Doug Drinkwater
UK Editor

KPMG CDO Lisa Heneghan combats tech literacy gap with “digital ninjas”

Jul 15, 2022
IT Leadership

Heneghan is improving IT literacy with the Digital Ninjas programme and accelerating career progression for women in tech while focusing on client outcomes.

Credit: KPMG

As Chief Digital Officer for KPMG UK, Lisa Heneghan is charged with leading enterprise-wide transformation for the auditor and tax giant, delivering better client experiences and ensuring that KPMG is “fit for the digital age”.

“I’m responsible for all things technology related in the firm,” Heneghan says. “When you break that down in KPMG, that actually means I have all of our [2,000] client-facing technologists, our internal technology organisation, and I’m also responsible for the digital transformation of our business.”

A CDO’s focus on client outcomes

Heneghan has been at KPMG since 2011 but took on the CDO role three years ago, overseeing the technology function across the audit, advisory, deals, and tax departments. She says the role has changed over time, from establishing the appropriate technology foundations to building the right team; Heneghan has recently built out a CTO team to help develop KPMG’s three-year transformation plan.

Lisa Heneghan, CDO of KPMG UK


“When I started the job, it was more about putting in place strong foundations in terms of capability, architecture and security,” she says. “This involved understanding the landscape and identifying a route to the cloud and building an IT organisation to support the future and, critically, putting in place structure and governance to drive sustainable change.”

“Stage two was more about rolling out the tools to support our people to do their jobs – physical tools, collaboration tools – and establish new ways of working. Now, we are able to focus on our integrated value chain and how we simplify and optimise.”

Her focus now is firmly on improving experiences for KPMG staff and clients.

“I always maintain that focus on the clients: what our clients need and how we work with them,” says Heneghan, who similarly acknowledges KPMG’s auditing challenges in recent months.

“A big part of what I’ve got is our client-facing technologists. So, I spend probably half of my week working with them and working on the big transformation programmes that we’ve got for clients. The other half of my time is where I’m linking into global… to make sure we are connected, and that we can bring the value from global.”

Digital ninjas and hybrid innovation centres

KPMG’s digital transformation journey has four pillars, Heneghan says: developing the digital brand, building digital culture, ensuring the organisation has strong technology foundations and installing tools and technologies.

Strong technology foundations boil down to improving architecture, security and capability, and embedding the technology function within the business through KPMG’s team of CTOs, who have built the roadmaps for transformation. Building a digital culture, meanwhile, relies heavily on KPMG’s “digital ninjas” programme to drive the adoption and use of technology put in place.

KPMG’s Digital Ninjas are experts who offer one-on-one sessions, presentations, and respond to ad hoc IT enquiries


Since the onset of the global pandemic, and the introduction of hybrid and remote working, KPMG rolled out Microsoft Surface devices and Microsoft Teams for company-wide communication – but it quickly realised that there were differing levels of technical literacy. The auditor turned to its digital ninjas for help.

Focusing explicitly on Microsoft skills, digital ninjas offer one-on-one sessions, presentations, and a response to ad hoc enquiries on everything from how to use Teams to OneDrive and OneNote, as well as SAP’s Concur and Pointprogress’s MyTime mobile timesheets.

“We’ve now got nearly 1,000 Ninjas within the firm…in all offices in the UK. It really builds into the demographic of our organisation, where we have an average age of 28.”

“They’re people who have a day job to do, and they’re learning within those businesses, but they’re digital natives; they understand and are passionate about technology. They want their experience here to be as good as their experience at home,” Heneghan says.

Results from the Digital Ninjas programme include: 

  • Helping to drive 100% adoption of Microsoft Teams (equalling more than 15,000 KPMG UK colleagues using the tool). All staff now use Teams as their go-to collaboration tool.
  • Training more than 5,000 KPMG staff in Microsoft Teams in March 2020, when the pandemic first hit and the company moved to virtual working.
  • Training more than 500 NSPCC staff on using Microsoft products – enabling their staff to connect and support children and families who most need their support during COVID-19.
  • Digital Ninjas are helping define and improve hybrid working culture. As one such example, in hybrid meetings, Ninjas have found it feels more inclusive if those attending virtually speak first.

KPMG has also trained 30,000 people in the programming language Python, while the professional services firm is experimenting with new ways of working through Ignition, its technology innovation, insights, and collaboration hub at its headquarters in Canary Wharf, London.

The Ignition centre facilitates sprints and innovation sessions and aids staff and partners in brainstorming more significant “complex operating model type issues”, Heneghan says.

Career progression for women in tech, plus skills gaps

Encouraging women to pursue tech careers is close to Heneghan’s heart and perhaps unsurprisingly so, given almost half of KPMGs technology workforce is now female, thanks largely to the firm’s IT’s Her Future initiative.

“We’ve had a massive increase,” she says. “We started off focusing on bringing in people as females at the graduate level, and then building that up, and then we started to focus on how do we help them to progress? Because it’s incredibly important that you keep building that pipeline.”

“As of July 2021, 43% of the overall technology teams are female. Women span a whole array of technology roles at KPMG, including data engineers, data analysts, artificial intelligence experts, developers, software testers, information security analysts, cloud engineers…the list goes on.”

IT’s Her Future initiative is now trickling into universities and colleges, too.

“We have dedicated streams which work to encourage girls from universities into technology apprentices and graduate programmes. We also hold external events for young women looking to embark on a career in STEM so they can see the options available to them at KPMG.”

The firm is now exploring other ways of working with higher education. For example, its relationship with the University of Nottingham focuses on advancing local data analytics skills and capabilities.

Specialists from the university’s Data-Driven Discovery Initiative (3Di) and KPMG are working together to develop new research and provide insight that will enhance data and analytics services for businesses, and the partnership will hold events to support the innovative ideas of small and medium sized enterprises in the East Midlands Region and provide data skills training to help close the digital skills gap.

The collaboration between KPMG and the University of Nottingham forms part of the university’s new programme, Digital Nottingham, which has ambitions to transform the East Midlands city through data science, technology and innovation.