The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast

Ideas and Strategies for Technology Growth

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As part of our The Thought Leader’s Voice podcast series, we are thrilled to be in conversation with Prashant Shukla, an ideas entrepreneur and experienced thought leader in technology strategy.

Based in Boston, USA, Prashant is Principal Director for Research at Accenture, a global professional services company. He designs and leads cross-enterprise research programs that anticipate and identify key business, market and technology trends.

Prashant has led many impactful thought leadership projects throughout his tenure at Accenture. Among major research issues and ideas he has worked on are Crowd Capital, Missing Middle, Human + Machine, Digital Decoupling, and Future Systems.

He has lectured at universities, including Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has been published in business publications including the Harvard Business Review.

Join us as Prashant shares the imperatives and strategies for growth and scaling innovation in enterprise technology. He also sheds light on how company executives can pave the way for better business outcomes.

Key Takeaways

  • A recent study by Accenture shows that leading companies that amplified their technology investments during the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly extended their growth advantage over competitors, growing revenue at five times the rate of lagging companies.
  • The research highlights the practices adopted by leaders in tech investments and innovation in comparison to laggards. What differentiates the leaders from the laggards? Why are they stronger positioned for growth, and how do they approach and scale innovation differently?
  • How are leading organizations reframing their mindsets regarding technology and innovation – and demonstrating growth even in these challenging times?
  • What temptations does the industry often succumb to when it comes to technology growth? Where do companies need to direct their efforts, investments, and budgets?
  • Why do companies need to provide employees with a better experience? And what impact does setting the right culture have on business outcomes?
  • What are the key challenges that businesses will need to address, and what are the key trends on the horizon to look out for?

Full Transcript of Podcast with Prashant Shukla

Rachael Kinsella: Hello and welcome to The Thought Leader’s Voice. I’m Rachael Kinsella, Editor-in-Chief at iResearch Services and your host today. We’re delighted to be welcoming Prashant Shukla today. He’s an experienced Thought Leader in Technology Strategy and an Ideas Entrepreneur. A role that got us very excited here at The Thought Leader’s Voice. Based in Boston out of the US, Prashant is the Principal Director for Research at Accenture – a leading global professional services firm. In this role, he designs and leads cross-enterprise research programs that anticipate and identify key business, market and technology trends.

Prashant has led many important thought leadership projects throughout his tenure at Accenture. Among major research issues and ideas that he’s worked on are crowd capital, missing middle, human and machine, digital decoupling, and future systems. Seeing the skills and experience of the Principal Director of Technology Research at Accenture, we just had to invite him to talk about ideas and strategies for technology growth today and here we are. A warm welcome Prashant. Lovely to have you here today. We’re delighted to hear what you have to say on this very important topic.

Prashant Shukla:  Thank you, Rachael. Thank you for that generous, warm welcome. A pleasure to be here.

Rachael Kinsella: Thank you for joining us. So, if we get started, I think we can pick up on some of the major changes that we’ve seen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what it’s brought to the technology sector and how companies have really adapted but ready for fresh expansion and experienced growth in difficult times.  Obviously, while the pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption across businesses and industries, companies that amplified their technology investments during this time have significantly extended their growth and their advantage over competitors. Research from Accenture revealed that technology has undeniably become indispensable to business success, and directly enables companies to not only survive but even thrive during one of the most disruptive times in history. Your report, “Make the leap, take the lead” shows that by stepping up investments in Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, and other technologies, leaders are now growing revenue up to five times the rate of the laggards which are exceptionally higher than the double growth rate that leaders reported just a few years ago. So, seeing really significant growth, even in such challenging circumstances. So, what have the leading companies done in order to make these strides in difficult times and to be able to continue to grow during the pandemic?

Prashant Shukla: Yeah. It’s a great question and I think you said the backdrop right. I want to give a little bit more background on that… on these two research reports that you talked about. So, the first one you mentioned was called full value, full stop which was pre-pandemic, this was in 2019. This was one of the largest enterprise technology surveys, that we had ever done at Accenture. So, we got 48,000 executives and we asked them a variety of questions about tech adoption, tech penetration within their company, and cultural readiness for tech-enabled innovation. Right? And so that’s where we had actually come up with the idea of system strength, and top 10% of the companies and members of system strength, we call them leaders, and the bottom quartile, the bottom 25%, we call them laggards. So that’s your reporting is 2019 technology leaders. It’s hard to stress the point that they were technology leaders first.

