Accenture excels in pairing new tech with biz needs

May 17, 2004


Coke guards its syrup formula. Krispy Kreme protects its doughnut recipe. McDonald's has its secret sauce. But technology giant Accenture's magic formula is plain for all to see, and it has Chicago written all over it.

Cynics say Chicago doesn't spawn winning technology companies. I disagree. Sometimes we simply forget to claim our successes. While Accenture smartly presents itself as a global firm, its origins are local. Accenture emerged from Andersen Consulting, which was sired by Arthur Andersen & Co.'s Management Information Consulting Division.

Though the corporate family tree may be complicated, the fruits of this inheritance are impressive. What was once a several-hundred-million-dollar side business for an accounting firm is now an $11.8 billion management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company employing 90,000 people in 48 countries. Accenture's market cap is $21.8 billion.

While many factors fuel Accenture's growth, one trait is clear. Accenture exhibits a Chicago-style pragmatism toward technology.

Practical commercialization

Accenture stays current on the latest technology with a keen eye toward practical commercialization. If there's one person among the thousands who best represents this philosophy, it's Accenture's chief scientist, Glover Ferguson, who quietly lives and works in Chicago.

Ferguson heads the Accenture Technology Labs, with facilities in Sophia Antipolis, France; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Chicago. On the site of the old Greyhound bus station, where the Chicago Title & Trust building now stands at Clark and Randolph, some of Chicago's most cutting-edge technology is researched and developed for commercial use.

Remember the future drama "Minority Report," starring Tom Cruise? Walk into Ferguson's lab, and you'll see practical demonstrations of large-scale flat-screen control rooms that rival the movie. There are interactive clothes closets that help you select the day's attire. There are working demonstrations for managers of railroads and music stores.

"We apply the technology trends that arrived a little before their time, and juxtapose that with what we know about the real pain points in business," says Ferguson. Take leading-edge technology, and match it up with commercial opportunity: That's Accenture's secret sauce. It sounds like plain old Midwestern pragmatism. It was invented right here.

Next time someone says Chicago lacks technology success stories, send them to the site of the old Greyhound bus station. Tell them to look up and open their eyes.

Zander meets & greets

Executives Club President Kaarina Koskenalusta hosted a welcoming reception last week for Motorola CEO Ed Zander and wife Mona at the Chicago Club. Abbott CEO and Executives Club chairman Miles White introduced Zander to more than 300 attendees.

"I'm glad we made the first quarter," said Zander sounding relieved. He praised Motorola's people, intellectual property, and global brand, saying he's settling in for the long haul.

"My wife and I love Chicago, and we just purchased a place on North Michigan Avenue," he said. "We hope to make Chicago our home for many years to come." Zander highlighted Motorola's new urban design facility located downtown. He raised the possibility of taking on a civic responsibility. "We can pick some things to go and work on in addition to running Motorola," added Zander. It was an excellent local debut.

Dot-Com Boomerang

Brad Spirrison, co-founder of ePrairie, Chicago's online technology news source, hosts Thursday's Dot-Com Boomerang at the Westin River North.

Featured speakers include Jared Polis, founder of, and David Litman, founder of They'll be joined by 14 dot-com survivors who've prospered despite the cyclical nature of high tech. Look for Chicago serial entrepreneurs Gian Fulgoni (IRI, comScore Networks), Pat Spain (Hoovers, HighBeam Research) and Alex Zoghlin (Neoglyphics, Orbitz and neoVentures) among the presenters.

"We want to showcase entrepreneurs who have faced adversity and come out on the right end," says Spirrison.

Bits & bytes

CDW chief marketing officer Diane Primo speaks Thursday at the Business Marketing Association. Primo's a numbers-driven marketer who joined CDW last June. CDW's April sales jumped 31 percent from a year earlier. ... Chicago author Chunka Mui talks about reinvigorating innovation Wednesday at the Society for Information Management.


Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.











 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners