Outsourcing it All

Edge: What are you working on these days?

MORRIS: In effect, I have two jobs. One is running Accenture in Canada and the other is running Accenture business services for utilities.

Edge: Are you a traditional IT outsourcer or more about business transformation?

MORRIS: It’s more the latter. It’s primarily focused around all of the customer care for utilities that starts with the meter reading at your house and then we generate the bills. We run the IT that supports the systems. We run the call centres that handle the customer inquiries. When you call in Enbridge, it’s our people who answer the phone. If you don’t pay your bill on time, we’ll get you to hurry and pay up. There’s 3,000 people in this business.

Edge: What you describe sounds simple, but there must have been a huge effort to bring this all together.

MORRIS: It was, and it was also the most exciting years of my career beginning in 2003 and into 2004. Last year, it was about getting it stabilized and there were really four initials that got established. We deal with Enbridge, BC Hydro, Enmax and Harrison, and we brought on most of their people. It was a huge task to integrate these people and streamline the process and to really come up with an operation that is better and unique. The project to transform these businesses we are still in the middle of right now.

Edge: How does this differ from traditional outsourcing?

MORRIS: Traditional outsourcing is one-to-one and this is one-to-many. You are coming up with a process that can serve many customers. Outsourcing is traditionally thought of as, “We take your operations and we try to run it better.” It used to be called “Your mess for less.” In a one-for-many business, you are taking a client’s business and transforming to our way. It’s something that is new and better. This is really where a lot of outsourcing is going and it will turbo-charge its growth through all the business process outsourcing in finance, HR, procurement and customer care. We have built a business and capabilities around each one of those.

Edge: Are you also running the data centre portion?

MORRIS: Yes. We do the whole stack, everything from infrastructure, IT and servers to data centre through the applications and to the people in the back office and front office. That’s where you can create the most value.

Edge: Is there reluctance in some organizations to let go of these things, especially in the area of IT?

MORRIS: You still do see that. Canada has been a leader in outsourcing relative to other countries. I ran outsourcing in the energy and resource sectors, and Canada, U.K. and the Nordic countries are the most advanced. You get still get concerns from people who are in the functions who probably would be outsourced. But the executive level is now much more comfortable with an interconnnected organizations where pieces and parts are done by different companies. There is much less resistance at the executive level.

Edge: Will we see more cross-industry, shared systems such as cheque processing in the bank industry?

MORRIS: The real commodity stuff, yes, that’s true. But as you get into the more core processes, you have very legitimate concerns about competition. In the utilities business, companies tend not to compete.

Edge: What are you doing in other key technologies such as information management and business intelligence.

MORRIS: That whole area is huge. With some customers today, we are mining their customer databases and we are also taping call-center calls with the understanding of why customers call. We are using that to drive different operational and business decisions. Business intelligence in the next decade will offer much more value.

Edge: Do you have an example of a company that is able to achieve that?

MORRIS: For one of our utility clients, we are taking all of their customer data and applying our proprietary technology to go through this data and prepare pinpointed analysis on why customers call their utility. We are then coming up with new electronic channels using the Web so those clients don’t have to sit and wait on hold going through a call centre. The whole area of customer relationships is huge for us. Forty to fifty per cent of our work globally has to do with customers.

Edge: You are probably also referring to customer relationship management, and that has taken a hit with all its hype and unmet promises.

MORRIS: I think CRM became a brand for a type of software. Originally, it was not meant to be that so much as a management set of frameworks and concepts of how to create more value by exploiting a relationship with your customers. Software vendors came along and had a specific way to do that. The whole approach about managing customer relationships in a proactive way is as timely as ever. We have gotten a lot smarter about what actually drives value, and it’s not just a software solution. The same thing happened 10 years earlier with ERP. There was nothing wrong with ERP, and there is nothing wrong with CRM software, but the only way to get value out of it is by changing your business and making those tough decisions to restructure things.

Edge: That said, though, any business is pretty complicated. Where do you start?

MORRIS: You have got to start by understanding where the value in change is coming from. It all starts with what is driving the profitability of your business and how these programs really supportthat. It is often at that step where things go wrong. As for technology projects, they mostly all work and are very successful. Getting the benefits to business, that’s where the failures are.

Bill Morris is managing director of Accenture in Canada. He joined the firm in 1982.

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