Pallavi Verma is Accenture’s newly named senior managing director for the Midwest, working out of the tech-strategy company’s digital hub at the Ogilvie Transportation Center. “We take data from companies and say, ‘Where are you losing money? Where could you save money? What does your customer pattern look like? We are helping provide artificial intelligence for a telecom call center, for example.” Accenture is also working with elementary and high schools, the City Colleges of Chicago and the Civic Consulting Alliance to confront such community needs as job-training, tech-skills education and even infrastructure improvements. She spoke with Chicago Sun-Times reporter Sandra Guy. An edited transcript follows.
Question: How is Accenture using its technology, strategic and data-analysis smarts to help deal with Chicago’s pressing needs?
Answer: We are partnering with the City Colleges to help tailor their curriculum to the tech needs of the future. The way to help is to create a set of students who will be employable. Finding and encouraging skilled students to hire after they graduate is a way for us to differentiate ourselves in Chicago.
We also work with elementary school students throughout the world, including in Chicago, in a program called “Hour of Code.” Across 204 cities in 56 countries, we participate in that one hour for the past two years to work with children to get them exposure to computer coding in a way that’s simple, easy and interesting. We worked with a total of 100,000 students the week of Dec. 5.
The idea is to show girls and boys role models. We want to start early, continue getting the students’ interest in coding and related fields in middle school, figure out how to foster it in high school and make sure it sticks in higher education.
Q: How are you working with the city on infrastructure?
A: We’re partnering with UI Labs, the University of Illinois, ComEd, Siemens and others, trying to figure out how technology is going to improve the city. How does the Internet of things apply to the city? We are looking at areas around infrastructure and the water and sewer systems that sit under the city. We want to see how technology could help us manage water levels and prevent flooding, for example. We don’t have the ability to easily know this information right now.
Q: How do you juggle being a mom and being in charge of such a big business?
A: I had to create my own way. That goes back to moving around a lot and being different as a child growing up. It’s OK to be different. I’m OK reinventing myself. I went to an engineering school and had a concentration in computer science. It’s very personal for me. So we also partner with the organization Girls Who Code to encourage girls to get excited about STEM work.
I was born in India, but I’ve lived in New Jersey, Oklahoma and lots of different places. I’ve moved 12 times in my life. My dad was a telecom executive. My mom worked in insurance. I learned a lot about how to deal with challenges just by sitting and listening to them and recognizing their perseverance.
When I asked my daughter — she’s 21 years old — how I had done with balancing everything, I felt really great about her answer. She said, “You always worked, but you always made me a priority.”
Early on, I defined what my boundaries were and what was important to me about my work and home life. You don’t get it right on every day. You do the best you can and understand it’s not going to be perfect. I advise others: Find lots of help, whether it’s family or other sources. Find help on things you don’t like to do.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: My daughter and I love to travel. The most interesting places we’ve been recently were China and Japan. I had been to Japan for work, but I’d never been to China. We had people line up to take pictures with us. They don’t see anything but Chinese nationals like on TV. It taught us something about the fact that different people have a very different exposure to the world.
I love to bike. I’m looking forward to biking down by the lake. I love to read. I like to read business books, especially by innovators like Walter Isaacson, who wrote “The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.”