Talking shop with… Renee Sang

The global director of the Accenture Customer Innovation Network says information is only valuable if you can make it profitable.

Grocery Headquarters: What are some of the trends that are driving the need for the Accenture Customer Innovation Network?
Renee Sang:
Consumers are changing, technology is changing, and CPG and retail companies are fighting for share. Companies need help with continuous innovation and thinking outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. Accenture also wants to continue to innovate for/with the industry. In the Accenture Customer Innovation Network, we challenge companies to think and act differently—from the perspective of the consumer—to achieve results.

What are some of those consumer changes?
The Millennial population is a force. They are large in number and very influential in terms of their behavior. Coupled with the technology changes, we believe this will drive a very different experience. We’re shifting from retail to “me-tail”—a world where we need to tailor and personalize not only products, but the experience; an atmosphere where we need to reinvent the channels through which we serve this next generation consumer; a climate where consumers are not only buying products, but buying results; an environment where competitors can become formidable overnight as there are fewer barriers to entry allowing new ideas to spread like wildfire; and a world where the traditional roles of manufacturers, distributors and retailers are being redefined.

What do you do within the Accenture Cus­tomer Innovation Network?
This is a network with physical centers in Chicago, Milan and Shanghai. Our global teams conduct R&D on the consumer, the industry and emerging technology. That is used to host hundreds of innovation workshops with leaders in the industry. Through tailored workshops, we work with retailers, manufacturers and other consumer-facing companies on strategic planning, leadership innovation programs, kickoff and design sessions on other strategic initiatives. For example, we’ve had companies design strategic initiatives, such as a retailer’s first green store or a manufacturer’s global supply chain strategy. Or we’ve had manufacturers conduct a joint planning session with their key trade customers.

We also develop ideas from incubation through pilot, and work with clients to test and take solutions into the field. Often these are done in conjunction with our ‘Partners in Innovation,’ including technology providers, research firms, and our clients’ innovation teams. For example, our team in Milan developed a digital merchandising concept and is implementing with several CPG companies. It is a service that uses photos taken in the field and object recognition technology to measure on-shelf presence.

What makes this different than other technology showcases?
The focus of our research and our innovation sessions is not limited to technology. We always start with the consumer and address the needs of the consumer first.

Also important is the shareholder/investor expectations and how the company is performing relative to others in that sector. We discuss our high performance research and define which capabilities will really move the needle in that sector. The entire workshop is tailored around that company’s business objectives.

Sometimes this is enabled through technology, and we bring it to life through an interactive experience where you can try out emerging solutions, but that’s only a part of the equation. Often the process, operating model and strategy are equally important.

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