Virtual Office supports global business

From Dubai, to Abu Dhabi, then to Bombay, followed by a week in Johannesburg, then another week in Saudi, it sounds like a real nightmare. So Accenture has deployed a virtual office environment for its consultants.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  February 28, 2001

Page 1|~||~||~|From Dubai, to Abu Dhabi, then to Bombay, followed by a week in Johannesburg, then another week in Saudi to visit multiple customer sites across the Kingdom, back to Dubai for a short stay and then fly to Chicago to visit the US operation. It sounds like a real nightmare road trip with too many variables any of which could easily go wrong. The possibility of being stuck somewhere without a clue of how to rectify the situation is bound to be relatively high. To organise the logistics of such an intensive road trip is either going to take one exceptionally organised PA, or loads of ad hoc arrangements made on the fly.

Such a gruelling itinerary is nothing new to Accenture personnel — formerly Anderson Consulting — operating in the Middle East. The 120-strong force of consultants operating in the region is almost always on the move, either around the Gulf, Europe or the States. “We have to go where the work is,” says Khaled ElKara, marketing manager with Accenture’s local operation. “Our consultants in the region can at any time be called up and move anywhere in the world. Given that global nature and our movement… we need a virtual, integrated, paperless working environment,” he adds.

To supporting consultants, Accenture has deployed a virtual office environment for its consultants. Based on Lotus Notes/Domino R5 environment, the firm has developed a series of sophisticated portal interfaces connecting mobile executives to a collection of services, from a hotelling system, to a workplace portal and a massive online directory, enabling them to cope with every conceivable eventuality.
When a consultant logs on to Accenture’s network of global servers, either remotely through dial up, or by plugging into the LAN of a local office, he or she downloads the workplace portal on to their notebook. The portal delivers an intuitive interface, enabling the consultant to access localised data, providing all the local services that he or she needs to do their job, including a series of work templates and tools. Localised information goes into detail about office layout including, the location of the network printers and even giving the consultant the option to download local drivers.

The R5-based environment replicates information on a daily basis to its Knowledge Exchange — the company’s global Web of databases accessible to each consultant — and makes the data available to other consultants. The Knowledge Exchange contains data on customers, ongoing projects, and other consultants — including where in the globe they are, what they are doing and how to get hold of them. “We use the Lotus environment not just for e-mail, but to access the databases all over the world, and share business information,” says ElKara. “The information replication happens on a daily basis. The information that I update here regarding my region, is available all over the globe within 24 hours,” explains ElKara.

Regardless, of how virtual Accenture makes its work model, there has to be people positioned in each office to support its transient consulting force. Accenture’s string of local offices provides vital support through the Facilities & Services (F&S) unit. When a consultant is aware of their next destination, they access the online F&S database part of the company’s wider hotelling system. From the F&S system consultants can book everything from their physical working space in the next office, to a hotel room, flights, a car and even find out what plug adapters they need for their notebooks. When the request is in, the local F&S personnel pick up on the consultant’s request and make it happen. “Once you land in a particular country everything is taken care of,” explains ElKara. “[The consultants] are fully concentrating on the work at hand, and not worrying about the logistics of their trip.

Hilda Gholmieh, the F&S person at Dubai’s Accenture, has to deal with the practical every day job of making travel arrangements for the consultants. Her role includes, not only booking hotels, but also sorting visas, booking rental cars and even reserving office space. “It’s my job to ensure that they get here without any hiccups, and everything is arranged,” she says. “On a busy day I’ll book any where between five or six plane tickets, and sort people’s visas.”

The local F&S personnel also deliver the local knowledge necessary to streamline the whole process, including such things as exactly which documents are needed for which visa.

An increasingly virtual environment demand a high level technical support at the local office, to ensure the Nortel xClient-based virtual private network of servers hosted in Accenture key offices in the region remains up and running. The Local Technical Support personnel also fulfil any IT requirements of travelling consultants. “Although we’re running a virtual office, there is need for a human factor — the more sophisticated an environment, the better trained the IT staff that support it must be,” says Mo’ayed Zaidan, of the LTS team for Dubai and the lower Gulf.

“When people are totally relying on the system, it must be there for them the whole time. Otherwise the whole operation will stop,” he adds.||**||

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