The Agile Enterprise: Talent, Culture, and Digital Transformation

Agile started as a software technique–to move quickly and iterate to achieve breakthroughs. Now entire companies can use the approach to make themselves more innovative. How does it work? Max Furmanov, Global Emerging Technology Lead for Accenture, recently shared his ideas at Techonomy NYC19.


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DREW IANNI: This is a good segue from digital transformation of New York City to we’re going to talk a little bit about digital transformation. We’ve got a limited amount of time, so let’s jump right in. Why don’t you introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about what you do at Accenture? 

MAX FURMANOV: I was worried we’d have to jump from like the geopolitical issues of China right into this and that would be a little more difficult. So, Max Furmanov, I’m a managing director at Accenture, been threre for about 19 years now, and run today now our emerging technology practice globally, which is where we look at sort of new innovative technologies and how they’re helpig drive innovation for our clients. 

DREW IANNI: That’s great, and thank you to Accenture for being a sponsor here, and it’s SolutionsIQ is also part of that logo that you see around, and what is SolutionsIQ? 

MAX FURMANOV: Yeah, so like I said I’ve been at Accenture for 19 years and over the course of the last I would say 10, we’ve been on an acquisition spree, so SolutionsIQ is an organization we’ve acquired, and it’s really kind of, I think relevant to this topic because as our clients are pivoting to digital transformation becoming what we think of as an agile business, SolutionsIQ plays a key role in that in helping transform not just the technology piece, which is historically where Accenture has really been strong, but also the culture, people, and the operating model aspects of it. And that’s kind of you know, us recognizing that bringing in organizations like SolutionsIQ to help drive those services to our clients. 

DREW IANNI: And you used to run the liquid applications studios. I’m just curious what exactly is a liquid application studio? Can we hear a little bit about that? 

MAX FURMANOV: Yeah, so I was actually just remembering about that as I was hearing Kathy talk about kind of Fintech, and what we do with the private, public partnerships in New York City. The liquid application studio is kind of our little incubation lab, where we bring clients in and work with them to drive innovation and to experiment with technologies that kind of showcase and demonstrate the culture and the physical aspects of the environment that require you to do that and think differently. And so I launched our liquid application studio network a couple of years ago. We now have something like 35 facilities across the globe with several thousand people dedicated to that, where we work with our clients together. 

DREW IANNI: That’s great, so digital transformation, so I’ve been actually running an event on digital transformation for 6 years, so I have my own thoughts on the state of digital transformation, but I want to hear your thoughts on, so you know it has become a buzz word, right? Everybody is driving digital transformation. We just heard what the city is doing, and the city is doing great things, also plug Kate. I don’t know where Kate is. Kate has spoken at my events before, and J-lab is doing phenomenal work. I think certainly a poster child for great things on the innovation and transformation front and helping lead J&J there. But what is the state of digital transformation from your and Accenture’s perspective at a top line? 

MAX FURMANOV: So to be honest with you, I’m not a big fan of the term, digital transformation, and the reason I’m not is because it sort of implies that, you know, that there’s an end state that you get to. Right, so you go through this activity and now you’re digital, you’ve transformed, and you’re successful. And I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think what’s happening with digital and organizations today is, you know, Accenture said in our vision a couple years ago that every business is a digital business. And what that means is that businesses are starting to use digital technologies to industrialize their operating processes and make them more efficient and you know, more personalized, effective, etc. And they’re also creating digital services around physical products, even for companies that aren’t technical, right. They’re creating digital services around it. So that’s what’s happening in digital space but this notion that you will transform to get there is I think, is not a good one. And you know, for me, I’m running the Brooklyn Half-Marathon on Saturday so running is top of mind. And I think of it as not a race that you do, which is when you say digital transformation, sort of implies that there’s an activity, you’re done with it and that’s it. I think it’s the muscle you build to constantly do races. Right, and so that’s why I don’t like the term, but I do think that digital transformation is a thing and businesses are starting to become you know, increasingly more and more digital and it’s a really, really important part of technology. 

DREW IANNI: And I think it’s also a misnomer in the sense of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company doesn’t call you or call Accenture, and say I need to digitally transform my company. It doesn’t start that way. It’s usually a project, or a specific business, or maybe they have a new business model innovation they want to try. Where’s a good starting point if there’s a company out there or an institution, organization that knows they need to start to transform? Where’s a good starting point for them? 

MAX FURMANOV: Well a good starting point is always kind of small, right? It’s something you experiment with, you know, you do something in our liquid studios, you know, we demo something. But you’d be surprised about how many people call you up, and you know, I’ve read about digital transformation in whatever blog, I want a digital transformation. But I think really it’s about defining a business objective, and starting out a small initiative to pilot that, prove out that it can work, and scaling from there. So it’s always, starting small and scaling, is what we see. 

