Accenture APAC's Caspar Schlickum on building an engine for business growth

Caspar Schlickum on his plans to grow Accenture Interactive Operations in APAC

Accenture has hired Caspar Schlickum to bring Accenture Interactive Operations (AIO) to the region formally, with plans to boost its capabilities and offer a marketing growth ‘engine’ to clients.

Less than four weeks into the role, and just five months into fatherhood, The Drum caught up with Schlickum to find out what he plans to do in his new role at Accenture.

One thing that is clear for Schlickum is his perception of the Accenture business has been surpassed, as he enthuses about the size and capabilities of the business from a perspective of being able to solve for clients business problems.

A core opinion that is driven from this enthusiasm is that the industry’s constant comparison between consulting firms and agency businesses is irrelevant.

“To be totally honest I see them as completely different businesses. It’s so different that I really think it’s unfair to be saying ‘they are trying to be us or we are trying to be them’. We own agencies at Accenture, so it’s not appropriate or smart for us to beat up on agencies. Agencies have a role,” he explains.

“The reason why we want to be able to do creative as part of Accenture is that its part of the mission of experience design. We are not doing creative for creative’s sake but there are clients that want us to be able to deploy those kinds of capabilities for their growth agenda, so we need to have that. The same applies to data and analytics, it applies to the various other services that Accenture Interactive Operations provides. They are just very, very different kinds of businesses.”

The agency businesses that Accenture has bought, which include The Monkeys in Australia and HO Communications in China, sit under the Accenture Interactive banner. As Schlickum explains, the raison d’être for Accenture Interactive is to lead the experience design conversation for Accenture. For Accenture Interactive Operations, Schlickum says it is the engine that delivers this.

“Another way we think about the Accenture Interactive Operations side of things is the ‘run’ part of the experience, so running the engine. Experience design is about working very closely with clients about where they want to take their business, where they want to drive it and we [AIO] provide that engine that delivers it.”

He says this is actually something that taps into the core of Accenture’s more traditional businesses areas, in which it helps with major systems integrations.

“Accenture Interactive Operations works very closely with Accenture Interactive but really our heartland comes from the operations side of the business, which is to say that Accenture has really built its business around helping clients with massive scaled operational deployments."

He adds: "Traditionally they’ve done that in areas such as finance, HR or admin, but there’s an incredibly important opportunity to connect those two things up - that is to run the experiences that Accenture Interactive is creating and provide the engine, or the backbone, for that.”

In a world of increased fragmentation for marketers, constant digital disruption and usually a need to drive more efficiencies, the operational concerns of clients are hugely important, he says.

“In today’s world, there is a complexity of the ecosystem and a pressure on budgets. There is a need to do more with less in an incredibly fragmented technology landscape," he explains.

"We are in a world where people are less loyal to brands and everyone has to work harder to create a consistent experience. Designing the experience is important but only designing the experience isn’t enough. You have to be able to also deliver that experience at scale consistently over time and do the execution. So that’s what AIO does."

AIO will focus on a set of areas which Accenture believes will power the engine: content creation, the distribution of content via digital and programmatic channels, e-commerce and measurement and analytics. “Creating the message, distributing the message and driving to sale is the core of what we do, and that is all underpinned by data and analytics,” he explains.

AIO has grown both organically and via M&A globally, such as the acquisition of Adaptly to scale the programmatic offering last December. The plan for APAC is to ramp up the AIO business, starting with Schlickum whose role is new to Accenture. While his role will be regional and focus on building up scale, he plans to make sure that AIO has local expertise because that will ensure clients get relevant and effective work.

“I think we all know that there is no such thing as APAC, that’s a well-documented cliché that applies here as much as anywhere else. We have a number of markets where, through acquisitions or organic growth, we’re already very strong - Japan, Australia, ASEAN and Greater China, including Hong Kong. India and South Africa we have a very strong business too, but they are all very different. So, we’ll be looking to either bolster or build the AIO capability in each market,” he says.

“It is super important for us to be close to clients, particularly as we’re so close to the business challenge of clients, you can’t try and solve those problems remotely. This means sitting close to the clients and the client leads within Accenture, who are extremely knowledgeable about the markets their clients operate in."

He continues: "Being close to the ecosystem in those markets is important because customers are local, there’s no such thing as a regional customer. To build this engine which is not just relevant for the business of the brand, but the types of experiences you are trying to build for potential and current customers, you have to do that in each of the markets."

Schlickum says that AIO will be helping existing global clients in the region but, equally, Accenture has an opportunity to help the big Asian ‘unicorn’ brands to get scale elsewhere in the world too. But, he says, it requires a very different approach.

“We are engaged in a number of large-scale digital transformation projects and it cuts across whole parts of what Accenture does - strategy, operations, AI and experience design. You can’t take that to a digital-first unicorn business, they are extremely good at what they do, and they are natively digital, to an extent that is genuinely impressive. But they have other problems and then trying to grow as well, that growth is often having to come from new service lines or new geographies. At that point, it’s not that they are digital enough but how you transplant that way of working in other markets in a way that’s consistent,” he explains.

Speaking at just four weeks into the role, it’s clear that 2019 will be a busy one for Schlickum but with a message around operationalizing complexity in a market such as APAC, it is likely to keep him busy well beyond this year.

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