ACCA and NTT Data UK extend partnership to drive digital transformation

ACCA and NTT Data UK extend partnership to drive digital transformation

ACCA and NTT Data UK have extended their partnership by five years to push forward the association’s digital transformation efforts. Accountancy Age spoke to Raymond Jack, Executive Director of Finance and Operations and Maggie Morrison, Client Partner at NTT DATA UK, to learn what the two organisations hope to achieve together.

ACCA and NTT Data UK extend partnership to drive digital transformation

Earlier this month, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) announced that it had signed a new five-year contract with systems development firm NTT Data UK, to expand the IT firm’s responsibilities in the association’s strategic global digital transformation programme.

The contract, valued at around £50m, aims to build on a relationship that began over 12 years ago. Over the course of the contract, NTT Data UK has been given the task of revitalising ACCA’s legacy environment and delivering new innovative business solutions.

ACCA hopes that this partnership will transform it into a fully digitally-enabled organisation, supporting efficient global operations for accountancy certification and career development of its members, while being able to react to market change in an agile way.

Helen Brand OBE, ACCA’s chief executive said: “From the qualifications and support we offer to the overall user experience for our members and other stakeholders, and tools available to our employees, everything ACCA does needs to be digitally enabled. Thanks to this new agreement with NTT DATA UK, we will be investing in ACCA’s digital future.”

Helen Brand OBE, ACCA’s chief executive and Simon Williams, CEO of NTT DATA UK, at the signing of the contract.

Digital ambitions

ACCA has around 220,000 members and operates in 176 different countries. Therefore, creating a single digital solution that caters to this many people, and this many cultures, requires a great deal of thought and investment.

The association has been working towards the goal of digitising their community to not only be in-line with market expectations, but to be ahead of the game. To do so, they have been working with NTT Data over the last 12 years. These digital efforts really ramped up in the past two years, and the new contract with NTT Data aims to continue the work they have started.

By partnering with a global innovator like NTT, ACCA is showing ambition. While it has a huge number of members across the world, the business itself is relatively small, with just over £200 million in turnover and around 1,500 staff. In contrast, NTT Data is ranked 55th in the Fortune Global 500, has over 100,000 employees, and is the fourth-largest telecommunications company in the world, in terms of revenue.

The association wants to firmly establish a global, digital community, ensuring all their members and students can communicate. As Maggie Morrison, Client Partner at NTT Data UK says: “ACCA is operating in a very complex environment, so they have multiple touchpoints with members, students, learning providers, universities and employers.”

“The average age of people participating is 34, so our combined efforts have enabled ACCA to allow younger people, in particular, to communicate and touch the organisation in the way they want to.”

One example of this is the capability to host global conferences. They have seen up to 20,000 people attend these, which requires a very robust infrastructure. It shows that members of ACCA want to be able to connect, not just to local communities, but also to the global one that they are part of. Raymond Jack, Executive Director of Finance and Operations at ACCA gives another example: “We currently have learning providers in China and Pakistan who are reasonably well developed, working with learning providers in Africa.

“Us being able to provide a digital mechanism, and in some cases a physical mechanism, to link-up and share best practice and also collaborate and deliver benefits to communities – students or continued professional development to members – is something that’s grown quite significantly over the last two years.

“We really want to digitise the whole experience for members, students, partners and employers,” he continues. “I suppose it’s about deepening the richness of that integration and sharing experiences. Another big part is being able to share performance data in order to help achieve better outcomes and better satisfaction rates for our members.”

Maggie Morrison (L), Client Partner at NTT DATA UK, and Raymond Jack, Executive Director of Finance and Operations.

Digital is an expectation

Both ACCA and NTT acknowledge that the industry is changing at a rapid pace, as it is in many others. Digital is becoming the expectation, especially as new generations begin working in the industry who naturally do everything in a digital space. Thanks to new technology, people are also working quicker than ever before, and ACCA and other accountancy associations are best placed to understand these demands, with a community of hundreds of thousands to listen to and learn from.