So we define them based on the system trends score which is the technology measure. So, tech leaders are growing at two times the rate of tech laggards. This is pre-pandemic, right? Of course, when the pandemic hit as you mentioned, businesses or lives, personal, professional, didn’t matter what kind of business you were, B2B, B2C, things were changed and there was a need to get things started virtually. Right? Whereas previously, you might have had the option of working together with your colleagues, you didn’t have that. So, things, co-location was no longer an option and wasn’t always there.

So, things needed to be done virtually and that was perhaps the main single most important impact. And so, what we found again, we repeated the similar research right? So, we were measuring again, the system strength score, three parts tech adoption, tech penetration, and cultural readiness for tech-enabled innovation. What did we find? We found leaders who went into the pandemic with an advantage, right? So that’s…you have to kind of give them that because they were ahead in terms of systems trends score. So, they had an advantage and we found that they were now growing at five times the rate of laggers during the pandemic. What had been done? Well, they had actually accelerated and doubled down their investments in key technologies such as Cloud, AI, and so on. So that was one of the key findings of the second study, we repeated along these lines.

Rachael Kinsella: Wow, it’s really impressive to see that difference between 2019 and then actually, during the pandemic, and I mean, it makes sense. They’ve got that firm foundation to ask technology leaders to be able to drive growth and that advantage over competitors; and it really kind of shows the difference between the leaders and the laggards as you say, and as you outlined in your research. What kind of marks out those types of companies that are the leaders that are the front runners that have even demonstrated the growth during the pandemic?

Prashant Shukla: So, I think the point to know is that the technology landscape that companies navigate in, and they have to address this, is pretty dizzying. There’s a lot of things going on in the business environment, that’s something companies can’t control. Right? But what they can control is how they respond to this frenzy of, you know, technology. You know, Zeitgeist going on. There seems to be a new tech trend every other week or so and it’s something new coming up. So, the temptation is really there.

And the temptation is really high to go after the next big thing. Next shiny thing, right? So, I think in our research, what we find is that companies who use technology strategy is actually the opposite of the frenzy in their outside environment, actually perform the best. Right? And what I mean by that is leaders in both these studies, were actually very deliberate about the tech adoption. So, for instance, one thing I remember clearly is what we found in laggers was that 60%, a very high number, 60% of laggers, had adopted AI and machine learning technologies before they invested in data, big data technologies.

Rachael Kinsella: Wow.

Prashant Shukla:  The other thing we have consistently stressed is that often times in laggers, we find you’re piloting new technology in a specific corner of your organization. Maybe the Data Science Group has a lot of expertise and prediction models or whatever, but that’s not being translated elsewhere. That’s not being, you know, central communicated and that expertise know-how is not being emulated elsewhere in the organization. Well, leaders are expert in doing that. And that’s how they scale the process innovation, they just know how being able to predict things. And of course, these things mattered when our world was turned upside down because of the pandemic.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely.

Prashant Shukla:  Yeah.

Rachael Kinsella: So, having that focus, that measured, sequential approach to adopting new technologies, to processes, to investment not just jumping on the bandwagon and trying to jump on the next big thing without any planning or foresight. And then obviously, that put them in a stronger position for growth and for being able to make better use of the technologies that they have focused their efforts on. So, the leaders that have really been very focused and structured in their approach have been the winners.

Prashant Shukla: Exactly. And that’s really, you know, our job for Accenture as well as our clients is that is to kind of siphon out the signal from all this noise that’s out there. Right? And so, if you just simply think of technology strategies, in terms of options that you can choose from and options that you need to prioritize for, it becomes a very complex equation to solve. So, I think that’s what we’ve tried to do in all these research programs. And so, but having said the story of leaders, laggards is always interesting, but I think, the surprise, what you found, the second time around, was the emergence of a new group of companies called leapfroggers right? So, I do want to get into this story that has been because again, so we talked about systems strength, I want to give you another measure we developed so these are concrete.

