KPMG Europe’s chief
information officer has made around 30 trips to India in three years from his
London base. Throw in visits to its Euro buddies in Germany, Switzerland and now
Spain and he might well be propping up the airline industry on his own.
For Bryan Clark the jet-setting has been just one small aspect of his role in
bringing together KPMG Europe to create a 23,000 staffed business with over e4bn
(£3.1bn) in revenues. And India? Well it’s where KPMG UK has offshored its
technology and applications support.
This big IT deal, which brought about a high quality service and ‘significant
cost savings’ for the firm, might have lost some of its appeal with the merger
in 2007. But the deal has encapsulated the way the infrastructure of the new
business is set up. ‘We think of it as a resource we can use as a basis for
consolidation of KPMG in Europe,’ explains Clark.
Put simply, the best bits of technology across UK and Germany have been
picked as the basis for the ‘new’ firm. But with KPMG’s former UK CIO in charge,
and a recent deal with BT, is the UK dominating proceedings?
‘No, you’ve got to have one nationality in that role; [it] doesn’t mean the
UK is running things,’ he responds.
The best example of this is the platform which KPMG Europe and all the other
global KPMG firms are moving onto. The German’s SAP system was chosen over the
UK’s Oracle legacy systems for Europe and subsequently everyone else.
‘We were very much an Oracle shop. We had an existing system enhanced over
the years and provided the capabilities needed, but we anticipated we’d be
changing in 2010, so the timing was great.’
Clark continues: ‘It’s more than just rolling out SAP. We’ve made significant
investment in defining what our processes are to ensure we have a common set of
processes worldwide. That’s not happened yet. It has in some countries but the
programme of change will take a couple of years to complete. The work we’re
doing in Europe is completely aligned with that.’
So KPMG Global, or just plain old KPMG, is just around the corner then?
Clark says KPMG doesn’t have ‘short-term goals’ to create a global enterprise,
but ‘the KPMG brand represents global consistency’.
‘Ultimately what we’re about is getting a consistent service to our clients…
so it’s the art of the possible. Regional consolidation is absolutely the right
way to do this,’ says Clark.
With further consolidation expected in Europe at the very least, the details
of the formation of KPMG Europe are of great importance and significance.
Firstly in terms of the ‘ease’ in which firms can expect to join in the fun at
KPMG Europe and, secondly, the template that now exists for other regional
Spain for example, will not represent the same scale of challenge as bringing
together the UK and Germany.
‘It’s much more straightforward because we have a template built over past
two years. The list of jobs is easy to define and, while the Spanish firm is a
significant enterprise, it’s not as big as the already merged organisations. A
lot of the hard work in creating the platform is already in place.’
Nuts and bolts
Clark says that a 90-day plan was put into place ‘to identify the direction
we wanted to travel’ after the formalities were completed.
For the IT infrastructure team they went back to the basics of how they
operate as a department. They focused on three ‘layers’, as Clark calls them
process; collaboration between clients and staff; and scalability of the
infrastructure itself. ‘We did stuff in all those layers simultaneously.’
Which, in the real world, meant initially getting networks in place between
the UK, Germany and Switzerland to accommodate cross-border communications
traffic such as emails and transactions.
‘We made sure everybody could see phone numbers [across the new firm],
websites were accessible, and we could do consolidated financial reporting.
There was an expectation of high volumes of data transfer initially so we made
sure we had high speed connections.’
The next step was to help staff work more closely. ‘So collaboration sites
were implemented, new planning tools to meet client demand, then move as quickly
as possible to implement the new [SAP] system.’
Then they looked for synergies to reduce cost, ‘standardising things so
everyone’s working environment was similar. It was hugely complex.’
Despite IT’s efforts over the past few years, Clark, a KPMG partner, sees the
role as serving the requirements of the business rather than influencing
‘That would be the tail wagging the dog to turn up and say: “Put in this
great technology.” We start with what the business wants to achieve. What drives
what we are doing from a technology and process point of view is we want to
provide a better and more consistent service to our clients across Europe. What
do we have to do to make that happen?’
The dynamism of a huge firm like KPMG is driven through its client-facing
functions of audit, tax and advisory.
‘That’s where the action is,’ Clarks says. The CIO, his team and the other
infrastructure departments are there to deliver based on the requirements of
those dealing with clients.
Helping staff to be more productive and cutting costs are the order of the
day, such as introducing an internet-based phone system.
‘IP telephony is a fantastic thing to enhance. To click an email and dial a
client directly from a PC is not just a gizmo it saves time. If we can save a
lot of minutes then it leads to hours and days,’ says Clark.
‘The collaborative technologies increase the effectiveness of individuals and
teams and, in a competitive place for talent, it makes us a more desirable place
to work. We’ve got to cater for a younger generation of employees who expect to
have that technology. So the investments we’ve made in making people effective
are extremely worthwhile.’
For now, most of Clark’s attention is on Spain, where he is no doubt planning
to make another trip very soon.
‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could just merge things together, flick a switch
and everything was absolutely consolidated overnight? But it takes time to
consolidate and you can’t wait too long to achieve benefits.’
IT for IT’s sake?
‘Technology shouldn’t be decided at an executive level. A direction or intent
maybe, but the specification and creation has to be done closer to the teams
that are working with the clients, says Clark.
‘That’s the excitement of my job, to try and relate the technical capability
to the business’ needs. It’s not easy in such a diverse business.
‘But we would look for innovation and ideas and relate them to business
intent. We can be influential but it’s not the technology group’s role to pull
change through. We need to understand the business intent then decide and
recommend a strategy to achieve that intent.’
IT is a major element of KPMG costs, although Clark won’t t reveal how much
of a cost, only that it’s ‘as much as necessary and as little as possible’.
‘What we’ve done is pursue a policy of more for less, with steady trends in
increasing our efficiency, while reducing the number of people we need to do the
work in infrastructure.’
Clark then says something that would be music to most FDs’ ears: gain a quick
return on IT investment.
‘A big part of the job is to manage the evolution of our costbase. For some time
we’ve tried to work on the principle that infrastructure investment should have
a very short payback period.’
The business partner
Clark is one of the few partners at KPMG Europe who isn’t client-facing as
part of the day job, but it’s no big deal for him.
‘It’s slightly unusual,’ he says, but as technology is increasingly part of
the service the firm delivers to clients then they often chat to Clark and his
team to get an understanding of how it all works.
He doesn’t mean implementing large scale IT work for them but more that
technology underpins the firm’s service to clients.
‘We also meet client-facing teams to give them experience of things that
would be of interest to their clients.
‘We’re not complete boffins, we do realise the commercial reality of the
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