Thursday 27 April 2017

Data and diversity help put global consulting giant's clients at 'heart of digital economy'

Eithne Harley, marketing director of Accenture explains to John McGee how the firm has expanded in recent years

Eithne Harley of Accenture which has put gender diversity at the heart of its strategy
Eithne Harley of Accenture which has put gender diversity at the heart of its strategy

John McGee

With over 2,000 staff operating across business areas like strategy, digital, consulting and technology, Accenture's Irish operations have grown considerably in recent years. Dublin is now HQ to a number of group-wide initiatives, including its Centre for Innovation, a global corporate services hub and the Dublin Analytics Innovation Centre, which specialises in fraud and risk.

Accenture's client list reads like a Who's Who of the corporate world and includes companies such as AIB, Electric Ireland, Kerry Group, Bank of Ireland, Ryanair, Microsoft and the Department of Social Protection.

As integrated marketing director for Accenture, Eithne Harley is tasked with overseeing all the marketing functions of the different business units. She has also played a lead role in positioning it prominently within the startup community, as well as on issues like inclusion and gender diversity in business.

Over the last 10 years, Accenture has morphed into a multi-faceted consultancy, with many service offerings. How has this come about?

"Essentially it's all been about working side-by-side with our clients and bringing them right to the heart of the digital economy. Every business is ultimately a digital business and we want to be the partner of choice for them. Everything we do is focused on innovation and how we as a team, together with our clients, can drive innovation for tomorrow.

"We are in a very strong position to help our clients accelerate and navigate the complexities of digital business. The reality is that the game has changed completely and businesses need to focus not only on their agility but the capability of their team.

"What is driving a lot of this change is the pace and the speed at which businesses and governments need to respond to customer needs and they expect that, whether it's their bank or their government agency, to be provided with the best customer experience that is seamless across multiple platforms and in an instant. From an Accenture perspective, we have developed to respond to these changes and that also means being a lot more agile and innovative."

Accenture has also made a bold play in the digital marketing space, why?

"Accenture is the largest digital agency in the world and we've made a number of acquisitions over the past few years, including the likes of design agency Fjord and the recent acquisition of Karmarama in the UK, and digital is a very important part of the Accenture offering.

"At the same time, we have been steadily growing the business across a number of key areas in Ireland, including our Innovation Centre and our Analytic Innovations Centre. Combined, all of this has allowed us to be in the fortunate position of being able to provide an end-to-end service in areas like design, strategy, data, analytics and technology. And this makes a big difference for clients as they know and trust our ability to deliver."

What are the opportunities for Accenture in the marketing space?

"Artificial intelligence is going to be a big opportunity and we have a wonderful tech lab for AI here in Dublin. AI will soon become an every-day thing and when you bring it together with other deep analytical technologies and sales it creates a much more intelligent sales structure and this is a big focus for many of our clients. Security is also going to be huge and it's an area which we are pushing significantly. It all comes down to mobile and having a strong mobile strategy and capabilities."

As a marketer who is quite literally at the coal-face of change in the marketing universe, what does the future hold for marketing?

"Marketers can get very hot and bothered about the pace of change by thinking it's all very complex and overwhelming, with too many choices to make, but the reality is that it remains all about knowing your customer, knowing your audience, building your brand and your reputation and telling a good story. How you do that and the channels you use may have changed but the principles have not."

Why does gender diversity play a big role in the company's marketing strategy?

"Apart from my day-to-day marketing role, we place a lot of emphasis on our corporate reputational drivers and diversity and inclusion are a bit part of this and we are incredibly committed to these. We also invest a lot of our marketing resources in them, particularly around International Women's Day in March each year. Last year, for example, we had around 1,300 people in the Convention Centre for two hours, in what was probably one of the biggest events of its kind in the world on International Women's Day."

"We've also just launched another initiative called Women on Walls which was developed in response to the lack of portraits of women on the walls of the Royal Irish Academy. In its 230 years, not one single portrait of a woman has been on its walls. So we came up with an idea, in partnership with the RIA, to address this which launched this week. In all, 12 women were selected to be the subjects of the portraits and the purpose is to encourage businesses to consider if the presence of women is reflected in their own workplaces and if not, to make some active changes. We are really excited about it and we've had lots of interest in it as a result."

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