It’s a measure we developed through our service. We’ve been tracking this measure for about five years now, and it’s simply how do you allocate your IT budgets? And which way is it going? So, usually what we find in our clients is that 70% of your IT budget allocation is going towards operations or maintenance, and 30% is spent on innovation. Now, what you find is that this new group, new breed of companies, is accelerating that allocation and shifting focus from operations to innovation. So, they’re flipping the IT budget allocation and the idea is to make your IT budget innovation-heavy, not operations-heavy. So, we call this the flip size in the report. And this is the defining characteristic, defining KPI metric, you know whatever you want to call it, for leapfroggers. And so, for me, this was a surprise. This was the real news of our second report is this new group of companies called leapfroggers, who sometimes are even performing better than the Leaders, even though they did not have the same level of system strength. So, they were not in the top 10%. So let’s say their tech adoption, tech penetration and the culture isn’t at the level of leaders yet. By shifting focus from operations to innovation they were able to do well during the pandemic.

Rachael Kinsella: That’s very interesting, because you can see again, a different area of focus, but by shifting priorities, in terms of budget, in terms of how they are operating into innovation, that allows that forward thinking. That allows that love that you’ve called them leapfroggers because it just conjures up sort of a springboard to help them leap over the competition and to catch up with the market leaders. So that’s a really interesting way of being able to picture where these organizations are.

Prashant Shukla: Yeah, and it’s very, the shift is very concrete as well, right? So, it’s like what do we mean? What are all these companies doing when they know what the flip is happening very concretely? It’s a flip in which KPIs you’re optimizing for. So, traditionally, whereas most companies would be obsessed about optimizing technology and technical KPIs, such as, your downtime. How often do you have a downtime, you know, server or how often does it take to resolve an issue or something very technical, you know, how long is your code, how efficient is your code, how efficient is your code compiling?

Basically speaking, like, most companies will be obsessed with optimizing the IT KPIs, when the flip happens when companies actually are optimizing business-relevant KPIs. That’s what we notice, in leapfroggers again, and again, and I think it’s a very concrete thing to take away from the research.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely. So, if companies are wanting to grow particularly in difficult times, they shouldn’t just be focused on the technology itself, or on the more technical aspects of running the business, but actually looking at those business-related KPIs and looking at better customer experience, better route to market, better you know, lower cost per acquisition, as you say. And then again, sort of in terms of apportioning investment, and allocating budget, making sure that that’s to the areas of the business that are actually going to have that, you know, maximize the business efforts, and looking at it from a commercial perspective, rather than necessarily getting bogged down with the operational.

Prashant Shukla: Exactly, yeah.

Rachael Kinsella: So, how do you think this can be accelerated further as we’re starting to obviously, you know, the pandemic still going on? There’s still dramatic geopolitical changes and lots of other factors that are affecting technology leaders, and organizations, and, you know, a lot of them aren’t going away anytime soon. How can both the organizations that are the leaders or are in that strong leapfrogging position, or those that are lagging behind and looking at ways to get ahead? How can they continue to accelerate growth and adapt to change with all of these in mind?

Prashant Shukla: Yes, so, like you said, I think there are definitely new forces that we are observing. The model that leapfroggers have offered to attain a step function change in the performance or a step function, and we’d like to jump into a different performance category still holds by and large still holds and what’s that model? We highlighted that model as 3R’s in the report: re-platforms, re-framing, and reach as we’ve touched upon all those things a little bit. But very precisely, re-platforming is about re-platforming your entire business to the cloud. Right? And so, what do we mean by that? It’s not just about migrating specific applications, specific amounts of computer storage, networking, to the cloud, but rather think of cloud as literally the platform where your business runs. Right? So that should be your default of running all your corporate functions, all the business processes, even strategizing and looking at diversification or new products and services, and so on. So that’s, the first thing re-platforming.

Reframing, we talked about that. Reframing is about shifting how you can use technology. Right? So, is it just to keep the lights on for proverbially to keeping the lights on? Or is it actually driving new strategies? Driving the bottom line. That’s the re-framing of how you use technology and that happens, as I said, through flipping the IT budget allocation, through flipping your focus from, you know, obsessing about optimizing IT KPIs to actually to, well, let’s see what else we can drive using technology, optimizing business KPIs. So, I’ll give you an example of a company we studied during our research is The French Grocer, Carrefour right? And so, they had just started their digital transformation efforts before the pandemic that they knew, the comparative space they were in. They’re primarily an in-person, no physical brick-and-mortar company, but they’re starting to transition to the cloud, and this is the question exactly, sort of the question they wanted an answer to. So, what else can we focus on using IT and technology, and they said, Well, you know, how about sales?

