Are Large Corporates the Future of Agile Development?

When you think of Accenture, ‘agile’ and ‘creative’ probably aren’t the words that first spring to mind.

Though the company has been working in mobility for more than a decade – initially in areas like equipping field forces – its within the last three years that it created a standalone mobile development business. Once they had pulled together everyone in-house who was working on mobile, a 2011 deal with Nokia secured another 2,000 former Symbian devs, leaving it with around 3,000 dedicated mobile professionals today.

Despite this significant expertise, an aged behemoth like Accenture, which employs some 261,000 people, still has a bit of an image problem when its comes to app development, says Ben Salama, senior exec at Accenture Mobility. “Our clients often don’t know we offer a complete end-to-end service,” Salama says. “Which is why we bought the creative agency Fjord earlier this year. It was really about getting hold of a brand and a group of people at the forefront of UX design.

“You can expect a bunch more transactions to be made by Accenture in the coming 12 months. Some Nokia-style outsourcing deals or full acquisitions like Fjord,” he said.

Industrial-grade agile development?

Despite this challenge around perception, Accenture has already worked with 39 of the Fortune 100 this year, from concept to design, build and then maintenance. Salama says the company is able to use ‘agile development’, principles typically at home in the startup community, even within this big industrial system, by ‘adopting the best from both’.

“We are still doing agile development, but mobile isn’t delivered in isolation. It can mean a big transformation within your business, including the back-end system as well. We don’t think many companies can do this at scale on a global basis,” he said. “For that, you need to industrialise the process.”

EU smart car deal

Like many working on behalf of the worlds biggest brands, Salama says much of the most interesting stuff they do is not in the public domain. Its work with RBS Six Nations to build and maintain its app – downloaded 750,000 times in one month during the most recent tournament – is typical of the calibre of Accentures mobile clients, he said.

Accenture Mobility also works in connected development, on everything from M2M and IoT kit to connected homes and energy management. The company has just signed a five-year deal with the ‘Europe’s premier automaker’ to manage and maintain 5m new smart cars over the next four years. This will not only help the manufacturer improve product recall processes and service monitoring, but also means value-add for drivers, like car performance information, internet access and music streaming. Salama would not reveal the company name, but Accenture is already tied quite heavily to BMW.

Could Accenture solve UKs mPayment problem?

The area he is most interested in is mobile payments, creating an ecosystem that makes mCommerce attractive to consumers, and Accenture recently made a key hire in the payments space, Gary Prince, formerly of Vocalink and O2. Salama points to Accenture’s recent work with BNP Paribas bank and Belgiacom on a ‘universal’ wallet solution in Belgium, but accepts that the landscape is much more complex in the UK.

“There is an opportunity for someone to put that together here, but if you look at JVs between operators or the reluctance of Apple around NFC, no one has cracked it yet,” he said. “Some are resistant to put operators back at the centre of the game, especially as banks could have the opportunity here to cut out credit cards companies.”

In the meantime, Salama expects a number of retailers, particularly those that have a link between financial services and retail like M&S, Co-op and Tesco, to come out with branded loyalty offers in the coming months. Accenture worked with a banking client on its solution for peer-to-peer payments – and although he wouldn’t reveal who – only Barclays, Natwest and HSBC currently have these on offer in the UK market.

300 mob dev firms to go bust?

So what does Accentures involvement in mobile mean for smaller players? “There are around 500 companies working specifically on mobile app development today,” Salama said. “About 300 of those might go bust and some will get bought – which actually makes the industry a minefield for companies that need these services. There are some very successful small businesses but how do you scale or get bigger without being able to offer end-to-end IT solutions?”

Despite, or perhaps because of its corporate image and global scale, Salama also admits, “we do lose some of our staff to the startups in Shoreditch…”