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All in on digital transformation: Creating a stronger, nimbler, more resilient PwC

Situation

Growth was strong, but costs and frustrations were rising

For more than 165 years, PwC was known for delivering high quality services and for being a place where employees could thrive. But we knew we needed to raise the bar even higher to meet the demands of the digital age. We had to keep growing, make work less manual and more data-driven for our people and deliver an ever-better and more tech-driven experience for clients. And we had to do it without costs getting out of control.

Our business was growing, but costs were rising even faster. So were tech-related frustrations among our employees. If we didn’t make changes we’d fall behind our competitors and our financial goals, and most importantly, be unable to deliver for our clients and our people.

We needed to go all in on a digital transformation to change the course of the firm and to bring our people with us into the future. That meant overhauling our business from the inside out to be more nimble, cut unnecessary costs, increase automation and allow people to do more meaningful work. If we could stop doing the things that weren’t productive or helping us get to those outcomes, we could invest those dollars into technology, experiences and strategies that would help drive the business forward. We had to reinvest to secure our future in a way that would bring our strategy to life and provide return on our investment. As critical: we had to stay focused on our shared values and purpose and keep our people and culture at the heart of these changes. This was going to be a community effort, even the hard parts, from the start. The transformation had to make all of us stronger, more resilient and much more agile.

Key drivers for our change

What drives change? It’s never just one thing. These triggers, combined, drove our transformation. They’re not so different from the motivations of many companies. The difference: We dove in and are seeing the results.

In 2016, PwC set a new strategic direction

Costs to run the firm were increasing

We knew we had to disrupt how we work

Our people wanted skills to grow in their careers

Outdated processes and technologies were slowing us down

We needed to enable our people to create efficiencies and work smarter

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Solution

A people-first approach to save time and money, and boost the client experience

We began our digital transformation in 2016 by examining PwC Business Services, our back office and shared services center and functions, located primarily in Tampa, Florida. We identified operational improvements that could reduce costs and reinvested some of those savings into a transformation, based on PwC’s Fit for Growth methodology. We committed to “leave no one behind” with a firm-wide Digital Fitness program that would help both accelerate adoption and upskill employees. 

Bringing together people with business strategy focus (B), human-centered design experience (X), along with the right technologies (T), we used our BXT approach to plan, develop and implement solutions together.

The only way we could transform our back office was to put the experience of our people first. We needed to know exactly where the pain points were in Business Services. First, we sent a survey to our 3,500 partners, asking what slowed down their work and the work of the people who worked for them.

By tapping into the entire community, we quickly identified 25 processes that had to change, including human resources, learning and development, finance, IT, real estate and administrative services. Everyone had something to address to help transform our process and our people, especially since our processes impact multiple activities. 

We also asked leaders of our individual Business Services functions to help us figure out how to use that information to create more value from our transformation for the people who do the work day to day. And that also had to create a better user experience for their people. They identified approximately $100 million in cost savings, largely from eliminating manual and repetitive activities that took up employee time. As importantly, these leaders, with the help of their teams, identified areas that would benefit from investments in automation as well as other types of service delivery. Every leader and staffer also thought about what new skills were needed to help our people deliver greater value. 

Ultimately, all of this would bring our back office talents to the “front office” to help our client service teams develop products and services that benefit our clients and society.

“Going all-in on digital transformation has made us resilient in a turbulent 2020, allowing us to be nimble and meet the evolving needs of our people and seamlessly guide our clients through some of the toughest decisions of their careers.”

Tim Ryan
US Chairman and Senior Partner, PwC

Business

Toss what isn’t working and strategically re-invest in what works for the future

We needed to focus on a strategy that could simplify our business and invest in new, technology-focused areas. We focused on automation to help eliminate transaction-related inefficiencies, and we launched a new intranet and cognitive assistant that gets stronger as it integrates with other applications. It helps our people do almost everything from resetting passwords to recording time, quickly and easily, to save them time for more important tasks and the firm money to reinvest in the transformation.

We aim to build innovative technology solutions that differentiate us from our competitors and digitize the business. From a business strategy perspective, putting flexible and adaptive processes in place helped us create an industry-leading back office that’s able to meet the needs of our business faster, while generating better insights, and at a lower cost of delivery.