DREW IANNI: And how do you know, we sort of talk about changing culture, and my shows you’re all focused on open innovation, so we’re dealing with a lot of people in the labs and innovation centers, and people running challenges and competitions. When I’m talking to a lot of these people, I say look I’ve got buy in at the top and obviously I’ve got all the people here in the lab, and everyone’s committed to it and want to do it, but my challenge is, I heard the expression the other day called the frozen middle, so the frozen middle of management. So of course you need an executive champion, we know that, probably down at the ground level in terms of the people, you have that. What has been successful in terms of transforming cultures, sort of up in that middle to upper middle management, or senior management, not necessarily a C-suite that’s bought in to transform and get them to truly buy in and truly embrace changing the culture. What’s your advice? 

MAX FURMANOV: You know, I think, doing digital transformation for the sake of digital transformation is the wrong way to go about it. I mean I think the key, and where we’ve seen this happen successfully is where there’s a business vision. Where somebody lays out a vision for their customers or a vision for some other constituency, or a vision for their business that you can rally around. I’ll tell you a great example, you know I spent a number of years at Disney. You guys, anyone experience the Disney Magic Band, or heard of the Magic Band? It’s the connected device that you go to Disney World and experience the parks through. Accenture had a role in that. It was a very interesting experience for me personally. I played a role in that as well. You know, once they had a vision for what kind of an experience they wanted to create for their customer, it suddenly became very easy to rally support all across the organization, and get through some of the really hard stuff like the technology piece of it, which is what I’m passionate about, but also, you know the culture and talent and operating model aspects of it, which is what like SolutionsIQ does. So I think that is really key is having that vision having that mandate that your organization can rally around. 

DREW IANNI: And also I do want to get the audience so think of a question, ultimately this is for you, so I’d like to get into the audience early.  

We talked about data and leveraging data to unlock digital transformation and I know that’s actually what’s in the program and what you wanted to talk about, so share with the audience a little bit about that theory, a little bit about that premise. 

MAX FURMANOV: Yeah, so like I said earlier I’m not a big fan of the term digital transformation because I don’t think it’s about a destination you get to. I think it’s about building muscle, right? To constantly innovate to constantly bring new capabilities to market and doing it at speed. And I think that’s what when we say agile enterprise that’s what agile businesses, effective businesses do. What I think when you look at organizations today and how they start to think of themselves you know, as becoming agile and adopting agility. They think of agile in the sense of the capital A agile. I’m going to run some scrum processes.  

DREW IANNI: And what’s Scrum, just for folks out there? 

MAX FURMANOV: Scrum is a methodology, right, for executing technology implementation that has certain orchestrational elements to it. You know, you do stand ups every day and there’s certain processes you follow. 

DREW IANNI: It’s almost like a Six Sigma. 

MAX FURMANOV: It is very much like it. And there’s others, right. There’s extreme programming methodologies. So a lot of organizations think I’m going to become agile by doing those things. Well guess what. Just because you stand up at 9 o clock every morning and talk about what you’re doing for 15 minutes, which is one of scrum’s, you know, methodologies, you don’t become an agile business. So to become an agile business, with a lower case ‘a’, you need to think about not just the orchestration of agile methods, but also think about how to remove some of the technology inhibitors that are driving that. And I think that’s where data comes in because organizations, you know, if you look at historic organizations they really have an edge over companies even like the startups of the world, like the Ubers of the world because of the data they have about their customers. So we talk about the power of data, you know big data, artificial intelligence, analytics, right, those are hot topics. We also talk about innovative technologies like Blockchain, and you know, things like IOT technologies and AI. We don’t talk about those two things coming together. Many organizations can go and build a blockchain demo very quickly. Very few organizations can actually tie that to data they have and make it relevant to their customers, personalized for their customers. And so when you look at something like Disney, you know, the hard part about that connected experiences that we created for Disney, was not the sensors that were in the parks that were tracking where the people were. The hard part was integrating that with the data that was sitting in their data legacy systems, right, and making that data useful. And that’s the hard part, and that is what prevents organizations from being agile, and I think to become agile, to really go through a digital transformation, you really have to figure out how to unlock that value, how to remove the constraint you have from your core systems that are housing data and make it useful. 

DREW IANNI: And can you share, whatever you can share with the Disney relationship, how do you transform the culture and the enterprise or the structure of the organization to actually make that data actionable, or to act on that data, because it’s one thing to create a bunch of systems and integrate your data and then we got all these actionable insights, but is there anything that these companies are doing within their organization? Are they having new people sort of own sort of the collective data, but in term of making that data actionable and actually extracting that value, sort of at a really tactical level? How do you do that? 

