Influence of Evolving IT

John Applegate, Global CIO, KPMG
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John Applegate, Global CIO, KPMG

1. What do you think are the biggest challenges to CIOs in these present times?

For years the CIO community has talked about how we need to be aligned with business leaders. Rather than just taking orders from the business, we felt that we needed to have a seat the Board— that we needed to be involved in discussions about strategy and how technology can best contribute to business growth. Over the past few years some of us have had some success in elevating the conversation between the business and technology but it seems that now, with the accelerating pace of emerging technology disruptors, the business is more interested in pulling IT to the top table as they now agree that they have a huge dependency on technology for their future success. While this is great, it presents a challenge because we are not always ready to step up to that level. When we get into speaking about technology as an integral part of business—and not just enabling back office infrastructure—there is a whole set of capabilities and a way of thinking that we, as technologists, are not necessarily prepared for. We need to really up our game to successfully shift from order takers to business enablers.

2. How has your IT operating model changed during the last five years especially in the case of Data Integration and Management?

Over the last five years we have been working to shift our model so that we can become partners to the business. Five years ago we were focused on the fundamentals of developing, delivering and supporting major enterprise level IT—networks, messaging, security, practice management systems and the like. And we were focused on cost effectiveness, outsourcing and reducing duplication across the enterprise—all the traditional things that CIOs deal with. Over the past five years the business’s reliance on data has been driving evolution of our traditional model. We rely on internal data which we analyze and use to run our business. And we rely on client data which is driving change in how we work with clients and the kinds of services that we offer to them. We are working with the business to figure out how to use the data entrusted to us as data brokers to provide value to our clients. But this doesn’t happen overnight, we need to reposition the technology organization, introduce new structures, new ways of working, new skills and capabilities. We need to be fully integrated with business units to understand how technology can help them to achieve their goals.

  We must be able to quickly survey options, apply filters around what is right for our particular business and then make a bet and commit to it 

3. How are you addressing the need for rapid delivery in your organization?

Speed of delivery is a tough topic. For the past 20 plus years we have focused on the back office. The enterprise technology group is organized around the need to deliver big systems consistently and cost effectively. That does not translate into speed. In today’s world the big value is in small hits, quickly developed tools that meet an immediate business need – even if they have a short shelf life. We’re now in a world where we need to develop and deliver in a matter of days, we don’t have the months and years that we had in the old days. We need to change our structure dramatically to accomplish this while still providing the foundational IT that is needed to allow our international network of member firms to work together.

We have engaged the KPMG IT Advisory practice to help us to define what we need to look like so that we can deliver at the pace that is required. While this work is still underway, it is safe to say that our new world order will include two separate approaches in IT. You can’t crack different nuts with the same hammer, so we’ll have one team dedicated to the development of business enablers and another that will look after foundational IT. This is two-speed IT: one side will work at the speed of business and the other will focus on cost effective delivery of underlying technologies.

4. What do you think are the biggest obstacles that technologists face in working in a more agile and outcomes based model with regards to Data integration and Management?

One of the biggest things is the ability to “see all.” In today’s environment, it is not enough to understand just the traditional IT environment. Today’s CIO needs to see all the potential business enablers out there, we need to understand multiple solution sets and be able to envision possibilities, including those that are in the incubation stage, and we need to figure out which approach will be most effective in the short term and relevant in the long term—and we need to be able to move quickly. As technologists, we spend so much time analyzing research and gathering feedback from multiple stakeholders that we run the risk of missing the boat entirely. We must be able to quickly survey options, apply filters around what is right for our particular business and then make a bet and commit to it. The issue we face when making decisions, especially when data is involved, is that toolsets are leap frogging each other. If you wait too long to make a decision, then you’ll soon have a whole new set of capabilities that you need to analyze. You need to have the confidence in your understanding of emerging technologies, and a deep understanding of how your business needs to evolve, to be able to move quickly and decisively.

5. What set of skills do you think is required for the technology leaders to be successful in the new enterprise landscape?

This answer may not make me too popular with a lot of CIOs but I believe that the future technology leaders need to be business people first and technologists second. By that I mean, they need to have a thorough understanding of technology but they need to have direct experience in the business and they need to have a business mindset. These leaders will need to surround themselves with technologists who will run day to day operations, but the technology leader at the top table needs to be a business person.

6. Which growing/changing future technology innovation are you personally excited about?

The advances in cognitive and machine learning are driving fundamental changes in our industry. Our traditional zero and one, bits and bytes, mentality is taking on a whole new dimension and leading us, eventually, to places that today we can’t even fathom. I could make a joke about the Terminator movies and machines taking over, but we can’t underestimate the scale of the changes that machine learning is driving. They represent a turning point in the history of technology and we’re lucky enough to be living through it.

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