Part of that included a strategic decision to invest in upskilling programs so our 55,000 people could learn how to use digital tools for data visualization as well as automation, data cleansing and more. If our people could use these tools to solve common problems, they’d help us become more efficient and growth-oriented now and more innovative later in Business Services and beyond. Now, employees are learning to build bots – over 2,400 have been created so far – to automate workflows. We continue to invest to make processes more intuitive using machine learning and eventually artificial intelligence (AI). These are key to working faster and solving problems differently for ourselves and our clients.

Experience

Making everything easier, faster and more intuitive

We know that the way people work will keep changing, which is why we have worked hard to create a culture of infinite learning where everyone can understand and feel connected to our organization’s purpose, values and goals. That required reassessment of how our people would adapt and learn, and importantly, apply what they learned immediately (which is a better way to incorporate training and new skills). We had to inspire people to challenge themselves and make it stick. We brought together people from individual functions—from finance to human resources—and had client services professionals from across the firm join in for a BXT-style session and used what we learned from our Partner survey as a guide.

We wanted better insights from the data we were gathering. That meant improving self-service options, for people to build automations themselves to help make their work easier. This was key to changing the experience for our people. Getting there hinged on a culture of citizen-led digital innovation, introduced through digital academies for our people so they could learn how to make data work harder, faster. Rather than just offer up a process and press go, we taught everyone how to make their own automations.

We also selected people across the firm to become digital ambassadors, training them with deeper experiences in digital, agile thinking and problem solving so they could go back to their teammates and bring them forward. Creating easy and usable interfaces, quick courses and incentives has made it simpler for employees to create and use our automation tools, which in turn helps them reduce their time spent on repetitive tasks. We created an interactive lab for our people to collaborate on and share new automations and ideas, incenting time spent exploring and creating. And digital badges let our people learn and earn credentials.

We began to see time and cost savings as people applied the new tools and learnings in their day-to-day work. More than this, we saw our culture shift to one of innovation and experimentation.

“We were trying to get to new ways of doing things faster and better, and at a lower cost for us and our clients. And if you can't replicate that across all employees, then it's not going to be a success. You're just going to have little pockets of change.”

Joe Killian
US Finance and Shared Services Leader, PwC

Technology

Simplify, integrate, scale and innovate for the win

To succeed, we needed to streamline processes, from contracts to our firm-wide analytics platform. We invested in and adopted Robotics Process Automation (RPA) and Business Process Integration (BPI), which helped automate a lot of the transactional work we do. We also replaced hundreds of pages of written business rules with an automated process and as a result, created a more intuitive experience for client service professionals. At the same time, we adopted user friendly, mobile cloud solutions to provide self-service access to data and insights that help meet the needs of our people no matter where they are working. This end-to-end automation transformed processes to help eliminate inefficiencies in our routine transactions.

By investing more in data analytics and artificial intelligence to pull data from disparate systems and platforms into one visual dashboard, we get a snapshot into team performance and business metrics. This will easily integrate and give more insights as a new intranet and cognitive digital assistant are added. The system can also nudge people to take important actions and meet critical deadlines.

Results

Saving, improving and change at every level

Simplifying helped us save millions of dollars and created a workforce that is more satisfied, productive and skilled. We eliminated more than 50 processes in Business Services to save money and time. For example, simplifying with RPA has allowed us to reduce the time it takes to complete a contract by as much as 80%. Many manual processes are now automated. Data to drive insights is easy to pull, analyze and visualize so every team can make decisions more confidently. 

In fiscal 2019, we saved almost 160,000 hours through automation across our Internal Firm Services functions including administrative support, controller operations, HR shared services and real estate operations.

A focused investment in our people and their skills changed the culture and abilities at the firm—jobs and functions that either did not exist or required external hires can now be filled by our own staff. Learning & Development (L&D) expanded virtual training programs to help reduce resource needs and travel costs—which made continuing and enhancing training when travel stopped due to the pandemic simple and seamless. 

More than this, the firm is agile, more purpose-focused and people-driven. We’re better positioned to control costs and the quality of Business Services is higher than ever.

Results by function:

A focus on digital upskilling, tighter coordination through an end-to-end process that lasered in on collaboration among teams and technologies and automating once-manual processes, helped drive our transformation. Every back office function in Business Services improved some processes and eliminated certain costs, though headcount in the division declined by just 2% overall.

Information technology

We shifted from a traditional waterfall delivery approach toward agile delivery using the scrum framework where people work in short sprints and solve problems as they arise, to deliver value quickly and continuously. IT filled more than 100 positions within six months to equip the team with the skills needed to make change real. That meant hiring scrum masters to embed agile principles in delivery teams, developers and cloud engineers to help build strong technology and application development skill sets.

