First 90 Days at Accenture: A Memorable Start

Didem Un Ates
4 min readApr 28, 2020
Accenture & Microsoft Virtual Cloud Week, March 16–20, 2020

As some of you know, I left Microsoft last January after eight magnificent years and joined Accenture. It has been a memorable start to say the least.

During the first month I joined, we rolled out our ‘Next Generation Growth Model’ (aka NGGM), which I was informed, was the biggest operating model change in the history of the company. From my point of view, it was the perfect timing since everybody — regardless of their tenure with the company — seemed to act like they were also ‘new.’ It has been fun trying to settle (+ in) the new organization and onboard at the same time. In March, Covid-19 outbreak happened. Staying at home due to lockdown was a welcome experience for me after having been in global roles at Microsoft for eight years — which meant pretty much non-stop worldwide travel, with additional London-Seattle trips sprinkled almost every month. At some point in March, I was joking with my new team at Accenture: “We had NGGM in February, Covid in March; I do not want to think about what’s coming in April…”

Then, in April, both my father and I were diagnosed with Covid-19. He has been under intensive care in Istanbul since April 4th. Thanks to this experience; I was able to spot mine at an early stage, connect with my doctor just in time, and since then, have been under Covid-19 treatment at home in London. Fortunately, we are both recovering.

Despite these exceptional circumstances, it has been prodigious to join Accenture’s Microsoft Business Group. Only a few weeks into my new role, back in February, I was not only supported but encouraged to expand the ‘Alice Envisions the Future’ / ‘Girls in AI’ hackathons program we had started at Microsoft, to Accenture, by partnering with Microsoft’s Education team. Sadly, we had to postpone the hackathons we had planned between April and July 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdown. We are evaluating options to provide virtual learning opportunities in addition to in person events and are working on the FY21 plans. If you would like to volunteer, let us know. For those who would like to benefit from Microsoft’s impressive online AI courses in the meantime, please refer to Alice Envisions the Future AI resources. I am grateful to Emma McGuigan, Rich Holsman, Robert Wickel, Zahra Bahrololoumi, Athina Kanioura, and Laetitia Cailleteau for their support and endorsement for this impactful and meaningful program to improve gender diversity in AI/ ML. (On a related note, I have been tremendously impressed with Accenture’s leadership and progress in Diversity & Inclusion. I will write about that in another blog.)

My last social activity before the UK lockdown was a charity dinner in early March where an advisor to UK’s National Health Service (NHS) happened to sit at the same table and expressed how high the call volumes had been — even without a severe breakout yet (at the time). Having worked on Microsoft’s Power Virtual Agents (PVA) in my last role, I knew this problem could rapidly be solved with this AI-powered virtual agent. That weekend, working together with a core team from Accenture and Avanade, Accenture’s joint venture with Microsoft, we built a PVA for COVID-19 (special thanks to Ed Bobrin).

Within days, many health providers around the world showed interest. Fast forward a few weeks of hard work and outstanding team spirit across Microsoft and Accenture, we have launched an inspiring joint humanitarian initiative for our clients in Health, Education, Government, and Non-profit sectors: I am immensely proud that we, as Accenture and Microsoft, are now offering ‘Power Virtual Agents for COVID-19’ free of charge, to those clients struggling with high call volumes anywhere in the world. Microsoft Power Platform team is waiving the license fee (thank you Charles Lamanna and James Phillips!), and we are configuring the virtual agents and training our clients on how to manage it themselves for a week, before handing it over to them, free of charge for six months.

Here is the overview brochure for our joint humanitarian effort on PVA for COVID-19:

https://www.slideshare.net/duates/power-virtual-agent-for-covid19-overview-brochure

One of the most heartwarming examples of this humanitarian programme has been with the Government of India. You can try ‘Saathi’ Power Virtual Agent at http://self4society.mygov.in, helping their 1.3 billion citizens. I am deeply grateful to our virtual team who made it happen: Sanjeev Narsipur, John Samuel, Rich Holsman, Steve Paxman, Robert Wickel, Andy Truscott, Mark Larsen, Ed Bobrin, Lea El Samarji, Matthias Reichle, Sean Butterworth, Cynthia Weisz, Julie Morrish, Patrick Sullivan, Cansu Atikcan, Tripti Sethi, Chetan Pawar, Ipshita Ghosh, Karthik Narayanan, Kunal Mukerjee, Ramesh Poduri, Tom Yang, Murali Kumanduri, Emma Archer, Michael Tjalve, Philippe Brissaud, as well as to Emma McGuigan, Deb Cupp, and Charles Lamanna for their sponsorship. If you think your organization, customers, or partners would benefit from such a solution; please feel free to contact me or any of the v-team members.

As I am about to complete my first 90 days at Accenture — under lockdown and still recovering from Covid-19; I am aware we will need good leadership to rebuild our society and economy. And I know technology, especially AI — that is Responsible AI — can help. I am profoundly excited for the days ahead to do my part in helping our organizations, clients, and the broader ecosystem. As Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, states in his blog (my favourite Covid-19 / new life / new norm reading so far), “it’s time to build.” Let’s get going!

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Didem Un Ates

@Schneider Electric #Data #AI #XR #ResponsibleAI #Diversity #Inclusion # Sustainability Formerly @Microsoft @Upenn @CBS Views are my own