Bill Marion brings extensive experience as a public servant to his work in the private sector. Marion, a managing director at Accenture Federal Services, spent years with organizations such as the U.S. Air Force and the Air Combat Command, holding positions including deputy chief information officer overseeing digital transformation, personnel pay and services, as well as chief technology officer of Air Force Space Command. In these roles, Marion helped to solve the government’s most pressing problems at-scale, with help from emerging technologies and commercial industry, to accelerate change.
In this Executive Spotlight interview, Marion sat down with ExecutiveBiz to discuss new growth areas for AFS, the importance of human-centered strategy, and the changes Marion sees as crucial to evolving learning model processes, among other topics. Marion also offered his insights on hiring and retaining top talent in today’s competitive government contracting landscape.
What can you tell us about the company’s priorities? What do you hope to accomplish and any new markets that you’re keeping an eye on in the federal sector?
During the last couple of years, we have talked a lot about cloud and mobile devices. But we’re also seeing growth that’s more infrastructure driven. If you look at the time it’s taken for cloud adoption, digital platforms and data, I think from a business-solving perspective and a mission-enabling approach, digital platforms are accelerating the fastest. Using the power of cloud and the power of as-a-Service platforms like Software-as-a-Service, these tools are truly accelerating business operations. We’re seeing that explode.
What makes Accenture Federal Services stand out is that if you look at the worldwide quals and the U.S. quals, Accenture is number one in almost all of the platforms—like ServiceNow, Salesforce, Pega, and Appian. Specifically, I think that provides our customer the scale, the usability, the UX, the past performance and the assistance of helping large organizations transform on these digital platforms. Some people want to sell it as a SaaS platform that you simply use, like Office 365. It is way more than that. I mean, it’s your CRM, it’s your business flows, and your operational side of things. Having people that truly understand business value, workflows, and transitioning from legacy to transformational programs on a digital platform is essential.
The market is really driving it and there’s a huge amount of growth. It’s less about the tools. It’s more about the business processes; getting your data out of the proverbial program and starting to truly bring enterprise models together. What is key also is the concept of, ‘How do you actualize data into the mission?’ So, both of those things, I would say, have far surpassed the speed of cloud and mobile. I think it’s almost like a two-to-one or three-to-one speed that those different mission areas are really driving growth across the DOD and federal space.
With the influence of emerging technologies impacting every aspect of business, how has your company been able to drive digital transformation efforts to stay ahead of innovation in the federal landscape for yourself and your customers?
One of our lead differentiations is that we have a worldwide Defence Advisory Council (DAC), which includes representatives from Canada, the UK, Finland, Germany, Australia, and more. What’s interesting is, we are all solving very similar problems—maybe in a different context, but nonetheless, being able to share, grow and accelerate across those, delivers a ‘whole-of-government’ kind of value, in terms of how we’re solving big data and data integration problems. If you think about the Department of Defense, it’s really about coalition and joint warfighting. So things like the DAC are great mechanisms to enable emerging technology and transformation for the whole-of-government, not just in a U.S. context.
We’re just scratching the surface of how we can use emerging technology to solve problems–and in the defense sphere, oftentimes it goes back to solving it for people. There is a real opportunity to empower people with AI, machine learning, and automation—to not only solve the problem, but create even more value for the mission.
We often discuss innovation from the technical or capability side. What are some of the unique challenges that you’ve seen on the business side of innovation that haven’t been addressed or discussed enough?
One major thing not being addressed is the need to be human-centric, as well as understanding the challenges of change. We talk to clients about the human side of “X,” where “X” is the human side of cloud or digital platforms or IT. Technologies are relevant, but the human needs must be at the center. You can offer the best tool known to humankind, but sometimes the easier, more straightforward approach far surpasses the exquisite model, especially in government.
Take training, for example. Gone are the days of a training guide and a 300-page manual. I can’t remember the last time I read a training manual. People just want to click in the application and be walked through the steps. And you can play that out over the entire technology base, with workflows and training and how to parse data. Why can’t I just click on something that says, “Hey, here’s a data set, here’s a sample way that you could process it.” It’s no longer a legacy, people integration model that we used to do 15, 10, even 5 years ago. These learning models have to be more agile and modular. I’m sure you use YouTube to fix whatever you want to fix for that day, and it takes five or 10 minutes.
You also have to put the mission in context with these tools. The technologies are critical and they can slow you down or speed you up. But with change management, the question of, ‘how do you move from legacy to new,’ is a forever business problem —whether you’re in the public or the private sector. If you don’t have robust change management, you just don’t ever get there. We’ve seen it consistently. If you embrace change and change management, you can actually make those changes a reality.
How can industry and the federal government work together to increase greater collaboration and drive more innovative solutions for everyone to use to address the latest challenges of today?
We’ve got the experience, the playbooks, the accelerators – but we’ve also got the skill sets. The whole idea is to accelerate, to add value. We’re able to bring the latest insights and experiences from working with clients across government, but also draw out the best of what commercial has proven successful at scale. In this way, your team isn’t starting from ground zero. That’s where we bring new ways to solve problems, and then the scale and acceleration to get there. Frankly, we invest heavily in those areas for our folks. So, we invest in the UI developers, we invest in the people that understand business operations and business flows, as well as those with some more unconventional skill sets – with great talent that’s diverse across every dimension.
William McCormick also contributed reporting