How about focusing on what technology can do to our bottom line? And of course, there’s precedence for that. There’s companies who were already providing same-day or next-day services in the US. So as presidents for that e-commerce, people ordering things to the app, and so they partner with Google, they made it really easy for the customers to order things, you know, via text, via chat, via speech. You didn’t have to be in the same place to interact with your end customer. And so that’s an example of let’s just think about what else technology can do for us, and not just it provides us with a fantastic, like a seamless IT department. That’s great to have, but we want more. So that’s a re-framing of how we use technology in the enterprise.

The third now is reach, which is the idea…this is again, it’s a massive shift that we are observing right now. The next generation in our society as a whole, we’re expecting their holding companies to a higher standard. And so, the traditional financial sort of focus that companies used to have, you know, I’m not sure who wrote it, the economics way of looking at or is a firm. A firm exists to maximize profit. That’s not the case anymore. We expect more from our companies, there’s a realization; we expect a realization of 360 value. You know, and what does that include? It includes metrics like employee satisfaction, sustainability, all these things, you know. So, lots of responsible KPIs coming into play. And again, what we see is actually leaders and leapfroggers are ahead in that department as well. So, they’re caring more for the employees which again was a massive thing during the pandemic, of course, when there’s plenty of other research, secondary research, we know that mental health was affected, transition from work to home, whether you want to kind of work from home or work at home, whatever you want to call it. It was tough on many people. So, leaders and leapfroggers also handled that situation much better, compared to laggards because they were adding technology.

And so, the example of that I want to give is the Deutsche Communications Company, Deutsche Telekom, right? And so, again, a similar story. Deutsche Telekom was also in a similar situation that invested in a scalable, flexible infrastructure that could withstand spikes in, you know, network use. And so, when the pandemic hit,

because of the investment and the scalable, flexible infrastructure, they don’t only handle that, but they could also transition to tens of thousands of employees to home and actually to their home offices; and that was a smooth transition. So, let’s say you invest in good technology, not only can you deliver in the traditional KPIs, in terms of traditional KPIs of IT and business-relevant KPIs, there’s also other KPIs such as employee satisfaction, taking care of them, whatever the needs are at home and so reach is the final pillar of the 3R’s -re-platform, re-frame and reach.

Rachael Kinsella: We haven’t talked as much about… we did touch on it, but we did talk about employee engagement and attracting and retaining talent again in difficult times, and you’ve done some research and you’ve talked about the role of tech innovation, and that strategic approach internally as well. Not just to improve individual performance, but actually looking at well-being, you did touch upon the effects of the personal effects of the pandemic, that massive shift from working in the office to being set up at home, the mental health implications. It’s an area that we’re exploring, particularly looking at the future of work, looking at the importance of well-being, or using some innovative sort of tech-based approaches or tech-based strategic approaches to the more internal aspects of engagement and of transformation.

Prashant Shukla: Yes, yeah, absolutely. So, I think helping your workforce, do a better job, being more productive isn’t again a use case for how technology could help optimize not just technical KPIs, right? So, what would matter for a company today is our employees, you know, doing well mentally? How are they feeling? So, you could find very easily… you could set up with technology, coaching therapy, all sorts of, you know, focus groups, employee groups that they can help themselves can be done to technology; we’re seeing that. What else could you do? We are now seeing that we find in our research to both IT and non-IT executives believe skill obsolescence, in skill obsolescence, and that’s a real thing.

I think so all these things are really part of the employee experience today. Of course, this is all sort of the wake of the pandemic that we’re seeing, while you know, an employee, they’re expecting more from the company and this is compliant and I’m glad you asked the question actually Rachael. This is also part of Reach, the final R. And so, yes, we’re seeing a ton of this happening. And I think we will see even more going forward. The lessons still hold true. And yeah, so those are the only things that I have personally seen and noticed and studied in the past couple of years, but I’m sure there’s more.

Rachael Kinsella: Yeah, I think there will be in time as well as you say as innovation is developing as structures and ways of running an organization are changing and as we have to adapt with ever-changing times, I think we’re going to see more innovation in terms of the internal approaches, and how technology is being used to create a better experience for employees, something that we’re keeping a close eye on, it will be interesting to see how that develops.

