Change is part of Accenture's DNA. And change is a part of Accenture's approach to its global SAP ERP system. It's a significant business asset that Accenture stays current with and stays ahead with. The company actively anticipates future needs, always positioning its ERP with headroom for growth. Accenture is also a beacon of innovation in SAP technologies, demonstrating to its clients the value that results when technology meets human ingenuity.
Several years ago, Accenture anticipated tremendous growth in its business. This outlook led the company to launch a strategic journey to modernize its ERP and invest in the agility offered by the cloud to be ready for a future of growth, an array of new business needs, and a fast pace of change. A strong ERP foundation was needed to support more insight, agility, efficiency, and compliance across the business. For these reasons, Accenture undertook a multi-phased program to ultimately implement SAP S/4HANA®.
Accenture chose SAP HANA and Microsoft Azure for the potential scale and performance that SAP S/4HANA running on the cloud held. This approach would allow Accenture to nimbly handle a rapidly growing number of acquisitions as well as operating model changes and reorganizations. Additionally, SAP S/4HANA and SAP Analytics Cloud offered the potential to enable new, powerful analytics capabilities to equip the finance function, helping to strengthen its role as an advisor to the business.
To drive the transformation program, Accenture teamed with partner and vendor SAP, with whom it had collaborated with on previous transformation programs. "Though the SAP S/4HANA program would be a significant investment of time and effort," noted Eli Lambert, managing director at Accenture, "we were confident that SAP was the right partner." Making the strategic decision to embark on this journey ended up being a prescient move that helped Accenture meet the as-yet-unknown challenges presented in 2020.
A Transformative Journey
A strong relationship and close collaboration with SAP as well as Microsoft helped Accenture innovate to achieve its ERP modernization goals. Step by step, Accenture migrated its Finance systems to SAP HANA and the cloud, including migrations to S/4HANA and SAP BW in Microsoft Azure. Today, Accenture is among the first enterprises to run its production SAP S/4HANA system on Microsoft Azure’s next-generation virtualized architecture at scale.
Rocky Subramanian, senior vice president and managing director at SAP, said, "We brought SAP expertise across all levels of our organization to collaborate, from design to deployment."
Accenture now has all its SAP applications on the latest versions, driven by the latest database technology and fully in the cloud. And by staying current, Accenture is well positioned to respond to future growth, react to unexpected events, leverage future capabilities as they become available, and capitalize on developing innovative solutions.
Reaching this destination in its journey enabled Accenture to achieve its program objectives and more. "Yes, Accenture gained a more efficient digital platform," said Lambert. "But, more importantly, Accenture is capitalizing on the leading aspects of the system to generate further value from it for the business."
Value for the Business Today—and Tomorrow
Accenture's business now has a strong foundation for new digital capabilities with SAP S/4HANA running on Microsoft Azure. It has gained the flexibility to address current and future business requirements and respond with agility to a dynamic business environment.
Accenture's finance function, for example, leverages SAP for analytics and solutions that drive new business reporting, tools, and insights into business performance. It closes Accenture's books globally in five days. It leverages the S/4HANA Treasury Cash Management function and an SAP HANA data mart to enable predictive cash flow forecasting and optimize cash inventory. An interactive analytics dashboard makes use of the near-real-time SAP HANA data mart and visualization tools, replacing manual SAP extracts and custom Excel models.
Last year, Accenture was able to pivot to a new growth model and strategy, and able to start operating that way in 90 days. Accenture was able to rapidly convert master data to align with the new go-to-market structure as well as rearrange half a million employees. Finance changed its external reporting dimensions mid-year due to the flexibility and agility of SAP S/4HANA and the cloud to pivot. A contributing factor in this entire change was lower complexity with the S/4HANA system.
Additionally, SAP S/4HANA enables Accenture to take advantage of the latest SAP software innovations in process automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to enable business efficiency and effectiveness of people.
A Monumental Event
A big test of Accenture's S/4HANA system came when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. This monumental event put liquidity at the top of mind for every chief financial officer, including Accenture's. For Accenture’s Finance organization—already on the leading edge in managing cash—it turned to stepping up its focus and getting a near-real-time view of cash coming in and going out.
One critical capability that was needed right away was real-time metrics on billings and collections. Accenture couldn’t wait for semi-monthly reporting as clients were facing their own liquidity concerns, requests were coming in each day and the markets were volatile.
A newly created response team built a COVID-19 dashboard, using existing data and analytics to capture different categories of metrics, including cash flow. The team developed the dashboard in record time because Accenture had a single global SAP ERP instance, SAP S/4HANA, and a single data lake that includes data from SAP Treasury and Cash Management, providing a single source of truth. This technology delivered critical insights to Accenture's cash flow at all times, granting leadership visibility to address unprecedented situations and make rapid decisions.
While the pandemic wasn’t a driver in Accenture's SAP journey, it served as a test and ultimately a validation of the new system’s capabilities in enabling business agility and speed. Lambert observed, "Like most other companies, we found 2020 to be a challenging year. But the rapid and agile response provided during the pandemic gives us confidence that Accenture has the right technology and the right people to tackle any challenge in 2021 and beyond."