ALEXIS LECANUET

Abu Dhabi 2020 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Alexis Lecanuet, Regional Managing Director of Accenture Middle East, on digitalization, expectations for the UAE economy in the coming year, and challenges of doing business in general.

How did COVID-19 impact the demand for the company's major digitalization drive, and have you noticed any unique trends in your particular region?

When we talk to global and regional CEOs, some commonalities are arising in the discussions regarding the post-COVID-19 situation. Foremost, there is no returning, only pushing through to the new normal, though we are still working on defining this. There are four areas where we will see significant change and reinvention. Digital transformation components intersect all four topics. The first is the workforce and workplace interactions; we will no longer view the workforce the same way, and people will not interact in the same way nor the same places. Perhaps most notably, we will see increased access to global expertise. Having a more flexible, agile, and malleable workforce will be possible in the future, and this has a direct impact on the workplace. The second one is the supply chain; given the quickly introduced travel restrictions, the supply chain was probably the first and most widely impacted part of the business landscape. This has raised several questions around resilience sourcing, a resilient supply chain, and an efficient supply chain in the post-COVID era. The third one is around customer channels. Resiliency should be translated into two different ways to interact and transact with one's customers. Businesses will need to increase interactions with their customer bases online and conduct transactions online. The fourth area is what we call the systems resilience. Within this area, the key element is infrastructure, such as the cloud. The journey to resiliency will create an increased demand for digital transformation components such as the cloud, data, virtualization of interaction channels, automation, workplace mobility, and so on. All the ingredients of digital transformation have a reinvigorated relevance when considering the key elements of a resilient business going forward.

Six months from now, where do you see the economy?

Some underlying investments in technology adoption are becoming more obvious post-COVID than they were before. The critical technologies to unlock more potential are related to AI, data, and analytics. Data is becoming more relevant to inform decision making. I used to work in retail, and the main gap is no longer between an e-commerce retailer and a physical retailer. It is the ability to use real-time data to make decisions daily. This is just one example of how the technologies that will capture this untapped value are now becoming more prominent and frequently leveraged. In the past, they were slightly embedded into this complex concept of digital transformation that everyone is talking about. However, we are increasingly parsing out and bringing to the forefront specific solutions and expertise.

Within Accenture, how are you reorganizing your priorities when making big decisions to create new hubs?

Those investments and decisions are long-term decisions, so when we invest in innovation, it is because we believe those industries will significantly evolve in the coming years. Looking at tourism specifically, we put our innovation center on the frontline of this evolution. The Middle East, with the UAE as a hub in the region and increasingly Saudi Arabia with the willingness to open its treasures to the rest of the world, will continue to be a hotspot for the reinvention of tourism. We are currently working with all innovation centers to brainstorm and innovate around safe events going forward. Everything around innovation in tourism, hospitality, and travel will be mobilized to invent the concept of safe mega-events. This is relevant because of several large-scale events coming up, including Expo 2020, World Cup 2022, and the Olympics. This is what we are doing in the short term in the new context with our innovation hub. Additionally, we are launching VR platforms globally to create networks between dozens of innovation hubs worldwide. Now we have a technology that you can use through your Oculus, PC, or iPad to visit any of those innovation labs like in a video game, creating an increasingly immersive and near-physical experience. This platform is released and is used heavily now within Accenture for any critical discussion. This is a game-changer in the way you mobilize and create experiences around world-class expertise and innovation.

Where do you see further bottlenecks and opportunities for Accenture to address?

I see more opportunities than bottlenecks. We probably have enough work with the organizations and institutions that share our vision and belief that the time for reinvention is here. We want to partner with others and accelerate the execution of their vision. You will have bottlenecks in terms of the capabilities of each organization, especially investment capacities in the current context of a global economic slowdown. The focus should be on the organizations that are already in acceleration; the market becomes more significant with the ones that will accelerate in the future. My priority is being fast enough to serve the first mover. In the region, it is likely fair to mention the talent bottleneck. The region is attractive for talent, so we need to play our game better as talent will be critical. Technology is developed through talented people, and the ability to entice the new generation of expertise to the Middle East will remain a crucial element.

What is your outlook for Accenture and the broader economy in the UAE?

While we are not immune to the COVID-19 impact, we see a relatively good landing of our current fiscal year and the remainder of the calendar year. It is time to act to transform, as everyone is convinced there will not be a return to the past. It is time to build resilient businesses by accelerating cloud adoption. It is time to be smarter in decision making, with data and analytical technology. We see a demand for our services increasing, as more and more people address the flexibility, agility, and resiliency of their operating models. On the technology side, we see a positive trend in the adoption of cloud, AI, and other elements in the long term as well as a positive demand for services. We have a positive outlook for Accenture across the region. We may extend our footprint to more countries across the Middle East, beyond Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Based on demand, we may need to accelerate our expansion plan. We currently have over 500,000 employees, and the transformation of the workforce is in our DNA because we are continuously skilling and reskilling our people. It is part of what we need to deliver to the communities we operate in. We make it a priority to support local ecosystems. Not only to attract talent but also to shape, skill, and reskill the existing and upcoming local workforce, especially in the Middle East. This is something we want to incorporate into the post-COVID acceleration, and we can raise our game and support the ecosystem.