Responsible buying and supplier mentoring drives Accenture's successful development of a global supplier inclusion and sustainability program. The organization promotes business and economic growth through collaboration with innovative suppliers.
By Betty Armstrong
Nedra Dickson's title speaks volumes about Accenture's focus. She is the managing Director, Global Supplier Inclusion & Sustainability Lead at Accenture. Notice the word "diversity" is not included. The purposeful exclusion of the word reflects the desire to keep the focus on inclusion wherever the country operates, and that means globally. The company has operations in 55 countries, serves clients in 120 countries, and employs 505,000 people, and success of operations and people depends on an aligned impactful supply chain.
Nedra accepted her current position with the goal of expanding and growing supplier inclusion, and in four years has successfully taken the program to 18 geographies.
As the largest independent technology services company in the world, leadership has ambitious goals to continue supply chain growth and enrichment by attracting and mentoring innovative suppliers and remaining a standard bearer for global small-to-medium enterprise (SME) and diverse supplier inclusion. Accenture regularly achieves goals through responsible buying and embracing technology as the primary source of innovation.
Focused on Inclusion and not Just Diversity
Before assuming her current role, Nedra led Accenture's North America sourcing and category management operation. In that position, she noticed an opportunity to increase spend with SMEs and diverse suppliers. Appointed to grow this opportunity, efforts are aligned with the goals of the global procurement organization. Responsible buying powers supplier inclusion initiatives, like the mentoring program, and sustainability goals designed to reduce the company's carbon footprint.
"We want to make sure that any supplier in our supply chain is adhering to environmental and human conduct standards that respect human rights," Nedra says.
It is immensely challenging to build a global supply chain that adheres to responsible buying practices. Nedra focuses on inclusion rather than diversity because diversity means something different in each country. Responsible buying principles are vigorously applied across borders. They adhere to the country's laws, minimize the carbon footprint, assist communities, protect human rights and help suppliers succeed through mentoring.
A common challenge of many SMEs and diverse suppliers is understanding how to successfully work with major corporations. Accenture is a global Fortune 500 company and spends multi-billions with suppliers. Nedra strives to ensure SMEs and diverse suppliers are included and have access to resources that will help them succeed.
Machine and People Working Together
In today's business world, technology is always front and center, and technology is at the core of Accenture's services.
"We help our clients with new technologies, whether it is going digital, adopting artificial intelligence or using augmented reality. The goal is to help machines and people work together. Our supply chain must reflect a lot of the services we provide clients, becoming a source of innovation and value-add," Nedra explains.
Under Nedra’s leadership, suppliers are offered many opportunities to learn, adapt and innovate technologies.
One of the gold programs offered to strategically selected suppliers is the Diverse Supplier Development Program (DSDP). This 18-month mentoring program includes face-to-face meetings that include suppliers and Accenture leaders, online access to resources, and visits to several of Accenture's 11 global innovation hubs.
Accenture’s innovation hubs are focused on new technologies, including robotics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Suppliers are able to actually see how advanced technologies are applied to give Accenture's clients a world-class experience. Suppliers can also bring new technology ideas and utilize innovation hub resources to develop prototypes or test products and services. It is a win-win experience in that suppliers grow their knowledge of technologies, and Accenture gains access to innovation used to deliver results to clients.
"We look for the suppliers who have developed innovation or have innovative ideas but do not know how to shape it on a larger scale," Nedra says. "We want to collaborate."
She uses AP42 as a good example. AP42 Founder and CEO + Creative Director Imelda Alejandrino developed business cards and capability statements that use augmented reality. She approached Accenture with her innovative product and a desire to do business on a larger scale. An AP42 and Accenture collaboration led to the showcasing of the technology to Accenture clients and the leveraging of the augmented reality by innovation hubs to create augmented reality banners in which suppliers and corporate partners tell their stories. Imagine someone stepping out of a banner at an event and sharing a story as if he or she is right there.
Paying it Forward
Nedra and her team also seek suppliers for the DSDP mentoring program who are truly interested in learning how to make their business sustainable.
Suppliers are carefully selected, and not all of them are current Accenture suppliers. In the last mentoring class, there were 350 respondents to the RFI issued, and only 12 suppliers were selected. The selected suppliers were determined to be businesses that could expand the diversity community, as well as bring innovation.
"They are not just building and growing their company. They are building communities which means growing the number of jobs. We want to make sure the suppliers are paying it forward and not just going through a mentoring program," Nedra said.
Each supplier in the program is strategically partnered with two Accenture executives and can work with the executive's team. For example, the supplier doing augmented reality is partnered with mentors in the appropriate innovation hub. Mentors are chosen based on their ability to help the supplier learn, scale up, grow, hire and retain top talent, and meet other business goals. Suppliers are also connected to other suppliers with compatible expertise to create synergy.
Spend with diverse suppliers is tracked, but the success of the DSPS is measured in many ways that go beyond spend.
"We like to know if the supplier applied what was learned in the mentoring class to their day-to-day business and what is that measure of success," Nedra explains.
She offers the example of a supplier that learned about Accenture's hotel model for offices, implemented it, and saw an uptake in employee retention and productivity as a result. Suppliers learn how to respond to a corporate RFP, so another measure is how many RFPs did they respond to and win. She encourages all suppliers she connects with to get their story out because it helps their business grow and encourages other suppliers interested in gaining corporate customers.
Respect the Culture
Accenture is always looking for innovation, and encourages suppliers to bring something innovative, even if it is not fully developed. Accenture's innovation hubs will help the supplier develop it.
Nedra believes deeply that suppliers must embrace technology and learn how to balance human plus machine. They also need to gain a clear understanding of what Accenture is looking for in terms of innovation before approaching the company in order to successfully join the collaborative effort.
"Technology is not just machines taking over," she says. "Technology is the future, and collaboration will make things happen, like it did for AP42."
Going global with supplier diversity and inclusion is challenging. Nedra has been so successful because she adheres to a basic premise: Respect the culture. She never enters a new country without understanding the culture and then works within those parameters. Her strategy revolves around finding a need and a way to make an economic impact.
Nedra ran an internal campaign last year called "Greater Than a Checkbox." The name reflects a goal – helping employees understand that supplier inclusion is greater than checking a box that says a supplier is woman-owned or diverse-owned.
"We want to make sure we are looking at what is driving the culture of the geography, determine how we can make an economic impact, identify how we can put people to work and how we can educate them, and get a deep understanding of how Accenture can be sustainable for generations to come," Dickson says.