Christopher Copeland, managing director and chief technology officer (CTO) of Accenture Federal Services (AFS), recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding his promotion to the CTO role. AFS announced Copeland’s appointment in Sept. 2020, where he will develop the company’s future-looking technology vision and strategy and oversee AFS’ focus on IT modernization and transformation.
During his interview, Copeland discussed how to develop and maintain an ecosystem of partners, advance technology solutions to keep up with the pace of change and common challenges that customers face. He also addressed where technology is headed, and how to stay ahead of the curve to maintain the competitive advantage.
“Throughout my career, I have looked to work with partners to craft solutions that are unique to our federal customers and their specific mission outcomes. Most recently, I have worked closely with the hyperscale Cloud Service Providers and in doing so, we were able to deliver that value in an accelerated, highly scalable, performant and secure way. Those ecosystems and relationships with our partners are a key focus area for me.”
ExecutiveBiz: How do you plan to grow AFS’ ecosystem of partners?
“AFS maintains a really robust network of ecosystem partners across multiple domain areas, to include cloud, cyber, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and DevSecOps, among others. We continue to work in close cooperation with those partners; continuously looking to evolve and further grow those relationships.
We strive to understand the new players coming into the market. There are many small businesses and newer companies that have great agility in offering emerging solutions. We continuously evaluate the market to gauge these companies and their offerings and leverage our ecosystem team to engage and develop the relationship.
We host targeted, focused discussions with our ecosystem of partners on product roadmaps and how best we can partner to integrate our offerings to deliver outcomes for our federal customers.
Lastly, and uniquely, AFS was built from the ground-up to meet the unique needs of the U.S. federal government. At the same time, we are also a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest and most innovative technology companies. This gives us access to unmatched expertise, our dedication innovation architecture, and robust solution accelerators. This means that we can deliver greater value to our federal clients faster.”
ExecutiveBiz: As agencies integrate more advanced technologies, how will AFS support intelligent enterprises that innovate at scale?
“Agencies have begun to adopt innovation as a fundamental element to deliver their mission. In our Accenture Federal Services Technology Vision for 2020, we refer to this method of innovatively delivering on their mission as the ‘innovation DNA.’ We feel that embracing a culture of innovation is a key requirement to address a rapidly evolving series of transformational opportunities with our customers.
The velocity at which change is occurring, from a technology perspective, means that our customers need to have that innovation in their DNA, and they need to have that innovation culture, so that a department or agency can truly take advantage and deliver that mission value.
We’re committed to looking ahead to help drive that innovation culture forward with them. That mindset, coupled with the mission work that we’re doing today with our customers, provides insight into where the technology can evolve to enable the outcomes needed by our customers in the federal market.
Ultimately, we work with our federal customers to see not just what the future can bring, but how it actually applies to their mission goals and how we can help them on their journey to achieve them.”
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of the common challenges your customers face?
“There’s a wide spectrum of challenges and respective solutions our customers face with no ‘silver bullet.’ We have a very diverse customer market that we serve in federal, such as the Intelligence Community (IC), Department of Defense (DoD), Public Safety and Civilian, and correspondingly their specific needs vary.
One of the common challenges is the complexity of the technical debt that our customers maintain today. There have been significant investments in our customer’s technology ‘platforms’ over the years, that as they are on their modernization journey may require them to rework those platforms and solutions. That can be incredibly challenging at times. Enabling our customers to efficiently traverse that transformational journey is a key focal point for AFS.
One method we use is the concept of digital decoupling. In simple terms, we understand how to take legacy solutions and decouple the components of the technology stack so that we can employ emerging technology to efficiently modernize the application or capability. Microservices or containerization are two common examples that can be applied in those scenarios.
Budgetary concerns are always present. We always are looking to see how we can maximize the value delivered on incremental transformation resulting in a rapid return on that investment that subsequently can then be plugged back into continuing that transformational journey.
Secondly, there is a massive talent gap across the industry. Having a full complement of resources and people to achieve some of these transformational objectives is a challenge. AFS has a full complement of domain skills, whether that’s strategy, technology, data or applications, to lead mission systems. Perhaps most importantly, is the organizational change that impacts the people in the department or agency as well as the people that the department or agency serves, and the partners that they work with. AFS focuses not only on the technology of digital transformation, but the human side of it as well as a key to achieving success.
We solve these challenges through a 360 viewpoint. We know we need to focus on our talent to deliver those solutions and we invest in our people, through training, reskilling or industry certifications to achieve that. And through our human capital practice, we help our clients do the same, retraining their workforce to take on the challenges of tomorrow. Ultimately, we continue to grow and enhance our communities of practice and our centers of excellence and our people at AFS are at the center of that.”
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see technology advancing in the future?
“Cyber is certainly top of mind. Effective cyber is a priority for all of our customers and will continue to be so. It is one of the biggest challenges for our customers because ‘our adversaries’ are also focused on improving their capabilities and techniques to be more advanced in their attacks.
We also are focused on helping our customers evolve their understanding of the value and power of data within their organization. This can include how they approach data sharing and move toward more data-led applications. Many of our customers are embracing this as there’s so much power and value in data to generate insights needed to deliver on their mission goals.
AI is a strong suite of capabilities and perhaps offers the greatest opportunity for our customers to propel their digital transformation forward. AI is much more than automation. Technologies such as chatbots and robotic process automation has been employed to help maximize value for our customers, yet each has their own unique series of focus areas, and as they continue to consume AI capabilities such as natural language processing, or machine learning, the value they receive from these capabilities will only increase.”
ExecutiveBiz: Within Accenture Federal Technology Vision 2020, what are some of the most notable post-digital government trends of the year?
“We recently announced the Tech Vision for 2020, and I strongly encourage everyone to read the entire report. The need to pivot to a human centric design approach to improve the overall end user experience is a critical point. We continue to design solutions to build greater trust engagement and overall collaboration. A key focus is maximizing value through an effective balance between human and machine.
That personalized experience can drive the interaction and capability forward, so we can rethink data collection and privacy and our systems. That’s the number one concern of most users. Digital platforms, enabled through cloud, offers an opportunity for the reinvention of the user experience.
AI, be it chatbots or machine learning is here. Transparency is key for collaboration and trust in systems employing those capabilities. The landscape is changing so fast, and understandably, customers can struggle to keep up with that pace. While we work with our customers to take advantage of the rapid advancement in technology, those technology advancements have to deliver value to the end consumer, be it user, employee, constituent or partnering organization. Technology change for the sake of change isn’t the path forward. Efficiently consuming technology to drive value into your mission solutions is the key outcome and measurement of success in a transformational journey.”
ExecutiveBiz: Any closing thoughts to share?
“Federal agencies are transforming their old operating models to new processes that give them greater insight into their data, customers, employees and mission. This enterprise-wide transformation utilizes cloud services and collaboration, which enables government agencies to better leverage data to glean insights. Ultimately, this will improve how agencies make decisions and achieve their missions.”