“The pace will never be slower than it is today,” says Morrison. “In order for us to support ACCA, it’s really important that this is ACCA’s journey. NTT Data is there to support ACCA, but we can’t do it all on our own, so we have a number of other technology partners that bring their expertise to the party. Because of the pace of the change, we are working differently than we have done in the past with the partnership with ACCA.”

“It used to be that if you were preparing a piece of software, it would maybe be two-years away, and the software would be introduced in a big-bang approach at the end of the two years. We are now working in an agile fashion with ACCA.”

Morrison explains that when developing software, especially that which has a strong emphasis on customer experience, it is important to be agile, and to develop a project in iterations. “You simply can’t do big projects anymore and hope that everything is ok at the end of an 18-month, two-year period. The world is moving too quickly,” she says.

But how does an organisation like ACCA keep ahead of these changes? For Jack, it’s not about keeping ahead of the game, but leading the way. He says: “We like to think we are leading the way. A lot of what we do here is a fairly significant investment. Other bodies are investing in digital, but for us its about the scale of that network, and the scale of that connectivity. I don’t think anyone else is doing it in that scale.”

Culture & Customer Experience

Much of what ACCA does is led by the association’s council, which represents its members. They are very much behind its digital transformation plans and see the real benefit of connecting its global members. But is there a reluctance among its members to go digital, or are people more willing to use digital systems?

Jack believes this is largely down to where people are in practice, with this willingness varying from young students to those who have been in practice for decades. These different groups have different technical capabilities and expectations, and this is reflected in their willingness.

“Members in practice are beginning to adapt to digital capability and using digital means to take the mechanics out of doing accounting, and spending their time more on the advisory side,” he says. “That’s probably a harder journey if you’re in practice if you’re heaving to change the size and the shape of your practice to adapt.”

It is important when making big digital changes that users, customers, and in this case ACCA’s members, understand the value that is being added. It is also down to the people working on the projects, and in this case experience working as an accountant is vital.

Morrison says: “The challenge is to make sure that people feel this isn’t something that is being done to them, because the cultural change is so important to communicate. What’s in it for them? Why is this important to them? How will it help them do their own jobs? How will it help the members, the learning partners, the employers? That’s always the biggest part of the issue.

“It isn’t the technology; it is that cultural change. We’ve worked very closely with ACCA on that. ACCA has taken some people who are leaders, but not traditional IT leaders, and put them into key leadership positions, because those people know what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and they bring something different.”

According to Jack, the key to success is a focus on user satisfaction and the added value that is offered by a digital platform. The financial benefits, while important, are secondary. “We obviously have a lot of financial benefits that we want to make sure we can pay and deliver value and demonstrate value to our members, from a financial respect,” he says. “But it’s the non-financial benefits that people see and feel a lot more.”

“It’s such a big community, and if we can create the right platform to connect that up, what we see very definitely is a desire to connect globally.”

Good partnership

Both organisations speak about the partnership in glowing terms, and hearing their plans it is easy to see why ACCA are optimistic about their digital future. A platform that brings together large numbers of people online, with shared experiences and career goals, is an exciting prospect.

Jack says that by partnering with a company like NTT Data, ACCA will benefit not just from the project, but from the IT firm’s experience. “As an organisation we are really excited about this partnership, and the council are excited about it and that’s important because they represent the members,” he said. “Working with a big organisation like NTT Data is really important as we can benefit from their experience but also benefit from the very substantial amount of research and development that they do.”

“We’re a relatively small organisation, with just over £200million turnover and 1500 employees, so being able to draw on the experience of a big global organisation like NTT data as an important partner for us to have in this type of development. We’ve been about for over 100 years, and we want to continue to be about.”

Morrison feels that the reason that the partnership between the two organisations work so well is that both play to each other’s strengths and have shared values. “When we’re approaching a challenge, an opportunity, we’re coming from the same place,” she says.

“ACCA and NTT have a strong social mission, and both organisations are really committed to diversity, and I think the shared values are a really strong foundation and a big part of the reason that the partnership has lasted for so long, and we’re looking to extend that for at least another five years.”

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