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At Accenture, benefits of public cloud are business benefits

In this Q&A, infrastructure chief Merim Becirovic reports on the consulting company's cloud journey, discusses new technologies cloud will make possible and offers some getting-started advice.

Speed and agility. An enhanced customer experience. Nearly limitless processing power. Those are the benefits of...

public cloud Accenture has witnessed as it continues on its massive move to cloud computing.

But the company, which helps businesses make sense of and adopt new technologies, including cloud, wanted also to lead by example, said Merim Becirovic, managing director for global infrastructure. And that has more closely aligned the IT and business sides at Accenture.

"We are the first line in many ways of doing things and trying them, so our own business can then reflect and say, 'How have we done this to ourselves?' and try to apply that back to what we're doing for our customers," Becirovic said in an interview.

Better serving the business and, in turn, better serving customers are some of the top benefits of public cloud, Becirovic said. And with his workloads in cloud providers' massive data centers, scaling to meet even the biggest business demand is "not a limitation that's to me real at this point in time."

Becirovic also spoke about the new technologies -- such as AI and machine learning -- that cloud will enable at Accenture and issued some advice for companies eying the promised benefits of public cloud: "Get started fast and get there." Following are excerpts of that discussion.

Does cloud computing at Accenture make IT more of a business partner?

Merim Becirovic, managing director for global infrastructure at AccentureMerim Becirovic

Merim Becirovic: Absolutely. I think it is a tremendous value-add to our business to say that we do to ourselves what we're recommending to you. But also what it does is, the people -- all of our teams, all of the folks that are working on all of this capability -- are building skills in these new capabilities and in these new areas to help us take advantage of all the new stuff that's coming.

And also being able to enable our business differently and at scale and at speed than you would before -- if you think about the multiple years of building applications. As we start to consume platforms more quickly, we have much better synergy with the business to try different ways of doing things and figure out what works, what doesn't work, much more quickly. We are the first line in many ways of doing things and trying them, so our own business can then reflect and say, 'How have we done this to ourselves?' and try to apply that back to what we're doing for our customers.

How do you ensure that the infrastructure you're putting in place will support present, as well as future, business needs?

Becirovic: Our goal is to build systems that can scale to whatever we need -- so if I need to spin up more compute capability, I do that to basically come up with whatever I need. Then I'm only limited by the cloud provider's ability to grow themselves. We haven't hit those levers yet, but it's not a limitation that's to me real at this point in time; as long as we've architected our applications correctly, I'm not worried about my ability to scale across the platform providers.

What emerging technologies do you see on the horizon at Accenture?

Becirovic: Obviously, data has been collected for a long time. The ability -- for many companies and businesses -- to take their legacy data and visualize it differently and actually use it across multiple systems to create better insights for themselves, their customers, their organizations, I think is going to be huge. AI will be an enabler of that; machine learning will be an enabler of that. Those key things that are coming are going to help provide different insights, different perspectives, different ways of looking at the business, looking at the data to run the business, maybe differently, maybe more effectively.

Don't wait; get in, get started and get your people comfortable with what's available in the cloud so you're ready.
Merim Becirovicmanaging director for global infrastructure

What we're excited about -- as the cloud continues to grow and the providers make these investments -- is how do we reinvent and re-envision our businesses. And the way we're thinking about the future is really about the experience focus. How do we change the experience of our users, of our business, of how they consume things? So rather than building siloed-type applications like most IT shops of yesteryear have done, we have shifted to thinking about new capabilities from an experience point of view and how do we change and drive experience for our customers and our employees as they consume these new technologies.

What do you hope your customers will take from your transition to cloud?

Becirovic: I think the biggest thing with the cloud is to get started fast and get there. Because what you learn by doing is tremendous experience that helps you as an individual working on it, as a leader who's accountable for it and a business that has work on the line. Get the expertise and the experience and see how things are actually playing out in the cloud and what levers you want to pull as a business, whether it's efficiency or capability or security -- whatever it is that you're thinking about as a business. Having that cloud strategy is really more than just the technology itself. It's about doing, getting started and then -- as you go and continue to go -- making sure the value's still relevant, that your application strategy is evolving, that you've got the right ways of doing it. Because one of the things I've seen is, we have evolved and grown so much in terms of how we think about the cloud, how we operate the cloud and we continue to evolve and change it; if we talk a year from now, I guarantee it's going to be different.

So don't wait; get in, get started and get your people comfortable with what's available in the cloud so you're ready -- as you begin to scale -- that you're actually ready. Don't wait till you get all your ducks lined up in a row to go to cloud, because that's typically what will hold you back.

To learn more about the benefits of public cloud at Accenture -- and the origins of the company's sweeping cloud program -- read part one of this interview.

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How do you align public cloud benefits with business needs?