Kyle Michl, chief innovation officer (CINO) and the defense technology account lead with Accenture Federal Services, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding innovation across the commercial and federal sectors, common challenges he sees, and what he’s looking forward to in his new role announced in Sept. 2020.
“We need to raise everyone’s understanding of technologies. Now’s the time to establish a culture where we’re encouraging people to be innovative and learn. Not everyone has to be an expert in technologies, but it’s important to be conversant enough to understand the realm of the possible. Then, you can participate in the discussions and deliver your unique perspective.”
ExecutiveBiz: What lessons have you learned throughout your career with AFS, and how have they positioned you to succeed?
“I’ve been with Accenture for more than two decades, and I am fortunate to have worked both in Accenture’s commercial and government business. I began my career in our commercial business and focused on communications and high tech as well as our products business.
My work within Accenture focused on large scale digital transformation. At Accenture Federal Services, we continue to enable digital transformation by assessing how technology can help our clients excel and get to the next level.
Multiple experiences have provided me a foundation for this role from prototyping with early stage technologies to large scale deployments, as well as partnering with our ecosystem partners to bring the next wave of technology to customers.
In terms of lessons learned, it’s relatively easy to prototype technology; however, there’s a big difference between testing a technology’s capabilities and successfully moving to an at-scale deployment. That’s where the experience and methodology to move technology through the lifecycle by applying it to customer use cases, then operationally scaling it, becomes critical.”
ExecutiveBiz: As the first person in the newly created role of CINO, what are you focused on right now?
“Innovation has always been a part of Accenture’s business, as well as our culture. We have a dedicated global innovation architecture that spans across research, ventures, labs, studios and innovation hubs. We test and validate technologies in our labs. And our studios then bring in human-centered design and rapid prototyping. We work alongside our clients and partners in our innovation hubs to bring the end to end capabilities to our customers.
For my focus areas, I have the benefit of being able to build on the innovation foundation of that architecture, then tailor it to the needs of our federal clients. My goals are to be focused on innovation and technologies that are going to have the biggest impact over the next two to four years.
I look closely at emerging technologies, and we have the benefit of our research arm that interviews CIOs, CTOs and federal leaders as well as our side by side work with IT leaders. We have a great perspective of what’s coming down the pipeline of emerging technology and have the strong signals from the market to gauge where technologies will progress.
It’s exciting to think through how we can apply those insights and deliver solutions to our customers. Our customers need and want innovation. With the pandemic, their need and desire for innovation is only increasing.
We want to be in a position where we are innovating with our clients. To do that, we have to constantly learn, test and understand what the markets will bring forward.”
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of the common challenges your customers face?
“We just published our Accenture Federal Services 2020 Technology Vision, which looks at trends including ‘innovation DNA.’ One of the key challenges is having an environment where you have an innovation DNA that enables people to continue to adapt so they can thrive in a time of continuous change.
That comes in multiple formats such as raising people’s understanding of technology, but also in the ability for people to fail fast. It’s important for leaders to help create an environment where people are skilled and given the freedom to innovate. If you’re going to fail, you want to fail fast to minimize resources spent and allow redirection to meet objectives. You have to have the right structure put in place to be innovative, along with the right culture and leadership.”
ExecutiveBiz: How do you manage a culture of innovation?
“It’s important that innovation is not just an individual sport. It is a network of people that come together. You have to be able to keep up with the rate of technology change and bring the right people together.
You have to unite your partners to help you to be innovative, and to do that, you have to work closely with companies and organizations of all sizes that are driving the technology change. This includes working with startups and large technology companies that produce new capabilities, as well as working with like-minded peers that cut across the commercial industry and federal sector.
Once you have that ecosystem established, then it’s not an individual sport where you only innovate in a vacuum. When I am part of an ecosystem with diverse thought, that will help me to be innovative.”
ExecutiveBiz: How do you plan on leveraging commercial capabilities and emerging technologies to build innovation strategies?
“The commercial business plays a critical role in innovation. The scale, size and rate of innovation within the commercial market is massive, so we rely on those insights and solutions. We work across that global ecosystem to bring in the best technologies, products and offerings to our customers.
That can include connecting government partners with industry partners. It’s also important that we support education on some of the emerging technologies like blockchain, extended reality or quantum. Once you better understand the space, then you can explore solutions to solve problems.
Additionally, it’s not just about the technology because you can be innovative without technology. Technology is an enabler. Understanding both technology and new approaches and services is what’s happening in the commercial market. How new approaches, ecosystem partners and technologies are being combined to do things differently is powerful.
There may also be other strategies, partnerships, approaches or innovative structures that haven’t been considered in government that can be found across the commercial landscape. This provides important examples for how you might bring that critical innovation network together.”
ExecutiveBiz: As technology continues to evolve, how will you advance AFS’ capabilities to stay ahead?
“We have a constant focus on customer outcomes. We have to stay ahead of the latest technology and consider how we will continue to bring what’s happening commercially to our federal customers to maintain that differentiation.
It’s not just about the technology; it’s about bringing together our industry and federal expertise and an ecosystem to deliver the best solutions.
ExecutiveBiz: How will you help federal agencies adapt with innovation?
“I’m glad we’re in a position where we can help agencies in all aspects of their innovation journey, from understanding the emerging technology space to establishing an innovation culture to enabling large scale digital transformation.
If agencies don’t get the foundation right, they may not be able to make it through that digital transformation journey. We want to help position them, create the conditions for continuous innovation, and to have this always-on innovation engine so they can move through that process seamlessly.
Government is already experimenting and seeing successes as they challenge the norm to deliver services, conduct their business, and meet mission objectives. This will aid in a broader culture shift as well.
In Accenture’s Tech Vision, one of the stats noted that 74 percent of federal executives said the stakes for innovation have never been higher. I think our clients are feeling the urgency to adapt more quickly. As a result, they’re already setting the stage for their innovation DNA.
They’re already asking questions and seeking knowledge about emerging technology like blockchain, AI, extended reality and quantum. Setting up that environment, then bringing that ecosystem together will support that digital transformation through the toughest challenges.
At the end of the day, you have to ensure that you’re paying attention to the market. Innovation is one of the top focal areas for all companies. If you’re not innovative, you’re going to be left behind.”