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A series of interviews that dive deeper into the pivots Canadian entrepreneurs have made while navigating COVID-19.

   

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The better the question The better the answer The better the world works
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How blockchain helped a gaming platform become a game changer

Microsoft Xbox and EY implemented a transparent blockchain network so game publishers, creators and asset owners can focus on the future.

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The better the question The better the answer The better the world works
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How can blockchain transform a gaming platform into a game changer?

A blockchain solution gives Microsoft Xbox an infrastructure that helps them manage and provide a better partner experience.

The $120b video game industry employs some of the brightest creative and technological minds. While this marriage of creativity and technology was bringing enjoyment to the masses, Microsoft Xbox’s royalty process meant that game publishers faced some unique challenges due to legacy technologies limitations.

Global gaming industry

$120b

of forecasted revenue, serving over 2.7 billion consumers worldwide.

The gaming industry serves over 2.7 billion consumers worldwide. This is enabled through partnerships between gaming platforms such as Xbox and thousands of publishers, developers, authors, designers, production houses and distributors. These relationships are all key in maintaining a high-quality product and attracting the best talent and creators to the platform.

Microsoft Xbox’s legacy system for securing and managing royalty processing was cumbersome, taking 45 days to access validated financial information about royalties earned.  Along with paperwork, this was not giving the best experience to many game publishers, especially the ones with small businesses and limited resources.

EY and Microsoft wanted to help the gaming industry play fair, so the team asked themselves: could blockchain be a game-changer for the gaming industry?

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A blockchain solution that integrates with publishers and creators

Together, EY and Microsoft Xbox are implementing smart digital solutions to help game publishers and creators do their best work.

Microsoft Xbox and EY worked together as one team to help deliver a transformation. Microsoft and EY teams’ joint capabilities and suite of digital solutions became a game-changer, helping Microsoft Xbox reduce the manual effort and the operational hours associated with processing royalties for publishers through automation of the royalties processing, starting to transition off the legacy system. 

Smart contracts encode game creators’ IP rights

The first step in refreshing Microsoft’s legacy systems was to onboard royalty contracts onto blockchain in the form of digital contracts. The legal terms were then encoded in the blockchain network in the form of smart contracts. By opting in, industry participants can review and validate that onboarded digital contracts are the same as the royalty contracts in a confidential manner.

An automated solution that brings down operational costs

Building on the foundation of contractual transparency, the team focused on providing improved transparency to the game publisher for the royalty processing — a major pain point for Microsoft Xbox. The existing system of processing and distributing royalties was plagued by loads of reviews and tedious manual processes.  Automation of the system sped up the process, reduced the effort and provided more transparency to participants, while at the same time maintaining a high degree of privacy and confidentiality between Microsoft and the game publisher.  A user-centric interface adds a simple, well-designed interaction layer to the royalty distribution system for game developers.

Near real-time purchase records show game creators what they have earned

While smart contracts were used to accurately and transparently process the royalties for Microsoft Xbox’s partners, the next step was to securely and transparently share the information with them in near real-time, cutting access to royalties from 45 days to 4 minutes.

Providing near real-time access to data greatly improves the process’s effectiveness, and insights that lead to a more enriching experience for the partners,” Tim Stuart, Xbox Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft.

As consumers purchase Xbox games, other merchandise and digital content, the smart contracts apply the encoded contractual logic and instantly calculate the royalty. This information, when ready, is then sent to each participant who has a node, creating an immutable record of transactions and royalty obligations in a secure and confidential manner. Not only does this provide creators peace of mind, it allows them to record financial transactions daily, it can also vastly improve their forecasting and reporting capabilities.

Providing near real-time access to data greatly improves the process’s effectiveness, and insights that lead to a more enriching experience for the partners.
Tim Stuart
Xbox Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft.
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The better the question The better the answer The better the world works
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A transparent blockchain ecosystem that empowers creators

Microsoft Xbox’s new blockchain network is better for business and better for game creators.

The technology solutions implemented in this project — including instant transactional details — led to profound benefits for Microsoft Xbox and its partners. It seamlessly connected these parties and enhanced their experience.

The blockchain solution integrates closely with game creators to give Microsoft Xbox an infrastructure that helps them manage and reward game publishers and creators. Creators now have more trust in the process and can focus on creating new games.

