As one of the big four professional services firms, you'd expect KPMG to be ahead of most curves, but when the firm's UK CIO Edel McGrath came into the job two years ago she described the company as "very behind with its technology".
Entering the role in June 2012, McGrath immediately asked KPMG staff to identify their biggest pain point. The majority of responses pointed to mailbox size, so the company upgraded from Exchange 2007 to the 2010 version.
Thereafter, McGrath worked on developing an IT strategy with her team, but she didn't publicise it to the wider IT community internally for fear of the business throwing it out before it could be implemented.
"I didn't want the business to reject it and have to go back to the IT department and say sorry it's not going to happen," she said.
Despite this caution, the strategy was approved and since then the company has upgraded its laptop estate twice in a relatively short space of time, and seen a host of other changes.
"We had a strategy for traditional laptops and then one day I went to the chief operating officer and I had these new tablet-type slim laptops and I showed them to him and he said 'We'll have those.' I was taken aback," she said.
"I said you want 12,000 of them? He said absolutely, we want those," she added.
McGrath believes this is a big part of the way KPMG operates, claiming that the firm will always invest in its people as it sees them as its biggest asset.
When the company rolled out the Lenovo Helix and Lenovo Carbon x1 devices, its employees were shocked at the choice being given to them, she said.
The firm also gave the option of a traditional laptop, and has since introduced the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 as another option.
And the choice for employees doesn't stop there. In the past two years the company has had a mobile refresh. It has a dual strategy, offering employees the opportunity to take up a corporate device or bring their own device.
It offers the latest smartphones including Apple's iPhone 5s, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and BlackBerry's Q10 and X10 models.
"We have a threshold and as long as we stay within it we will change the device as much as we can," McGrath said.
Where choice means challenge
But by offering a lot of choice to its workers, KPMG has some difficult decisions to make, said McGrath. One of which is deciding whether the declining use of BlackBerrys and increase of iPhones in the workplace means that it should stop developing mobile apps for BB10.
But it is Android devices that have posed the biggest challenge for the firm.
"We are a MobileIron shop but we're still waiting for the Knox platform on Samsung, so every time something new comes out we have to update [our mobile device management] solution and we keep ending up in a cycle," she explained.
"Knox is constantly changing so there is always something else coming out and every time it does, we have to go back to the colleagues in the cyber security team to penetration-test the solution for us. So far we are OK, so hopefully we'll get there," she said.
And how about Windows Phone? "It's not ready for us. We think there are a lot of security parts to that which need to be resolved," McGrath said.
"Microsoft has made a commitment to making those changes and hopefully we'll have those soon when the next version of Windows Mobile goes out."
But McGrath is a firm believer that, with Windows Phone as part of a Windows ecosystem, there could be huge benefits to employees.
"If there are people who want to use Windows 8 on their laptop and Windows Phone then we will give them that because I think the synchronisation capabilities are great, and I'm hoping we'll get there in the next six months," she suggested.
But while Windows 8 is in the pipeline, it is not something that KPMG will roll out across the business, having only recently completed a roll out of Windows 7.
"We need to ensure we are disrupting the business as little as possible. Bringing in Windows 8 and mandating that as an operating system is too much. So we've decided to put it into the app store, and it will be ready soon for those employees who want it to take it," she said.
"I've accepted that we'll have to run a dual standard for Windows but I'm not prepared to take the business on that journey; I think it's too much, too quickly."
It isn't just about the speed of change from Windows 7 to 8, but the change itself, McGrath stating that "it's too different, although you can get used to it".
She did add, however, that when Windows releases its next operating system, KPMG will ensure that it is available to those who would like to use it. But the prospect of a third operating system is not something that McGrath is welcoming.
"I think two is enough and this can be managed. I would probably like to ask people to consider moving to Windows 8 when things start to quieten down in the next 12 months," she said.
Making use of external capabilities
KPMG's IT department has started to work a lot more with its other departments, particularly those that are client-facing.
McGrath said this is probably a result of the major changes that have occurred within the IT department.
"It has become more prominent in the last 12 months. A lot of that is to do with the credibility of our people because our technology was so old that we had no credibility with the business, and now they're starting to come to us," she suggested.
A good example, McGrath said, was how the advisory practice worked with KPMG's IT team on changing its IT service management workflow.
"When I wanted to change the workflow, our CIO advisory practice asked whether we had considered ServiceNow as it sells their integration capabilities to clients," she explained.
"I hadn't considered it at the time, but when I did I loved the product. So we told the advisory practice that we wanted them to do the integration for us because we want to see the client experience first-hand."
Thanks to this initiative, ServiceNow is now being rolled out across other regions. And global rollouts are becoming more prevalent generally within KPMG as the firm wants its subsidiaries' IT strategies to become more aligned.
McGrath, who also holds global and European roles for KPMG, said that the firm is considering what to do next with its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system – and this is one issue that is being discussed with different regions.
"We use SAP as our ERP, and we have something called the integrated business system, which is a global system that the UK will move to in the next few years. At the moment, we're having another think about what our ERP looks like in 2017, so we're working with the US, German and global teams to find that out," she said.
McGrath insisted that this did not mean that the firm would be moving away from SAP, and in fact explained that it was SAP's in-memory database HANA that spurred this conversation in the first place.
"When I spoke to other countries they said that the SAP system and processes had grown so much that they really needed to consider what happens next and HANA was one of the systems they wanted to look at," she said.
But one element of its ERP that KPMG does not want to wait until 2017 to overhaul is its CRM. Currently, the firm uses parts of SAP, Oracle's Siebel and a host of other tools. But McGrath wants these tools to be brought together.
"Our people have to be mobile, and be able to access our CRM using an iPhone and if you have several CRM systems, some of which aren't mobile-ready, then it makes this an impossible task and before long the data just gets forgotten," she explained.
McGrath has four weeks to come up with a recommendation of what to do with the company's CRM. But seemingly unfazed by the task at hand, McGrath knows that this is just another part of a wider transformation at KPMG.
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