Jitendra Kavathekar is Managing Director of Open Innovation at Accenture. During our open innovation event “Disrupt $500 Billion” in late March, we had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about open innovation activities at Accenture.

1. What is Accenture Technology Labs? 

Accenture Technology Labs is Accenture’s dedicated research and development organization with five locations around the world: Silicon Valley, CA and Arlington, VA in the United States; Sophia Antipolis, France; Beijing, China; and Bangalore, India. We look at innovations that disrupt the industries that Accenture is involved in, from finance to resources, communications, media & technology, healthcare, and retail. Accenture Technology Labs gives Accenture the ability to invest and understand emerging technology trends, and to build proof of concepts that we pilot with our clients in order to show how these trends are going to disrupt their businesses.

2. As a consulting firm, what are the main trends in innovation that you see emerging?

Globally, we see trends that are driving companies to become increasingly digital. Beyond having a Facebook page or a website, going digital is a very comprehensive term referring not only to how a company engages with its customers, but also how they deal with their supply chain, vendors, and finally with their workforce in a digital way. It leads to innovations and new ways for these businesses to compete in their industry.

Going digital essentially means focusing on the six technology trends that we identified in our Accenture Tech Vision 2014: 1) Digital physical blur, 2) From workforce to crowdsource, 3) Data supply chain, 4) Harnessing hyperscale, 5) Business of applications, 6) Architecting resilience.

3. What do you think of Open Innovation and how do you implement it at Accenture?

We believe open innovation is crucial to the way we innovate. As a services firm, we don’t build intellectual property at scale, rather our way to innovate is to partner with the best startups and corporate partners to find out where the innovation is happening, and match it up with our big themes and initiatives. Together with our external partners, we look at how the transformation of technology can be a positive change for our clients. That’s what open innovation is all about.

We implement open innovation by looking at three communities: startups, universities (researchers and students), and large IT vendors. We are interested in what other R&D organizations are doing and we work to build relationships with them to collaborate on these new ideas together.

4. What type of engagement do you have with startups?

We engage with two categories of startups:

–    Early-stage startups that have just formed but already have a product and an initial idea of their future clients. We engage through accelerators or incubators, such as RocketSpace, one of our corporate partners. Working with these startups provides us with new insights on what technologies and disruptive business models are emerging, and on where the investment money is going. It gives us the opportunity to connect these startups with our Technology Labs so that we can explore, test and pilot technology with our pioneering clients, scaling from there. It helps us grow strong relationships within the VC and startup communities.

–    Growth-stage startups already have a revenue stream, and their cash flow is often positive; their client list is the same as ours and they are market ready. We are looking at how we can connect these startups with our key clients to meet specific business needs.

5. Is there a typical startup profile that you like to partner with?

Whether they are early-stage or growth-stage, we are looking for startups that have a disruptive technology — one that brings new technology platforms to the table that will lead to new ways of doing business and new markets. Accenture Technology Labs’ focus is to make sense of the technologies and determine why and how they are relevant to our large enterprise clients and then embed them into our service offerings.  We serve as something of a translator for our clients – we help them understand what these technologies may mean for how they do business today and in the future, and help them shape their strategies accordingly.  For example, platform startups that create opportunities for customization of technologies and for writing applications on top of their technologies are good startups for us to consider.

6. What challenges do you face?

The biggest challenge for open innovation at Accenture is like the one faced by any startup: the danger is not starvation, the danger is indigestion. Our challenge is to decide where and how we should focus to provide value to our clients as well as to the startup community.

7. The last word:

Open innovation is the future of how innovation will happen in the new economy.

Looking at the economy of innovation, there is the supply side and the demand side. Both are higher than they have ever been: the supply side with the number of startups, new emerging technologies, and the VC investments being made; the demand side with all the companies that are aggressively looking to bring innovation into their companies. Accenture’s opportunity with open innovation here is to provide the innovation at scale.