It's safe to say that any company willing to invest $1.4 billion and hire 15,000 employees in innovation hubs over the next three years holds business evolution in high regard.
Global service firm Accenture recently made this evident in New Jersey when it opened an innovation center Monday in Florham Park.
For Lynn McMahon, Accenture’s office managing director for the New York metropolitan offices, opening the center in Florham Park is no more than answering the demand for a space to create solutions for user experiences at startups and established businesses in the area.
“Everything we do in the way of our design is really in putting the customer experience first,” she said “That’s the way we think about things, that’s the way we make teams think about things, so it’s always going back to what’s the customer experiencing. (Smart phones) train us to have good user experiences. And people are expecting that in all of their business interactions.”
The Florham Park innovation center, a 9,550-square-foot space within the firm’s New Jersey offices, is designed for clients to brainstorm, design and even prototype or train employees on solutions that address what McMahon calls “pain points” in customer experience.
Each innovation center is designed with the needs of the businesses in the area in mind, McMahon said. Where Accenture’s innovation center in its New York office is designed to address finance and risk services, Florham Park will address the needs of pharmaceutical, communications and retail services, to name a few.
“The industries that we work on here in New Jersey are the ones you would expect,” McMahon said “So, it’s the communications industry, high-tech media and technology. A lot of the telephone companies and high-tech manufactures and electronics, those sorts of companies. And then, the other area that we work on out here in New Jersey is what we call ‘products companies,’ which is really life sciences, pharmaceutical, retail, transportation, hospitality, those industries.”
Florham Park is the headquarters for some of the product companies.
Each client at the innovation center begins the program brainstorming, McMahon said. Teams first approach a space called “The Rumble,” where teams are encouraged to come up with ways to address how to improve customer experience.
Looking to the future
Lynn McMahon, Accenture’s office managing director for the New York metropolitan offices, said technology, such as augmented reality, may present an economical solution for industries like communications to assist employees efficiently. Particularly in New Jersey, this technology may present an opportunity to serve more clients.
“Since we work for communication industry here in New Jersey, they have a lot of technology in their central offices that is really old and needed to get switched out,” she said. “And a lot of the times, the workforce is turned over and they’re fairly new technicians, or if they’re doing an install in the house. So, what they’re using for their field force, not just in comms, but in other places, too, is the augmented reality. So, what you’re seeing … is overlaying the information that is needed, and there’s a two-way communication.
“It can be for training, but it can also be an install. If I’m in a central office and I’m trying to do something, but a lot of this equipment (might) be very old, I can have someone back at headquarters, if I have a question, ask that question back to headquarters. And they can even dynamically relay some of the information. It’s very cool and it’s very effective.”
The firm also sees a value in innovation coming out of Garden State universities. Accenture is currently in a partnership with Stevens Institute of Technology for developing analytics in blockchain for financial services and with Rutgers and other universities in the form of innovation challenges.
“It’s almost like crowd-sourcing innovation problems: We will take things that we’re looking at doing … and then turn to the students to do kind of a hack-a-thon or case studies around that,” McMahon said. “So, we can identify the talent early and convince the best that they want to work here because we think we have the best talent and we want to keep building on that.”
McMahon said working with universities also serves the schools, in that it lets them know what knowledge and skills are sought after across industries.
“One of the reasons we use stand-up tables, but you can kind of sit down if you want to, is it’s very collaborative,” she said. “We do a lot of techniques to help facilitate it, and a lot of homework ahead of time, so we can help the clients facilitate through this.”
In Florham Park, the firm uses traditional methods of sparking creativity, but it also presents technology as a solution. Clients are encouraged to think of applications for robot interfaces, virtual and augmented reality, and 3-D printing to help address a pain point.
“We’ll use Sticky Notes, if we have a session going on, people would be writing on the board, on the walls — you can write on anything except the floors. Some of it gets sparked by just the technology, but some of it gets sparked by some of the exercises we’ll have people do to help facilitate the brainstorming.
“We try to get a mix of people, because what we find is, you have clients just bring in their management layer, but maybe aren’t going to get all of the new ideas. So, maybe we’ll try to get a cross-section of people across all levels, and then also, I’ve seen us doing sessions where we have even customers come in and they talk about what are the pain points around the products.”
McMahon said the firm will see one or two clients per day at the innovation center in Florham Park when it gets fully ramped up. And its location, as well as the investment made to remain connected with the global network at all times, will continue to attract clients.
“For a while there, I felt people thought they needed to fly to Silicon Valley or something to get a dose of innovation,” she said. “What we’re finding is you can get innovation close to home. And you can get all the right people and there isn’t as much scheduling of calendars.
“Part of what the collaboration tools allow us to do is that is not just the people in the room. It’s the experts that we can pull in. I don’t know that much about blockchain, but if I want the blockchain guy from New York, I can pull him here. Or if I need someone who’s dealt with a different language skill, I can pull anybody globally.”