Are new technologies changing culture or should culture change to embrace new technologies?

By

Carmine Di Sibio

EY Global Chairman and CEO

Passionate about our clients and the power of our global organization. Driver of growth and innovation. Relationship builder. Sports fan.

4 minute read 24 May 2018

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Change has always been part of business and great companies have flourished — or failed — based on their ability to manage change.

When I joined EY in 1985 the world was a very different place. Microsoft had launched its first version of Windows, CDs had just been introduced and car phones the size of a brick, as used by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in Miami Vice, were among the coolest gadgets.

I have seen business and society transform a lot over the last three decades, but I’ve never seen business change so much as it has in the last three years.

Change has always been a part of the business world and great companies have flourished — or failed — based on their ability to manage change. But today, organizations must contend with a faster pace of change than ever before. And EY is no exception. As I covered in previous blogs, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain combined with the power of data are not only opening new doors, but also fundamentally evolving our most traditional services, like audit and tax.

A few years back we embarked on a worldwide effort to disrupt ourselves as a way to get in front of the change happening around us. From the outset of what has been an extensive, hard look at the way we do things, some of the questions that I keep coming back to are around the role of culture in driving this transformation. Do we have the right culture to drive change at speed? Should technology lead the change or do we need to adapt our culture first in order to embrace new technologies?

Here are my lessons learned along the way.

Disrupting from within

Being a partnership with a history of about 170 years and operating in over 150 countries, we’ve always had an entrepreneurial culture, with innovation flourishing in all parts of our business. But the level and speed of change meant we needed to focus on scaling the best ideas fast and sourcing new ones.

We quickly recognized that we needed to change the wheels on the bus while the bus was running so we could continue to operate our healthy and successful business, while adapting it to the fast pace of technology. To help us achieve that delicate balance, we needed a group that was unbound from short term constraints and pressures of the day-to-day and was focused on the future, infusing the whole organization with new ideas.

We needed a group that was unbound from short term constraints and pressures of the day-to-day and was focused on the future, infusing the whole organization with new ideas.

So we created a global innovation team to bring the best talent that would test, trial and experiment in an agile and iterative way and one that would be comfortable with failure while challenging our business to evolve.

This generated a healthy friction between our more traditional business skills and new skills, like cryptographers, engineers and data scientists, and we learned that good things can happen when great minds don’t think alike.

Sometimes technology has to move first and culture will follow

The gig economy meant a great opportunity for a business like ours. As our services evolve, we need to bring in niche, specialist skills and this also allows us to manage peaks and troths more efficiently. But it is a totally different cultural approach to recruitment and talent management than we have ever had before.

That is how today we have been able to roll out a global platform like GigNow, an advanced technology platform that sources and matches qualified contractors with projects at EY.

Our contract workforce is around 6% of total, and we’re looking to increase that by 30% by 2025. So our 200,000 client-serving professionals around the world need to learn to work effectively with this new source of talent – how to bring them in quickly, allowing them to make valuable contributions straight away. We couldn’t wait to adapt our culture – we needed technology to lead that first.

That is how today we have been able to roll out a global platform like GigNow, an advanced technology platform that sources and matches qualified contractors with projects at EY and on-boards them quickly. So far it has been rolled out in eight countries, it has more than 12,000 contractors signed on and 1,200 positions filled.

This is an evolution of our culture that we need to continue to scale, but it started with the technology first. Technology will then change behaviors.

Building cultural foundations to prepare for the future

An organization’s cultural approach to diversity and inclusion is fundamental to prepare it to seize the upside of future disruption. What if the most transformative perspective is the one that you don’t have?

Technologies like AI will call on different people and profiles to support its implementation, and it will also evolve the skills of an organization’s workforce. As we move forward with technological advances, we need to ensure that the perspectives and viewpoints of many are taken into account.

An organization’s cultural approach to diversity and inclusion is fundamental to prepare it to seize the upside of future disruption

For example, the next stage in the development of our AI applications in our audit business is the “interacting with the world” stage, which is basically how the technology is able to respond to human demands in a natural and intuitive way. We are working to further enhance the quality of our services by providing “smarter”, real-time access to technical questions, like those about audit regulations for a specific country. It is critical that this serves our professionals all around the world, so our team is bringing together practitioners and technical experts from over 30 different geographies to feed into its design and implementation. We know that this technology will only add value when it reflects the wide range of client-facing experiences, viewpoints and perspectives of those using it.

I know that the world will continue to be a very different place in even two or three years’ time to what we know today. Part of the challenge business leaders face here and now is that we need to be prepared to solve problems we don’t yet know, using technology that hasn’t yet been invented.

Summary

Organizations need to manage the evolution of their culture by building strong foundations, but also by letting technology be the spear head when change needs to happen fast.

About this article

By

Carmine Di Sibio

EY Global Chairman and CEO

Passionate about our clients and the power of our global organization. Driver of growth and innovation. Relationship builder. Sports fan.