about, you had mentioned, on the front end, this concept is – Howard, you know quite well – which has been summarized in “Bring humanity to the workplace.”

Howard Sublett: Absolutely.

John Rudd: It’s something we’ve always at SolutionsIQ been very, very passionate about and it’s something that we’ve taken very seriously. And the hope was that, by doing this type of an acquisition, our ability to make that type of an impact on a much bigger and bolder way would manifest. And all I can say is, it absolutely has. So, what we had hoped for, in terms of being able to extend – extend in terms of influence with the organizations that we’re talking to, extend on a geographic basis, extend in terms of the scope of the services that we’re providing – across all of those dimensions, it absolutely has happened and it’s happened at a more accelerated rate and at a higher level than I had anticipated going in. So I am quite pleased with that.

Howard Sublett: It’s almost like, since the acquisition, it’s been a prioritization problem over what areas do we now choose to be in, because it’s been growing so fast. The amount of – I mean, I remember the first week or so when the announcement happened, and all of our great consultants had kind of take some of those leads and you guys were getting hit on a regular basis from people in other countries saying, “Now we have this thing within our services of delivery, come work here, come work here, come work here.” And it’s become a kind of a prioritization of, how do we figure out where to be at the right time. And we’re fully at capacity as we are, so it really has opened up complete new worlds for us, as organizations.

John Rudd: Yeah I would agree 100 percent, I know that Jeff he’d probably want to contribute on this one as well, but I would say that it has been, as a small company, where finding that sales pipeline on an ongoing basis – which we were pretty success at SolutionsIQ, we had good growth. But we had no idea, the amount of opportunities that were just in the marketplace, if we could just, kind of, stepping into the Accenture ecosystem – boy do we have access to that, so that’s been really incredible.

Jeff Emerson: And if only we had some method of prioritizing our work in progress.

Howard Sublett: I think somebody has a course on that, or something, maybe we can take. And-

John Rudd: We definitely have to work on WIP limit, let me tell you that.

Howard Sublett: I find, I mean, I kind of live in the Agile space and all of us teach that, yet we don’t always practice it as well as we should, so sometimes I think we know how to teach it, we don’t know how to understand WIP limits, that’s for sure.

Early on, a year ago, if I take myself back to a year ago, the moment the announcement went out, there was a lot of rumbling, cause our audience here is predominantly in the Agile space but there was rumbling in the Agile space was that, this was the death knell of SolutionsIQ and this was the end of that. And I think it’s interesting thinking about, we’re a year later and there’s no death knell. We’re actually still rapidly growing and expanding in areas we never even thought we would expand in. It’s actually kind of cool what you guys have been able to do: to take two companies that may not naturally sound like they go together, a very Agile SolutionsIQ and then a very, very large global company like Accenture and yet, keep branding – and I think there’s a story there that you guys can own and be proud of. That even a year later, we’re still at that growth curve, that’s crazy.

Jeff Emerson: Yeah I’m thrilled by that Howard, and I think that a key part of that is just recognizing that we didn’t make an acquisition to have SolutionsIQ come and do more of what Accenture does. We did an acquisition of SolutionsIQ to bring that special sauce, that special consulting and transformation expertise that SolutionsIQ has led in the market and help do that with our clients and with ourselves. Right? And so, squashing it into the old formula, if there were such a thing, is the opposite direction of the way we’d want to go. And now we’re seeing the fruits of that strategy play out now.

Howard Sublett: Yeah, and to your credit a little bit Jeff, and I don’t want anybody to hear this and think it’s all been perfect, everything has gone exactly like we’ve planned, right? You especially and your team, it sounds like I’m saying your side and our side, but that’s kind of the story we’re telling, but we work for the same company. But when we learn something, or we had an impediment and things that happen. You guys we’re really responsive in answering those and helping to adapt to processes to help respond to things and I think that has a lot to do with the success of the story. I think it has a lot to do with it.

John Rudd: Yeah, I would agree. I think, you had mentioned yourself a couple of stories, or Howard, one of the things that – and again, in terms of exceeding expectations – going in to it I’m not sure we knew exactly what to expect. Everybody I don’t think knew exactly-

Howard Sublett: Right.

John Rudd: … but we did know that there was gonna be a transition and that change is hard and change can be hard on individuals. And while we maintained a lot of what was historically governance around SolutionsIQ, there were also elements of governance that came in from Accenture.

Howard Sublett: Sure.

John Rudd: So, there’s transition, as you said Howard, it’s even transition to new systems, that’s kind of tough. So, there’s a necessary kind of organizational digestion that went through that, but again the thing that I walk away from, is, an organization that it wasn’t “our way or the highway,” it was an organization that said … And as I say, we have an interesting population of people coming in, gradually, right.

Howard Sublett: Yes.

John Rudd: So we ask, why? So any time we’re asked to do something that just doesn’t seem obvious as to why, we’ll ask why. And what I thought was interesting to that process, is the organization that acquired us, in many cases, said, “That’s a really good question,-

Howard Sublett: Yeah.

John Rudd: … let’s look into that.” So, we’ve already seen system changes that have taken place based on asking why and based on further investigation, and I think as we take a look at some of the tea leaves here, that we would expect more and, as Jeff said, there were designs in the acquisition of SolutionsIQ, there were a number of reasons to do that, but I think it is to have an organization that’s built on Agile values. How can we take some of the things this small company has developed and apply it in a way so it can actually impact more people. So starting to see that pan out, is really, is quite exciting for me personally, but also I think for our whole community that came in.

