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CIO interview: Lisa Heneghan, chief digital officer, KPMG

KPMG UK’s digital leader says that in her 25-year career she has never known a more exciting time to work in IT

Taking charge of digital transformation, embedding a digital-first corporate culture, driving career paths for technologists and increasing diversity are all part of Lisa Heneghan’s role as chief digital officer at KPMG UK.

All this after initially setting out on a career journey in the retail sector: “I thought the retail industry was the place for me, although I quickly realised it wasn’t,” she says. “I don’t have a degree and my background was a management training course at Harrods.”

The only reason she ended up in technology was because her father had a business selling peripherals to PC makers, Heneghan tells Computer Weekly.

After working with him, she then continued in IT, moving to tech companies such as EMC, Sun and Oracle – something she did for about 15 years.

It was about 18 years ago, on the advice of some of her clients, that she moved into professional services, joining Deloitte, where she spent seven years before beginning her time at KPMG.

Today, she heads up KPMG’s internal and customer-facing teams of technologists, supporting the internal digital strategy and KPMG’s clients in their digital journeys.

She is on the executive committee, with responsibility across technology and a client-facing team of technologists made up of 2,000 people, with an enterprise-wide technology team that does internal technology.

KPMG’s digital transformation

A great deal of her time is engaged in KPMG’s own digital transformation, with “a massive transformation agenda”.

“My focus on our internal transformation agenda has been initially sorting out the foundations, making sure you have all the things you need to underpin transformation from both a technology and capability point of view, which for us involves really driving towards the cloud.”

Part of her strategy has been to give some autonomy to business departments through putting chief technology officers (CTOs) in every department of the business.

But embedding digital drive in departments does not end there. These business unit CTOs are supported by a group of staff, known as “digital ninjas”. Heneghan says this is part of KPMG’s strategy to tap into its demographic.

This has helped KPMG change its culture. “We have about 900 digital ninjas in our organisation and these are people that sit in the different business departments, have a passion for technology and using it, understand the business they’re in, and can quickly adapt to use the [digital] tools we provide,” she says.

Finding the latest IT talent

While digital ninjas often approach technology as an add-on to their normal role, KPMG is still eager to find the latest IT talent on the market.

Heneghan says technologists should not feel they will be invisible engines at KPMG, but have career progression opportunities that weren’t available in the past.

“Something that has really shifted for us is driving career paths for technologists,” she says. “About 10 years ago – even five – I don’t think professional services firms were brilliant at delivering professional career paths for technologists. But we do this much better now and people do join us because they want to be technologists.”

Heneghan hopes opportunities will attract diversity as she realises, for example, that not enough of the people joining technology departments are women. Changing this is one of her passions.

“If you look back to the 1980s when I started my career in technology, there wasn’t a single female role model,” she says. “It is a very different landscape now, with many women in senior roles leading technology at some of the biggest firms, but you still have some intrinsic boundaries in terms of how women perceive technology.”

KPMG is investing in the women in IT of the future, with work in schools to “change the view of what someone that works in technology is like”, says Heneghan.

It has an initiative called IT Her Future, which has been running for five years, which Heneghan says has transformed KPMG’s recruitment of women. Overall, just under 50% of the company’s technologists are women.

“We look at key elements of how we recruit, how to retain women in IT and how to help them progress their career, which can be slower for women in technology,” she says.

It is not just about females, but diversity, she says, because if we want to bring the best solutions for clients, this has to come into play.

Heneghan’s message is that the IT sector is more rewarding than ever. “I think it is the most exciting time in my 25-year career to be in technology,” she says. “Gone are the days when the CIO or head of technology is hidden in a dark room and only brought out when something goes wrong. Now is a great time to be in technology and I feel very lucky to have the role I have.”

Digital transformation top of the agenda

When it comes to clients, Heneghan says digital transformation is at the top of the agenda, and they are in a hurry.

“Every conversation that you have with a COO [chief operating officer] or CIO is about digital transformation of some form, and the way that it has really changed is in the need to deliver outcomes very quickly for organisations,” she says.

“Gone are the days when businesses say they want to embark on an enterprise transformation programme that is going to last three years and cost several hundred million. Actually, what they are needing to do is drive change very quickly, so they are looking to us to bring pre-configured solutions, 80% of the answer, rather than building something uniquely and perfectly crafted for them.”

The delivery of IT-based transformations has changed in line with demand, with traditional outsourcing and contracts often unrecognisable, says Heneghan. “I would less call it outsourcing, rather a supplier ecosystem where the cloud is the norm and technology is a utility,” she says.

But this is presenting new challenges, with the complexity of that supply change increasing. “I find I am talking to clients a lot about how they can safely manage that environment, particularly as we are in a world where the risk of cyber attack is high,” says Heneghan.

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