“By implementing a blockchain-based network and streamlined royalty processing, game publishers and Xbox benefit from a more trusted, transparent and connected system from contract creation through to royalty settlements,” Luke Fewel, General Manager, Global Finance Operations at Microsoft. The new solution enables a 99% improvement in processing time and is fully integrated with ERP for automated invoicing and recording accounting entries. It enables near-100% real-time royalty statements for game publishers, 40% plus operational effort reduction and eliminates reconciliation needs.

This technology will help transform the future of entertainment.

By implementing a blockchain-based network and streamlined royalty processing, game publishers and Xbox benefit from a more trusted, transparent and connected system from contract creation through to royalty settlements.
Luke Fewel
General Manager, Global Finance Operations at Microsoft.

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How the right conversations can empower finance transformation strategies

Companies need more open dialog about how to effectively implement new technology. Finding the headspace for these conversations is key.

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The better the question The better the answer The better the world works
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Where should you start when transforming your operations?

Transformation agendas can go awry if stakeholders don’t talk.

The world is moving fast. If organizations want to stay ahead of the curve, their operations need to be agile and predictive, and they must pick the right time to engage with both the right talent and the right new technologies to gain a competitive edge.

However, there are a lot of technologies out there and a lot of business processes, all in a state of continuous evolution. Separating the signal from the noise – and picking the right strategy – can be a real challenge.

Even when organizations choose a strategy, other factors can stand in the way of effective implementation. Understanding how to ask the right questions, who to ask and where to find the answers, is critical in making any strategy work.

Take, for example, the challenges around digital transformation.

Digital transformation is a vital component of any modern business strategy. Old software, platforms and processes become unfit for modern needs. In their place, new software, new platforms and new processes need to be developed and efficiently implemented.

However, transformation is often driven by technologists and IT teams, rather than the people who they will actually impact – such as those on the office floor. This can make communicating business value and enacting effective change a fraught process.

The most sophisticated, expensive artificial intelligence (AI) in the world can quickly become ineffective if implemented without the input from the people who would actually be using it, and whether or not they think it would actually improve processes.

But getting the right people talking and identifying the actual problems that need to be solved, can be harder than it looks.

One Tier 1 financial client came to EY with this problem. It had faced challenges in implementing technological transformations in the past, and so recognized the need for creating the kind of collaborative spaces in which critical questions could be asked – and strategies shaped – before it started building technology into its operations.

The question the client asked was crucial but broad: rather than making incremental improvements, how do we think differently about how the finance function supports the business? In particular, it was looking at how to improve operations across eight distinct finance processes, from financial accounting to book closing, by applying technology in ways which would work to deliver real value.

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The better the question The better the answer The better the world works
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Thinking around the issues

Getting the right answers means fostering the right conversations.

Finding fresh perspectives meant the client needed to bring together the right expertise. For large multinational organizations, these conversations can be hard to create and sustain – teams can be widely distributed around the world, business functions may be highly siloed and individuals may keep varying hours. Bringing stakeholders together physically – and giving them the tools to succeed – was critical.

The technology enabled everyone to collaborate live on a canvas that everybody could see whether they were sitting at home, in Hong Kong, the US or London.
Francois Rossouw
Associate Partner: CFO Consulting Services

Building a space to shift perceptions

In practice, this took the form of a Finance Innovation Lab, which was built for the client by leveraging EY’s wavespace1 network. The Consulting at EY and Assurance teams worked together on this project to help create the conditions that allowed the client to have these conversations – bringing our own different perspectives to bear on the project.

  • What is EY wavespace™?

    In wavespace we help clients curate talent and technology, bringing them together in collaboration. They are proven to energize and align teams to create meaningful outcomes, faster.

    Clients can engage with wavespace locations around the world, be hosted in temporary pop-up wavespaces, or have a wavespace installed in their premises – all are designed to help clients interact with ideas, technology and each other, in ways that can lead them to the decisions and creativity that will help them thrive in the transformative age.

Challenging assumptions

Over the course of an eight-week program, wavespace hosted dozens of key stakeholders in over 150 meetings, giving them the perspective and collaborative focus they needed to think about and ask questions about the best ways to transforming their finance operations. At the same time, participants were challenged to work identifying meaningful ways to assess how technology solutions could be applied to their finance processes.

