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OPTIMIZE Speaker Profile – A Conversation with Tracey Countryman

May 14, 2021

Tracey Countryman, Sr Managing Director, Global Industry X Manufacturing and Operations Lead, Accenture was kind enough to sit down with our blog editor to share industry insights and review what she’s looking forward to in the run up to OPTIMIZE 2021. 


Marilyn Guisbond: Welcome Tracey. What is your role at Accenture? Can you tell us a bit about Industry X? 

Tracey Countryman: I have worked for Accenture since I was in school. When I started full time at the firm back in 1998, I joined our strategy practice and my early career was focused in resources. In fact, I have spent most of my time prior and up to a year and a half ago in the heavy resources, heavy manufacturing part of the business. Which is why I have a particular affinity to AspenTech, because it's really in the hardcore part of our resources clients. 

About three years ago, we took Industry X to the next level establishing a part of the business that is dedicated purely to the future of making things and the very things we make by embedding intelligence.  I was asked to lead our entire footprint around manufacturing and operations in all industry sectors. What’s been fantastic is observing the nuances from one industry to the next; what they’re trying to accomplish while contemplating the next step change in their performance. 


MG: What did you see as the main thing that connects our two companies? 

TC: I got to know AspenTech eight years ago when I was running our refining business because, obviously, there's a huge portion of clients within that industry for AspenTech around planning, scheduling and optimization. I became very intimate with these solutions.

We [AspenTech and Accenture] have a great synergy around our current thinking about talent. But more interesting are the changes that AspenTech has been making over the last three years in how they're leading with embedded intelligence; it's directly within our Industry X objectives.

The synergistic way of thinking about how we help our clients is one of the many reasons we like to partner with AspenTech.


MG: That's great to hear. What is your advice to an organization that’s just beginning their journey? 

TC: I'm actually going to talk about this in my keynote for OPTIMIZE. We recently completed research with 600 companies across 10 industries. What was really interesting is that the questions were about where people are in their conceptualization and proof of concept around digital; where they’ve done some early stage pilots; versus to what degree they’ve moved certain larger scale use cases across multiple plants or facilities; and then all the way to full scale.

No one has fully scaled digital. But there is a substantial difference between the top industry sector, which is Oil and Gas/Upstream and the bottom industry sectors, which are the life sciences, industrials and consumer goods. There's about an eight-point percentage difference between where they are in their maturity of thinking in how they're scaling across their production, operations and supply chain footprints. So, I think most companies today, and I wouldn't have said this three years ago, are contemplating or have started to put together some basis of a strategy around digital, across all those 10 industry sectors.

Some are definitely further along in that process of recognizing the core foundations and the “muscle” that's going to be needed to really do that at scale. Companies need to invest. And I don't mean just investment in platforms, in security or data on the tech side, but investment in our people. How do we bring them along; up-skilling and re-skilling and start to augment their ability to really focus on the higher value activities? There's a real people journey and investment around talent and workforce of the future that I think is super critical in any kind of digital transformation. My advice if you're getting started is to go in eyes wide open. This isn't just some quick win. 

I think it's really important that you have leadership sponsorship from the very top, because it is a journey and you can't really increment your way to transformation


MG: You talk a lot about picking partners and solutions that are scalable. How do you think the process industries stack up so far? 

TC: I have to say I was pretty shocked when we got the results back. Because I've spent my career, 20 years, in gas, metals and mining utilities. When you're in it, you don't know how far along you are or are not, particularly if you're not lifting your head up to look across at other industries.

Automation and robotics are way farther along the curve in some of our process industries. What I've realized is that in the process industries, particularly in oil and gas, the conversations we were having three years ago, I'm having now in the other industry sectors. 

If you look at consumer goods, they focused around consumer experience and channels for distribution for people like you and I, for beauty and health care and pet care. A lot of money has gone to the consumer end.

It's only now making its way back to how we are going to enable that experience with supply chain and manufacturing and new R&D practices to meet the demands by customers. And if you look at the process industries, most of them are B2B.

These industries didn't have that same kind of spending and went straight to the cost of manufacturing and operations three years ago. It's just a matter of timing and emphasis and where the priorities are within the respective industry sectors. That has led to the process industries being further along than some of their counterparts.


MG: From my experience at AspenTech, I do think the oil and gas companies have all the information when it's available and they know what's coming in a way that other industries may not pay attention to in the same way. 

TC: Yes, that's my observation. And, when we talk about advanced process control, and MES modernization, planning and scheduling in the cloud, oil and gas has been after that for a long time. They've been using smart analytics for decades. It's just now they can do it faster, at a better cost or covering more assets.

There are some technology trends that have picked up the pace of the next wave. There’s so much data available to get started with. When I'm talking to say, a consumer goods company that has 400 sites and they haven't upgraded their planning, scheduling, or MES and don't even have a historian, its a different discussion about where the value is and what's going to be needed to get to the next wave and take advantage of that digital and industry 4 promise. 

What we’re going to see more of, particularly in oil and gas and chemicals is not just the focus on the core assets but the integrated value chain. The next wave of expansion for the heavy industries is going to be tying together that digital thread from what's coming in and how we optimize the silos and release the trapped value throughout the chain to get much more resilient, transparent, speedy, responsive and optimize  for a little bit of margin here and there, which makes a big deal. 


MG: Can you tell us a little bit about your session at OPTIMIZE, Now More than Ever it's Time to Rethink Digital Transformation?

TC: I'm trying to make it fun. I had a blast two years ago at OPTIMIZE onstage, and this time I'll also be doing the panel after the keynote. When I thought about digital, I focused on the things that are slowing us down from reaching scale, acknowledging some of “the elephants in the room.” So, there's a whole elephant theme. And by the way, they're all cartoons. No elephants were harmed in the making of my session [laughs]. It is really about six types of “big elephants” that need to be attacked to get to scaling capability.

I’ll share my thoughts on where the industry is and why. And then I’ll share a couple of different examples and anecdotes to bring it to life. My goal is to set the stage for the bigger, artificial intelligence conversation and Industrial AI that we're talking about more broadly at OPTIMIZE this year.


MG: What are some of the other hot topics you're most looking forward to hearing about at OPTIMIZE from others?  

TC: Well, certainly the fireside chat and Antonio's opening. I always like hearing about what’s on the roadmap and where some big bets are being placed. There's an interesting dynamic and a bit of a shift through the years. The additional companies and solutions that AspenTech has bought put them in more industries, like Pharma, for example. I'm going to go to those sessions to understand how these fit because I have a mental model of oil and gas and metals and mining, as opposed to all the new things like Mtell and some others. I'm going to pick sessions to make sure I learn so we can represent that more broadly across Accenture's manufacturing footprint. 
























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