If you want another indicator of Atlanta’s rapid evolution into a hotbed of the digital economy, look no further than Technology Square in Midtown, where Accenture (one of Dice’s Ideal Employers) plans to open an Innovation Hub in 2018.
The Hub is designed to facilitate collaboration between Accenture employees and their clients, with a focus on rapid application software development in the Liquid Studio; there’s also the Fjord Design Studio, which aims to bring design thinking to digital product creation.
Jimmy Etheredge, Accenture’s regional managing director for the Southeast, told Dice that the company’s decision to locate its latest innovation hub in Atlanta was due to multiple factors, including the existing tech startup scene and robust higher-education community (led by Georgia Tech).
“Atlanta makes a lot of sense for us,” he explained. “It’s a very vibrant tech environment with many specific individual sectors like financial tech and payment processing, health tech, cloud-based security—there’s a lot we can do with an innovation hub here.”
The large number of corporations in Atlanta creates a gravitational pull on talent—particularly Millennials. Adding to that draw is the city’s relatively low cost of living and burgeoning cultural scene in the Midtown area and elsewhere.
“What we’ve seen is more of that work we’re doing with clients is predicated on collaborating around innovation,” Etheredge said. “Now clients are wanting to leverage our collaborative spaces, and that’s creating this demand from our clients for these innovation spaces they’re able to leverage—the clients are asking for it.”
According to Etheredge, Accenture has put a strong emphasis on encouraging diversity and reaching out to job candidates at an earlier stage in their education. The company’s internship program, for example, accepts applicants not only at the college freshman and sophomore level, but also from high schools that are traditionally disadvantaged from a STEM standpoint.
“I was helping with a class this summer of 14-15 year old girls to help them get a page set up on LinkedIn and connect with me and other executives,” Etheredge added. “These are things we’ve been doing for the past five years to influence [students] earlier and earlier, to visualize these opportunities in the tech field.”
At the other end of the employment pipeline, the company plans to add 800 highly skilled technology jobs in Atlanta over the next three years. Nor is it the only firm investing heavily in the city’s technology ecosystem. Cynthia Curry, Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) director of IoT, told Dice that an abundance of incubators and accelerators are also contributing to the city’s tech scene by putting a focus on innovative thinking.
“We’re on the rise, but the startups need more funding and VC opportunities,” Curry said. The city’s competitive cost of doing business, talent availability, and cost of living have all proven major factors in building a digital economy that serves not only startups, but also enterprises such as General Electric (GE), Siemens and Honeywell.
Atlanta Needs Talent
Jennifer Sherer, MAC’s vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship, suggested that talent acquisition and access to customers are two areas where tech startups in the city need continued support. To that end, she pointed to initiatives such as Choose ATL and Backed by ATL, which focus on retaining top talent and ensuring that tech startups and scale-ups have the opportunity to compete for that talent.
In addition, programs such as Innovation Connect, Techstars, Engage and The Bridge Community bring corporations and startups together to explore business development opportunities, partnerships, and funding relationships. “Tech companies are all competing for top talent, both entry level and experienced,” Sherer said. “More tech startup successes means an increasing pool of experienced talent.”
Etheredge sees several disciplines with strong demand within the local tech economy, including creative thinking (such as storytelling and design) and Big Data. “I see us looking more and more for storytellers who have that design capability,” he said. “The second big area is analytics—more and more of what we are doing is taking data and in a matter of weeks or days [solving] issues our clients have. So there will be big demand for people with those skills.”
Another discipline is the Internet of Things (IoT) and networking, which could explode in coming years if more consumers and businesses embrace “smart” hardware. Atlanta is very focused on being known as a “smart” city, and IoT is one of those areas where Accenture is collaborating with Georgia Tech, city officials, and the chamber of commerce.
One plan currently in development is a water infrastructure project that leverages machine learning and analytics to predict and solve problems. “You try to remember how we ever moved around before something like Google Maps came about,” Etheredge said. “We’re creating a sort of platform for the entire city’s infrastructure—you can imagine what this capability could do for all that infrastructure below ground.”
Speaking of infrastructure, the recently-launched North Avenue Smart Corridor Demonstration Project will deploy technologies for adaptive signal systems to allow safer, more efficient flow of transit, personal vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The system will prioritize fire engines and ambulances traveling through the corridor, improving emergency response.
The 75,000 square feet that Accenture is developing in Midtown’s Technology Square will make it the largest innovation hub in Atlanta, Etheredge claims. “It’s what we’ve got to do—we know we need the right talent and the right collaboration space to work with our clients.”