First, the client landed on the Cloud as the most appropriate technology for their needs. Within wavespace, they then started challenging their own assumptions – rightly identifying the fact that the Cloud could not be considered just as a technology play but needed to be understood as a wider platform that could transform the finance function in multiple ways.

Technology is a tool. It’s not going to get you results on its own. It's how you shape the organization around the opportunities that the tool provides.
Jonathan W. Chesebrough
EY UK CFO Consulting Partner

The client also identified potential roadblocks. Through dialog with respective stakeholders, they found that if they had focused entirely on the tech, but neglected the process side of the equation, the desired results would not be delivered.

EY ensured the wavespace environment provided the frontline finance professionals everything they needed to help design the solution and define the use cases, supported by the IT and Finance Change teams. Through transparent conversations between different stakeholder groups, practical, effective solutions began to emerge.

Developing a truly transformational, measurable strategy

Through creative collaboration within wavespace, the client not only honed their transformation strategy to a specifically Cloud-based approach – they also developed clearly defined steps that would allow them to pursue real, measurable value.

Across the program, the client’s teams collaborated on 20 distinct ideas around Cloud-enabled finance. These included:

  • A data model which created a single, unified data source for the whole finance function, that only needs to be adjusted once – making it easier and more time-effective for multiple business units to engage with data in the way that’s most appropriate for them.
  • Real-time data quality visualization, allowing for prompt data validation (the process by which data is checked for accuracy and usefulness) and data remediation (the process of cleaning, organizing and moving data in a way that makes it fit for use). This included the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve data quality.
  • Detailed reporting tools that broke down standard reporting across different dimensions (such as business line or legal entity). These provided detail down to the transaction level, and captured commentary from multiple stakeholders on any given product or investigation.
  • Continuous and automated control monitoring over the entire data population, rather than manual testing of individual samples.

These tools allowed the client to come up with solutions that led to real, measurable value for its finance function – and the business as a whole.

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The better the question The better the answer The better the world works
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The fruits of creative collaboration

The right conversations lead to fresh perspectives and better outcomes.

Overall, compared with their former ways of working, the client realized they could benefit from a 300% increase in data processing capacity, in 25% of the time and with a 30-50% reduction in cost.

With these new Cloud-enabled processes, they identified the potential to remove the need for manual reconciliations between different systems or data sets. This could then potentially save significant man-hours – including reducing the time taken to close accounting books from up to 20 days down to four days – freeing up time and resources for more value-adding tasks.

The client was enthusiastic about the effectiveness of the collaborative environment EY helped create: “In just ten weeks, we went from “how do we improve finance” – and a certain degree of skepticism over technology products – to 20 well-thought through ideas using the Cloud. It’s generated excitement among our people, because they can see how to make finance better, faster and cheaper, and in the process give the business better controls, better data quality, and more insightful reporting.”

The model office approach is the future platform for working with our financial services clients as they develop their digital finance transformation journeys.
Christophe Kasolowsky
EY CFO Consulting

Working together to find the right path

This client’s wavespace experience – and the values of collaborative, conversational thinking it supports – holds wider lessons for any organization trying to transform their operations in preparation for a digital future.

Particularly, it demonstrates that grounding any technological agenda in real world, human experiences – rather than hypothetical ideal scenarios – is critical if technology solutions are to be applied in an effective and valuable way.

With the current business landscape utterly changed by the impact of COVID-19, organizations increasingly need to be able to reimagine how they work in this unchartered environment. More than ever, they will need to reframe how their business models and operations fit into a global economy that continues to experience severe shock as a result of the pandemic. To effectively reinvent themselves during this crisis, organizations will need to embrace transformation to drive growth.

But reimaging, reframing and reinventing your business will not be enough if the vision you create hasn’t been properly thought through. By creating the mental space to think through the challenges brought about by COVID-19 – actively seeking different perspectives and challenging assumptions about not just the right paths forward, but also the fundamental issues to be addressed – organizations can ensure they are pursuing strategies that can deliver genuine value.

Additional EY contributors include George Ioannou – CFO Consulting Technology, Amy Steptoe – CFO Consulting.

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