Prashant Shukla: Yeah.,.that brought back memories of AutoDesk, a company that we studied for “Make the lead, take the lead” and what they were trying to do is exactly…employee experience and why? They had a very good reason for this. Why do companies need to provide employees with a better experience. Because its employees are getting a far superior experience as consumers of other companies when they are consumers outside the companies, like, they’re used to, you know, things being delivered at their doorstep, contactless delivery, you name it. It’s like their lives are pretty, pretty awesome, you know. So, when they come to work, they’re expecting the same thing. And so, you know, what do you need access to? What is your next learning module? Why is that not…why is the machine learning module not predicting that? A Machine learning module can predict the next show you should watch or next songs you should listen to. You should be able to predict what you should do next, like how you can make your workday better, what kind of new learning models you could use what working applications could be better fit for you and so on. So, I think they are companies, innovative companies who will truly put in this….and keep coming back, it’s…and that’s why I love the 3R’s model. Reframe what you can do with the technology and what kind of KPIs you can actually optimize. And so yeah, plenty of examples in the talent and the workplace space.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely. And again, it’s another example of being able to capitalize on those to identify, first of all and then, capitalize on those opportunities that might be missed, through you know another approach or in a particularly siloed organization or whatever the case may be. So, again, it brings it right back to that 3R model as well.

So, I think we’ve covered up an awful lot today, and I could talk to you forever. I think you’ve got so many fascinating examples of the research that you’ve been doing and obviously, it’s such an interesting and ever-changing topic. But if I were to ask you to be able to crystallize your thoughts into the key challenges that businesses will need to address, the key trends that you’re anticipating based on the research that we’ve been talking about, would you be able to narrow it down to a certain number?

Prashant Shukla: I can definitely try. We could definitely talk about this topic forever. Yeah, so I think, so I would want to, kind of reiterate the point about how the technology landscape every company is trying to traverse, trying to navigate is really dizzying. There’s a lot of noise out there. So, it is hard to sip enough, you know, (to suss out the signal compared to the noise. And it helps to be deliberate…to be deliberate and to be slow at times. And what as we have found in our own research, it helps if you have a high-system strength score, meaning tech adoption, tech penetration and the culture…the right culture to use that technology.

I do want to again, go back to the idea of flip size, right? So the flipping of the IT budget allocation from operations focused, to being innovation focused. How do you do that? What do you really mean by that? Help make that concrete for me, please? Well, shift your focus from just optimizing IT and technical KPIs to actually optimizing business relevant, be it corporate functions, be it strategy, be it bottom line KPIs, you shift that focus from IT KPIs to business KPIs, right? So, I think all these will be valid, moving forward. We are definitely seeing some new forces of change in the horizon. So, we are researching actively for a force like the metaverse, which is bound to change our lives at work and outside of work. We’re definitely looking at sustainability.

We’re looking at talent very, very closely. We’re looking at, talking of ecosystems. We’re also looking at some non-IT tech spaces. So technological disruptions and revolutions going on, material sciences, or biotech, or space technologies. We’re definitely keeping an eye on that because you never know where the structure comes from and how you could be affected by it. It matters to us and to our clients. So, we’re definitely taking a close look at that. Ultimately, I think it is about response, how you respond.

Our company responds to all of these forces of change. And for that, we have some new research coming up on the idea of total enterprise with intention. And so, to look into the idea of how you completely need to transform your organization to attain not just IT and software agility, but also like business agility. You’re agile and you’re able to respond to different changes in your organization environments, strategic environment. So, yeah, keeping tabs on all these developments. And I’d be happy to talk to you more about this, you know, maybe a year from now.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely. Yeah, I think it’d be really good to catch up again, when you are keeping tabs on all the different trends and you’ve done future research as well so that we can have some continuity of discussion and see how things have changed and progressed and as you know, things change so quickly from one day to the other, never mind! Yeah. So, really good to talk to you again, about some of the key topics and themes that we’ve discussed today. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with you. Thank you so much for sharing all your thoughts and experiences from the research that you’ve been doing and the clients that you’ve been working with. I think there’s a lot that we can learn, an awful lot that our listeners can take away from our discussion today. So huge thanks to you and hopefully we can keep in touch and keep the conversation going.

Prashant Shukla: Yeah. Absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Rachael Kinsella: Thank you very much. Take care.

Prashant Shukla: Goodbye.

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