MAX FURMANOV: Yeah, so at a very tactical level, I think it’s hard, because you know, there’s all sorts of, obviously there’s sensitivity from a legal standpoint, then people feel about their personalized data, but also you know, this creepiness factor, so like when we were working with Disney, one element of it was we were able to provide so much data about the guests that Disney was actually worried about how creepy that would be, right. So like when you’re in the park, you can walk up to a cast member and say “hey, I’d like to know where the nearest restaurant is where I can get pasta or whatever, right. And before the Magic Band we had no idea who you were, so they’re coming up to them and they have no idea who you are. And today when you come up to them the band actually forms, you know, their iPad and pulls up all this data about you, and they were very cautious in how to use that data, right, and even calling you out by name, you know, they did some studies, and if you go up to them and they say, “hey Drew, we know you’re staying at this hotel” that freaks you out. They call your kid out by the way that doesn’t seem to bother anyone, only if it’s you, so there’s some weirdness to how we react. Yeah, like if Cinderella walks up to your daughter and says, “Happy birthday, Julie” you’re okay with that, but if they know you’re name that seems to be a problem. So anyways, how you treat data, right, is really important and thinking through that is critical, but also enabling technologically to have access to that data is what’s going to drive it. 

DREW IANNI: And before I go to the audience we should also think about GDPR, and the data protections in Europe, which are coming the U.S. in some capacity. California may be leading the way. It’s mainly been advertising driven, sort of email marketing driven, but that’s also going to have an impact in terms of what Disney can use with its own first party data and communicating that, and I think it is very important that everybody watch that. 

Alright times zipping by we got a couple minutes, so let’s get to a couple questions. In the back, you can just wait for the mic and also introduce yourself once it arrives, thank you. 

JULIA McCALLISTER: Hi, Julia McCallister, from DevMethod, so I have a question. With agile methodologies it often requires rapid iteration, but also when working with a bigger company, you do have to budget and plan for the projects that you’re starting. Have you found a process that is effective for estimating how long a bigger project will take, while also using agile methodologies once you actually kick that project off? 

MAX FURMANOV: Yeah, so actually really glad, thank you for asking that question. I think it’s a really important element for organizations to become agile, is not just look at technology, culture, and talent, but also think about how does it fit in to the bigger processes, right. And there absolutely are methods and mechanisms for doing that, you know, scaled agile, safe methodologies, not my favorite, but a way of doing it. You know the key thing is that you have to think about those things, because you’re absolutely right for traditional organizations, historical organizations, large complex organizations, you know, they have very traditional processes for dealing with that. How do you do funding? How do you do all those things? And they need to start to pivot and change that because if they’re not doing that but only talking about how to be agile and how to apply certain methods and even how to apply certain technologies, they’re really not transforming themselves, they’re really not becoming agile, they’re really not going to be able to respond to the market, so you know, that is a really key element. I would say even how you organized is even often contrary to becoming a more agile enterprise and organization, so these are all the things they have to think through and actually you know SolutionsIQ, one of the reasons we acquired them is because they have a point of view, methodologies, and ways of solving these problems both for things like funding and organizational effectiveness, etc. 

DREW IANNI: We have time for one more…Did we answer all the questions. Oh we got one. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I would really like to dig in to that analogy about running the marathon and the muscles. What would you consider the muscles. I’m serious. Is it the people, is it the data, is it the decision making process, is it the reaction time? 

MAX FURMANOV: Yeah, so great question. Actually I think it’s a couple of things. One is, it is how you’re organized. How you’re operating as an organization. Okay, where does control sit, and specifically thinking about how to start to shift from being a traditional kind of pillar based organization, where you have different business units and IT and things like that, to being more product focused and really tying, you know, how you’re operating to outcomes that your customers, you know, ultimately consume. I think that’s one key element, but I think the other key element of it is technology, right, and building the right foundation to get at the data you have in, you know, your enterprise in a very rapid way, so somebody said it’s about iteration it’s about doing things very quickly. Well to do things quickly you also need access to data quickly and one of the things we faced at Disney was every time we needed access to, you know, their retail system or their hotel management system, it would be like yeah no problem we can give you access to that. It’ll take 6 months and 5 million dollars, right. So there’s a lot technology there today to get passed that, and we often, you know, we think about technology implementation as these individual projects, but we need to start to think about the overall enterprise architecture to enable that, and I think that’s the second piece. The third element I would say is the talent and culture that really needs to transform for organizations. 

DREW IANNI: And my unsolicited parting shot with that is over 6 years of doing these events and digital transformations from chief digital officers to chief marketing officers to chief innovation officers to heads of open innovation, I always ask them, how often do you interface with HR...never. And, you know, it’s all about cultural transformation. It’s insane to me. Every board should have the CHRO on the board, to me it’s insane that it doesn’t happen, and then they’ll get up on stage and say my biggest problem is talent, or my biggest problem is changing culture. Anyway, so that’s just my unsolicited rant. 

MAX FURMANOV: No, I think that’s absolutely right. We have an agile HR kind of practice area, and one of the things they tell me is most people don’t realize this but, you know, most people today are not incentivized primarily by monetary rewards, and that’s a very interesting thing, so people go and talk to HRs when there is reward problems or compensation problems, but that’s actually not what incentivizes most people today, so it’s really important. 

DREW IANNI: Alright, we got to wrap. Thanks very much. 

MAX FURMANOV: Thanks Drew.