Upon arriving at PwC’s office in Sydney’s Darling Park, visitors are greeted by formally dressed wait staff who enquire about their preferred drink before moving into an allocated meeting room.
It’s just one of many image-building techniques the global professional services firm will adopt at its new digs in Sydney’s $6 billion Barangaroo precinct in October 2016. And Hilda Clune, the company’s CIO and transformation expert, will be leading the charge.
“This is one of the projects I am doing with my transformation hat on,” says Clune, who is also responsible for improving the client experience for PwC’s Brisbane and Melbourne teams, which will move to new offices next year.
PwC is rethinking what the future looks like, what clients see as valuable, and the image the firm is portraying, says Clune.
“I am leading a program of work in terms of designing the space and the experience, and technology has a big role to play in that – it’s rare to do any kind of transformation without technology at the heart,” Clune says. “It’s also about how we can use technology to deliver services to clients.
"There are some signature elements that we are looking at that are unique to PwC – elements where a client will come into … an interaction that is so completely different to anything they will see in any other organisation.
“These custom technology elements are true differentiators – we have brought a lot of great thinking to the table,” she says.
Clune declines to provide any specifics, partly due to the fact that one of PwC’s closest competitors, KPMG, is also taking space in the Barangaroo building.
However, she says there’s an opportunity for PwC to take a fresh look at its core back-end systems – including its CRM platform – to build an integrated suite that will improve the client experience. This will include harnessing technology to help clients find and navigate their way around PwC’s offices.
“Immersing the client in a different experience is important for taking us where we want to get to from a strategic perspective,” Clune says.
Activity-based working will also feature prominently in the new building, enabling staff to work in a more flexible and fluid environment.
Clune is most definitely the person to lead transformation for PwC. She began her career with fashion designer, Carla Zampatti, working with interior designers to fit out stores during two separate four-year stints. Between those stretches in the fashion world, Clune worked as a property manager at Telstra.
“Back then, I was doing what would have been considered as 'transformational projects', taking organisations out of their comfort zones and moving them into more efficient, more open and more fluid spaces,” Clune says.
Clune moved across to Optus in the late 1990s, working in a facilities role for the IT team when the company was preparing to float on the ASX and was still an emerging telco. Her role was to make some sense of a facilities and real estate strategy for an IT organisation that had grown from 300 staff to 1000 in just six months.
“I literally had to interview 1000 people to find out their names and who they worked for – that’s the immaturity of the way the space was set up,” she says.
But Clune really wanted to know what life was like in IT, so she moved into a systems management role at Optus.
“I couldn’t code to save my life, but it was about understanding the lifecycle with technology. What happens with technology? How do you strategise, to how do you decommission? I had several roles at Optus and each one got me broader and broader into the whole IT world,” she says.
Clune says the last meaningful job she completed at Optus was to lead the renegotiation of a $500 million IT outsourcing agreement with IBM.
“It was a huge success. We had Singapore Airlines interview us to understand how we got there with IBM because they were struggling [with the relationship].
“So I got good broad experience at Optus from everything around what it was like to manage a system to working across multiple portfolios and the role that architecture plays. You get into the real brain of IT and it’s a really interesting place.
Clune landed at AAPT in 2004 as head of business transformation, spending four years at the organisation. It was during this time that she really learned how to have business and technology conversations.
“They [AAPT] had bought a technology platform, but they had no idea what the business model was going to look like … so my role was to ‘reverse engineer’ the technology into a business model, a set of processes and an organisational structure that was going to leverage what the technology could do for us.
“So the combination of technology and business started there in terms of my career and the need to be able to have a business conversation as well as a technology conversation,” she says.
Since then, Clune completed an 18-month spell as project director and director of people service at Deloitte before jumping across to her current role at PwC in 2009.
A new cloud brokerage
Improving the customer experience at new offices is not the only job on her plate. Another strategic project that will drive PwC’s future is a strategy to move close to 100 per cent of the company’s IT to public and private cloud infrastructure over the next 18 months.
Confidential client data is managed inside a dedicated private cloud, with a target to move up to 25 per cent of its existing infrastructure to public cloud.
“This doesn’t include anything new that we are moving to the public cloud – we have new workloads going out all the time,” Clune says. “We are also looking to decommission a nice big chunk of old world technologies that we don’t want to invest in.
“As we develop new capabilities, new apps and websites, we are trying to push as much as we can away from highly engineered, very inflexible infrastructure,” Clune says.
But PwC is taking things a bit further, with plans to deliver a cloud broker service for its clients, establishing core capabilities that include a layer of tools that automate the provision of services. This is similar to the Amazon model where users ‘dial up and dial down’ based on what services are required.
“It’s almost like an automated layer that creates a service catalogue. It takes a lot of manual effort out of the equation. In six months’ time if it’s Rackspace and not Amazon, that’s not a big deal … as different services come up, people will be able to access them directly,” Clune says.
Clune admits that offering software-as-a-service (SaaS) to clients is early thinking but the foundational elements are starting to fall into place.
“We’ve started the migration process – the most pressing thing is to get out of this building in the next 12 months. We’ve built the architecture and the business model, it’s now about reaching agreement with the right tool service providers to build the broker layer,” Clune says.
Touch screens to do the trick
Over the next two years, all PwC staff will be using touch screen laptops and tablets, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, as part of refresh of 6000 devices across the firm. A migration to Google for Work for 5000 staff will also be complete over the next 6-8 months, Clune says.
“We are upgrading all of our foundation software … to give our people the most suitable but contemporary device of their choice – either a ‘touch-enabled’ tablet or a laptop with the most recent version of software to make sure the foundation is there,” she says.
“They are the most important physical tool that our people have and it’s a real brand element that clients really see with us,” she says.
A separate group focused on innovation
Innovation doesn’t manifest itself through large programs at PwC, says Clune. Instead, a group of staff focus on innovation and deliberately work outside ‘business as usual’ processes to examine how the firm can solve problems in a unique way.
This involves creating alliances and partnerships with people that the IT organisation would have never spoken to five years ago, Clune says.
“I personally don’t see [innovation] as only the CIO’s role. In order for it to flourish it needs to be managed everywhere, and that comes down to our thought process that technology skills really should be intrinsic to everything."
Clune firmly believes that in the future, professionals like accountants, for instance, will have technology skills listed on their resumes. Technology will become a core part of the role that many professionals play, she says.
“Today, we have general assumptions around what people can do … I really think that the technology skillset will become part of core capability.
“Look at the innovators, the Xeros of the world, the MYOBs, and the digitisation of processes. The way we offer products and services to clients will be through digital mechanisms, whether it’s the person creating the actual digital product, the person deciding what channel it is to be through, or the person building the infrastructure.”
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter:@ByronConnolly