by Jennifer O'Brien

Sharing the stories of the CIO50: #17 Hilda Clune, PwC

Feb 20, 2018
Technology Industry

To survive and thrive you need to think like a digital market leader, according to PwC CIO Hilda Clune, who shares her lessons learned as a modern day CIO tasked with delivering change.

“Digital transformation is not just about technology or being technologically enabled. It’s about lifting the digital competency of your people and accelerating your digital culture. It’s about recruiting and nurturing talent that meets our future needs, and it’s about creating the environment where technology is a part of the fabric.

“It’s about a vision and strategy where being digital is a part of the organisation’s personality and purpose, not just a part of the infrastructure. It’s an ecosystem.” she says. Ask Clune her top achievements and milestones and she’ll tell you it’s about changing mindsets.

“The perspective around digitisation and the investment in technology has reflected the acknowledgement that the role of technology in organisations has changed. It’s acknowledged as crucial to differentiation in a tough market. The recent investments that were necessary to disrupt our thinking provided an awesome opportunity to take a contemporary approach to solving legacy problems. “The recent launches of our workplace has sought to create an environment that encourages innovation and co-creation with our clients. Being able to design space that reflects the future, but pays tribute to our past. A platform that enables rich collaboration for both clients and our people. The design is open both from a physical and philosophical perspective,” she says.

Workplace transformation

Change is in the air at PwC. Over the last 12 months, the company set into motion a workplace transformation program that embeds innovative technology with the physical environment to transform its client and staff experience.

“The approach PwC took was a radical transformation aimed at enshrining the client experience at our philosophical core and transforming our workplaces into destinations,” Clune explains.

“Rooted in PwC’s business strategy and leveraging client feedback, the client experience was completely re-imagined. The end-to end experience options for the client always focused on supporting how the client likes to work. PwC’s purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. There is an emerging need for spaces that are flexible and can be used for sessions with clients, where we co-create a solution to a business problem.”

Some examples of the collaborative workplace design includes: an interactive and motion-sensitive ‘Welcome Wall’ at PwC Sydney, which can recognise clients when they arrive and help them link up with their PwC hosts; and the Hub in Melbourne, which is a nine metre wide, 360 degree multimedia hub that utilises a combination of digital and analogue (e.g. whiteboards) to deliver presentations for events, workshops and functions for up to 40 people.

“Just about every display you see in PwC offices is touch enabled. Touch is an important element in engaging our clients and people and in the adoption of technology. Touchscreens are used by to find and book meeting spaces, look up nearby restaurants, find colleagues, switch between meeting tech, draw on presentations and locate available desks,” she says.

She said PwC people use a mobile-friendly app called Switch to find and book meeting space, locate colleagues, control meeting space technology and locate available desks.

“Interactive digital directories called ‘Media Fountains’ act as smart wayfinding totems while also broadcasting event information and interactive data visualisations. They provide information on rooms and facilities within the office as well as opportunities to participate in polls and get information on the surrounding facilities.”

Additional implementations include the digital waterfall, a floor-to-ceiling digital screen runs through all four floors of the fitouts in both Sydney and Melbourne. The waterfall showcases PwC’s thought leadership, infographics, white papers and their subject matter experts, running through the core of both buildings.

Meanwhile, Clune says the Sydney office features the Innovation Pool, a digital led space designed to encourage client exploration and interaction in understanding how emerging technology supports solving important problems with both digital and physical artefacts.

Virtual reality

As an example of innovation Clune says PwC, in partnership with Sydney University, ran an internship program to explore how virtual reality (VR) can impact enterprise.

“As a result, PwC’s Virtual Studios was created where a team of VR developers, designers, and business analysts look how virtual reality can help PwC and our clients realise the potential of this immersive and engaging medium,” she says.

“PwC’s Virtual Studios have since delivered cutting edge training, visualisation, and creative communications offerings to a number of high profile clients. For example, one of the training applications developed by our team here at PwC for a business school. It focuses on a defining feature of virtual reality, which is its ability to engage the user in a completely new environment, whether it’s true-to-life or completely fantastical.

“This unparalleled depth of immersion can elicit a greater emotional or empathic response than traditional mediums. Artificial environments such as a cafe and a ski lodge were created in virtual reality for the school to provide challenge-based learning around basic accounting principles.”

Another example in the training space that was developed by the team was an application for an Australian supermarket chain to use to train staff and educate suppliers.

“It’s goal was to demonstrate how a scientific approach to store displays can reap large returns while being very low in cost. Various supermarket stores were filmed with a 360 degree camera that allowed the team to create interactive store walkthroughs which show examples of some of the highest performing store layouts. This kind of immersive experience makes it much easier to communicate the visual design of high performance store displays,” Clune says.

She said the team is now experimenting with combining natural language input to create experiential conversation skills training applications.

“A 360 degree recorded conversation put the user in a first person perspective scenario where they need to diffuse a difficult client conversation. Using Google Cardboard this application is an inexpensive way to allow staff to run their own training sessions when and where it’s convenient for them using their own smartphone. Users would move through the branching conversation by vocalising their responses and this gives them the opportunity to practice with an actor without the cost and time associated with face to face training.”

Modern day CIOs

Clune says an important lesson to remember is that specific technologies will come and go – while ‘platforms for digitisation’ (rather than specific solutions) are the things to focus on.

“As a CIO my role is to create a sustainable ecosystem that will facilitate the coming and going of many technologies but will form the foundation and framework to support scale, agility, innovation and growth in an affordable way recognising its important to our business. In all our technology transformations over the past three years, the focus has been in creating platforms for digitisation, growth and innovation rather than specific solutions.”

Clune says CIOs today will be challenged by the number of emerging C-level roles that require strong technology skills such as chief innovation officer and chief digital officer. Business leaders will also need to embrace technology in the future

And while changing mindsets is the key to being able to make an impact, she said reporting lines are changing with more CIOs having a seat at the table. She says some key attributes needed by modern CIOs.

“Look outside in to truly understand the business problems you’re trying to solve. Too often CIOs look to solve a problem from inside out. Seek to build a diverse team of top talent as CIOs are no longer just solving technology problems. It’s never just about the technology and the lines are blurring between front and back office, and between technology and business. CIOs are transformational leaders that also impact people (behaviours) and process. A great technology team can change the nature of business,” Clune says.

She also suggested CIOs be open to partnerships in the market that can help extend the perspective of business leaders. “The competitor environment is changing with emerging players in market. Re-think what good partnering looks like.”

Additionally, disrupt complacency in order to thrive, she says. “Businesses can be impacted by new business models very quickly. Complacency can be fatal.”

Seek to establish a culture of innovation, not an innovation team, she urges. “How we solve problems is as important as the solution itself. Critical thinking, design thinking, agile. All good excuses to embed innovation enterprise wide.”

Finally, think about the ecosystem rather than just the technology, and be able to strategise in an era where technology is disposable.

“You need to be able to chew technology and spit it out.”