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​How PwC is using IT to transform professional services

​How PwC is using IT to transform professional services

The Big Four accounting giant is throwing out the legacy and using innovative technology to solve important economic and business problems.

PwC in Melbourne

PwC in Melbourne

Just recently, PwC opened the doors to a new office spread over several floors inside tower one at the swanky $6 billion Barangaroo precinct on the western side of Sydney’s central business district.

The professional services firm’s Sydney digs join new offices in Melbourne and Brisbane, which all use innovative technology in an attempt to transform the client experience.

No-one has an office – not even the CEO. Client meetings and entertainment take place over four floors, connected by internal stairs, while other floors house internal PwC staff and are open plan, activity-based working environments.

There’s a ‘digital waterfall’, a touchscreen that runs down the wall connecting each floor where clients can view and interact with content; and ‘green screens’ or LED-based digital wallpaper on the outside of meeting rooms where content can be displayed.

Digital waterfall at PwC Sydney
Digital waterfall at PwC Sydney

Visitors interact with touchscreens in the foyer where they can complete a quick ‘poll’ about their experience at the firm. PwC will, of course, use this data over time to enhance its services.

Lighting and audio levels can also be adjusted and a room’s ‘scent’ can be changed depending on the occasion. The Sydney office has also been equipped with a life-sized model of a bull, circular meeting spaces with lounge seats, treadmills, and games and music rooms, among other gimmicks, to entertain guests.

A life-sized bull to go with the agricultural technology theme
A life-sized bull to go with the agricultural technology theme
Fancy joining me for a meeting on the treadmill?
Fancy joining me for a meeting on the treadmill?

PwC’s new image has been in the works for a few years now, led by Hilda Clune, the organisation’s chief information officer and transformation expert.

Hilda and her team have thought long and hard about what the future looks like for the firm and an industry facing significant disruption from digital technologies.

Over the next six weeks, PwC will also soft launch a mobile app that will enhance the client experience before sending its ‘minimal viable product’ to clients for testing over the next three months, Clune tells CIO Australia.

“If we have an event with a particular client, we can change content and push out new content for them. It has a real visual impact but will also have a very practical function over time,” Clune said.

The mobile app will also include geofencing technology to detect when a client is about to enter the building. This capability gives host staff enough notice that the client is downstairs in the foyer of the building before they head into the lift and hit the reception area.

A pool of innovation

This week, PwC launched what it describes as an ‘Innovation Pool’, a room behind a curtain in the reception area at the Sydney office, which houses technologies related to one of PwC’s top agenda items: food technology. A similar innovation space has also been created in the Melbourne office.

In February, PwC expanded its investment in the Australian food and agriculture sectors by establishing a Food and Agribusiness Advisory Team and a new food safety assurance offering. The team, led by Greg Quinn, Ben Craw and Tim Lee, is focused on helping Australian farmers, investors and agribusiness clients get the most out of their investments.

According to Clune, PwC is changing its thinking with a focus on innovation and solving important problems. The room demonstrates the technology partnership PwC has built with industry bodies, universities and other organisations to achieve its goals. Organisations like the CSIRO’s Data #61 and the University of Sydney are key partners.

“There is some legacy around how we are perceived versus what we are doing in the market. We now have a platform to showcase talent, capability and expertise in several areas. Being in an industry that has potential for disruption, thinking about new business models and innovating becomes such an important part of how we move forward," Clune said.

The initial topic being covered the Sydney innovation room is ‘Food Trust’ or tracking the authenticity of food.

“Fifty per cent of the meat that is tagged ‘made or sourced from Australia’ in China is fake. The story here is about how technology starts to trace origins of food … you can use technologies like blockchain that can actually trace the whole journey from start to finish,” said Clune.

Visitors can use the app to download and save to their devices stories relating to the different phases of food authenticity, she said.

An agricultural drone built by an engineer at the University of Sydney is on display inside the innovation room. The drone detects and poisons weeds in crop fields. Downstairs, a small unmanned submarine, developed by a researcher at the Queensland University of Technology, is capable is destroying one crown-of-thorns starfish every 20 seconds. This multiple-armed sea creatures are killing coral along Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.

An agricultural drone used to poison weeds
An agricultural drone used to poison weeds
An unmanned submarine used to destroy crown-of-thorns starfish that plague The Great Barrier Reef
An unmanned submarine used to destroy crown-of-thorns starfish that plague The Great Barrier Reef

PwC is also creating augmented reality software, integrated as part of plastic stakes in crop fields which will provide users with information about the authenticity of food that is being grown, said Clune.

Closing the door to private cloud

On June 30 last year, PwC officially went full tilt into the cloud with a hybrid environment and no longer runs its owns data centres in Sydney and Melbourne.

The environment consists of a private cloud, provided by Telstra, which runs core business systems and represents about half of the firm's workloads. A significant proportion of applications are also running in a secure environment provided by Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft Azure.

"What you get with cloud is resilience and operational stability. It isn't about lifting and shifting workloads, it's about transitioning workloads to a highly automated platform, which removes a lot of the manual tasks," Clune said.

"AWS was the first platform available to us, it was onshore so it met all of our sovereignty requirements, and architecturally, it's a very secure environment," said Clune. "We have closed the door to private cloud; we are using secure cloud platforms that are available to us.

"We also have a strategy specifically for core [apps] that is all about software-as-a-service first – we are not worried about the infrastructure. The lovely thing about Google [Cloud Platform] is we don't worry about growing our infrastructure, we don't do version upgrades of the software – it's all done in the background."

"SaaS for us is our first port of call unless it is differentiating or product that we want to launch to market – those things we will built to differentiate ourselves. But certainly from a wholesale business systems perspective, we will always try and move to software-as-a-service first."

Hilda Clune is a speaker at the Women in Tech conference in Sydney on 13 - 15 June.

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Tags food technologyProfessional ServicesFood TrustPwCdisruptionDigital TechnologiesHilda Clune

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