Howard Sublett: Yeah, and I don’t want this story to just sound like, “Accenture has learned a lot from us,” because we’ve learned an awful lot from Accenture as well.

John Rudd: Yeah, I think it’s really important, and again, … We worked in partner arrangement with many of the, if not all of the large consulting companies and I would say one of the great things about Accenture, is there’s kind of low organizational hubris, which is unusual for a consulting organization. Now everybody’s very serious, serious about their craft, it’s a very professional group and a really sharp group of people, but this sense of collaboration and I think not all organizations would have been interested in – from almost day one, when we started the conversations, it became apparent that that was really one of the overall drivers. And in the meetings with Jeff, his representation of senior management and our meetings of senior management through the process, it was affirmed and just as the more and more we learned about the direction Accenture was going in, the more and more we said, “This is so aligned with where we’re going and where we believe the world should be going.” So, yeah, it became very easy for us to say, “They’re doing great things here and we wanna be a part of that as well.”

Howard Sublett: Absolutely. You mentioned tea leave, so I was gonna ask Jeff if he’d start off think about … I’m gonna ask you to look in your crystal ball or your tea leaves, as John said. What’s the future look like for this new organization that you’ve helped create here? This Accenture | SolutionsIQ. When you look in look in that crystal ball, where are we going? What are we gonna be looking out for?

Jeff Emerson: Well, it starts with growth, it starts with bringing the goodness that SolutionsIQ has and making that pervasive across, not just our technology and delivery arms, but throughout our consulting organization, and expanding the way that we think and talk and act about business agility. Some of it is driving business agility in our own organization, a lot of it is helping our clients blaze the way with business agility. So, now, that growth is, you know, across what we do, internally it’s across all of our client base in North America and it’s expanding beyond those borders as well.

Howard Sublett: John, what do you see when you look at your crystal ball?

John Rudd: Well, I see a lot of things, cause we got a new fiscal year coming here on September one and we got a big agenda of stuff that we’re trying to accomplish. Yeah, I think Jeff’s right in terms of growth, but really what that is is it’s addressing the need that exists right now. So that growth is definitely making sure that we continue to get great people in here. That growth means that we are developing the next level of agilists, we have a tremendous delivery organization within Accenture, for which we are looking at, how do we make that connection from somebody who’s been great in delivery, into understand those components of coaching and transformation and then kind of helping develop that.

So there is – as we’ve all seen in the agile space – is the fence lines of business agility continues to expand, growth would also fall into the category of developing that thought leadership further. I think SolutionsIQ has always prided itself as being cutting edge in terms of, what’s happening in the Agile space, and certainly cross the suite of services that people might need as business agility. So further investment in that, further development, and as we look at the horizon, the expansion of business agility into the C-suite and overall organization.

So, I think that, so very consistent with what Jeff said, and I think along those dimensions I think is what we’re gonna be focused on here in the coming months.

Howard Sublett: Yeah, growth is what … and it’s not just growth in North America, it’s growth around the horizon, around our flat earth – no, around our round earth. But I think that one of the things that I’m seeing and I’m seeing more and more and you kind of made light of it a little bit earlier Jeff, things like the word “resource.” But I’m seeing these movements, within Accenture, this truly human movements and these other things that are … The things that, the cultural awareness and the human movements within Accenture, I’m seeing more and more and more, maybe I’m just looking for them more, but we’re having more conversations with people in there and I think that the future, for the impact for what this acquisition has caused – we’ll see much more ripples within that, as the years go on.

Even beyond growth, right? We’ll actually change the shape of our parent company, of who we are.

Jeff Emerson: Yeah, I mean growth doesn’t happen because everybody gets a T-shirt that says, “I’m Agile.” Growth happens because they’ve changed the way of thinking.

Howard Sublett: I didn’t know there was a T-shirt, I’ve never gotten the T-shirt.

Jeff Emerson: Well maybe you’re not Agile yet.

Howard Sublett: Oh my gosh. Guys, this has been a lot of fun. I know that we didn’t know what we were gonna talk about exactly, I gave you a little bit of what I was gonna ask you, and you’ve been great sports, because I put you a little bit on the spot. So, if somebody wants to reach out to you, Jeff, what email, if somebody just wants to write you and ask you about something, how can they reach you?

Jeff Emerson: Sure it’s Jeffrey, with an R-E-Y, dot P, as in pneumonia. Dot Emerson, E-M-E-R-S-O-N, at Accenture dot com.

Howard Sublett: P, as in pneumonia? You actually go there. And John, how about you sir?

John Rudd: John dot Rudd, R-U-D-D, at Accenture dot com.

And I would say this is, one of the great things that has happened since this acquisition took place, is I think the people that were really kind of hardcore agilists, that Accenture might’ve had a hard time bringing in the door, and the people that were really kind of into doing big-time consulting that SolutionsIQ might not have brought in the door – we’ve been able to bring a lot of these people that otherwise we wouldn’t have accessed. So the group of people that have come in in the last 12 months, like the people that work here and a practice of Accenture before and SolutionsIQ, are fantastic and I just encourage anybody who wants to come in, get your fingerprints on what we’re doing and help us change the world, we wanna hear from you.

Howard Sublett: Absolutely. If they actually wanna see who we are and read … it’s interesting because it’s pretty easy to get to it’s just Accenture dot com, forward slash, agile, and you’ll find us, you’ll find the practice that we’re talking about, so.

Guys thanks for spending part of your day with me.

John Rudd: Yeah, thank you Howard, it’s a lot of fun.

Howard Sublett: Jeff-

Jeff Emerson: Thanks Howard.