A(cademic research) + B(usiness) + C(onsultancy) = D(igital success)

Accenture and Vlerick deepen their insights together with the ‘Digital 20/20’ Chair Partnership

What if you could create an ecosystem that would allow you not only to better understand the influence of digital technology on your business activities, but also to convert it into value? Accenture and Vlerick have found a way to do exactly that with their ‘Digital 20/20’ Chair Partnership. We spoke to Wim Decraene, Managing Director of Accenture Digital BeLux, Steve Muylle, professor of marketing and digital strategy at Vlerick and Willem Standaert, lecturer and post-doctoral researcher at Vlerick. They told us how A(cademic research) + B(usiness experiences) + C(onsultancy) leads to a better insight into D(igital possibilities).

The ‘Digital 20/20’ chair that you are financing at Vlerick was set up in 2015. So you have already come quite a distance together. What have your experiences been?

Wim Decraene (Accenture Digital Benelux)Wim Decraene: “During the first year, we developed the Consumer Engagement Framework together and tested it at various companies including Solvay. In the second year, we expanded that Framework to other industries and applied it there, at AG Insurance for instance. And during the third year, we also developed a Product Digitization Framework that we are now testing in practical, real-life situations on the ground at Barco and Samsonite.”

Steve Muylle: “Wim and I are the content sponsors of this project. We combine our knowledge, expertise and experiences and support the project team, in which Accenture and Vlerick work closely with each other and the companies concerned. Furthermore, Professor Amit Basu of the Cox School of Business in Dallas has come in as a co-promoter and that gives the project a nice international dimension.”

“Thanks to digitisation, today’s B2B companies can gain many benefits from their new relationship with the end consumer.” Willem Standaert, lecturer and post-doctoral researcher at Vlerick

What was your motive for developing frameworks like these?

Wim Decraene: “Many businesses are working on digitisation, and rightfully so, which means there are enough concrete cases but there is often a lack of structure and context. That leads to many lost opportunities.”

Willem Standaert: “That’s right, B2B businesses used to have little contact with the end user. That changes drastically in a digital context. Today they can benefit greatly from that new relationship with the consumer, at which point a strong framework with an academic basis offers a valuable foundation.”

What purpose do the frameworks serve?

Wim Decraene: “They are tools for us and our customers to get to work with.”

Steve Muylle: “And for Vlerick, besides interesting and current teaching cases, they provide academic output. We don’t only publish our findings in academic publications, but also publicise them with Accenture in a ‘Point of View’ that you can read on Accenture Insights.”

Willem Standaert (Vlerick)Willem Standaert: "In the publication on the Consumer Engagement Framework you can read about different ways for companies to look at the relationship with their customers and connect to consumers. A second research team is investigating how we can set up a framework to extract all we can from digitising products: we call it the Product Digitization Framework. In our work with Samsonite, one of the things we research is how we can make a suitcase ‘smarter’ by giving it an electronic tag. But we also look at what might be possible if you connect suitcases to each other (those belonging to members of the same family, for example). If one of those suitcases is separated from the others, a notification can be sent to let the owner know, for instance. But of course that is only one of the many possibilities.”

Wim Decraene: “As soon as we have a product roadmap ready and have tested it extensively, we will also publish these findings and apply them to our customers. The next step could be that we develop such a framework for services as well.”

“For us, of course, it is important to test our academic research and to adjust it and validate it in the market.” Steve Muylle, professor of marketing and digital strategy at Vlerick

Finally: why do you think it is important to work together on this?

Wim Decraene: “The businesses Vlerick works with are also our customers. That in itself makes this a natural collaboration. As consultants, we are very close to the market: this is a privileged position that is reinforced when we are closely involved in academic research. Creating and refining designs together: that enriches us both. And although we often start with the Belgian market as the basis, I think there is definite added value in being able to expand to an international level together with Vlerick.”

“Intense partnerships like this offer us a huge opportunity to get to know the students in a different, insightful way.” Wim Decraene, Managing Director of Accenture Digital BeLux

Steve Muylle (Vlerick)Steve Muylle: “For us, of course, it is important to test our academic research and to adjust it and validate it in the market. Such partnerships also enable us to put innovative learning into practice, which is one of the strategic pillars of our school.

Willem Standaert: “Right, when you have been collaborating intensively on such a project for three years as I have done, really great cases come to light that we can incorporate in our lessons. We also closely involve our students in the academic research and give them insight into how academic research is conducted. They learn how they can deliver added value themselves.”

Wim Decraene: “And that is precisely the quality we look for in our consultants. So, you understand why Vlerick students are such an attractive recruitment pool for us. Intense partnerships like this offer us a huge opportunity to get to know the students in a different, insightful way.”