Our IT transformation has been instrumental in helping drive change companywide and delivering the firm’s tech-enabled priorities. Everyone in IT, regardless of their role, is trained in agile methodology and lean process training, the backbone of this new way of working. Business owners now have a closely linked IT team leader for end-to-end collaboration – in many cases, they no longer have to move between different groups. Leaders are also learning agile methodology to work alongside IT. The agile model is helping to vastly improve the employee experience across our teams, and that is helping lead to better outcomes.

Administrative services

We used to have a 1:1 ratio of executive assistants to senior leaders. Now our administrative services work with people throughout the firm via a centralized, virtual executive concierge structure. Our teams pool resources and while they still specialize, they’re also getting broader experience. As a result, people are better able to support client teams tackling specific problems that in the past 1:1 assistants might never have encountered. We adopted human-centered approaches to help keep the culture of trusted relationships alive. “We provided new hires with rigorous onboarding and training, which was a combination of existing soft skills, technical skills, and teaming activities so they can rely on one another to help deliver white-glove service,” said Jose Limardo, Support Operations Leader.

Finance

Four of the top nine issues identified in the initial 2016 assessment were finance-related processes. The insights gleaned from the finance function’s challenges helped validate and steer our entire transformation efforts. “It was painfully obvious we had a user experience problem that we needed to fix,” said Controller Tom Alexander. The group, which wanted to be an industry leading, modern finance team, allocated resources to innovation and shifted their culture to help drive continuous improvement. They reimagined the way they work by adopting a structure centered on the skills needed to succeed and scale.

The Controller Operations (CO) saved 30,000 hours each year for nearly four years by automating repetitive tasks, reimagining processes and applying more agile ways of working, which has led to efficiencies, improved job satisfaction and more time spent on activities that are adding value. Today, more than 40% of the Controller Operations team consists of data engineers, data scientists and data architects who are helping to pinpoint and address the business’s data needs.

Learning and development

As we continue to upskill people, we are making L&D a better experience. We shifted 70% in-person training to about 40% in-person, and created a virtual learning environment and infrastructure that made for seamless delivery when the pandemic of 2020 turned our workforce remote. As a result, the firm saved nearly $70 million, while also saving our people the burden of travel and hotel stays.

Security and real estate

PwC’s security team uses a tool that enables our people to report back to us during a critical event, whether in office, during travel or at a client site, instead of piecing together information from different systems. This has proven to be invaluable for our employees throughout the pandemic and during natural disasters. But it doesn’t stop there. Our real estate business intelligence teams are using occupancy sensors to gather data about how workspaces are used. Through dashboards and data visualization tools, they are turning millions of reports into clear snapshots of how people use workspaces today and how they may be used over the next three to five years.

Human resources

Our HR professionals have always been a repository of institutional knowledge of our business and operations. We developed an internal platform to help automate staffing needs. It is a go-to for teams to look at skills and availability of staff, and to help forecast engagement needs and assign our internal client service staff to those projects. The process of staffing and projecting now takes minutes, not days. Leveraging automation in the platform can help significantly reduce the resources and time required to process information that’s needed in order to staff an engagement. As a result, we are able to move our own people to higher-value work.

Acceleration Centers

Over the last few years, PwC Business Services has automated about 400,000 hours of work that would have otherwise been done by our client service professionals, on- or offshore, or by third parties. Our Acceleration Centers (ACs) have been at the heart of this transformation, helping drive new, digital ways of working and creating savings for our firm and our clients. For our back offices alone, this translated into cost savings of around $50 million for work that was previously done by third parties.

PwC Labs

Since 2018, PwC Labs has become integral to our technology strategy. We are empowering our people and our clients to reach their digital potential, at scale. We are leading the charge on creating innovative solutions designed for humans, driven by data, that utilize intelligent automation. Our people are reimagining how we build technology, collaborate and improve the quality of our deliverables. By embedding the latest AI and automation into our culture, our people can develop a growing digital inventory that can be tailored to meeting our clients’ unique needs.

Contact us

Joe Killian

Finance and Shared Services Leader, PwC US

Dr. Deniz Caglar

Principal, Organization and Workforce Strategy, Strategy&, PwC US

Cornel Nolte

Consulting Solutions, PwC US

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