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Ethical and responsible innovation is non-negotiable: Harnath Babu, CIO, KPMG India

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The digital transformation journey of KPMG India has been marked by a profound integration of technology into its core business strategy. In this interview with Harnath Babu, the Chief Information Officer of KPMG India, we explore how technology has reshaped the way the firm delivers its services and drives business outcomes. Harnath Babu shares insights on the recent digital and technology initiatives, cloud adoption, generative AI integration, its data center strategy, adaptability to emerging technologies, and the metrics used to measure the success and impact of technology initiatives.

Some edited excerpts:

How has digital transformation reshaped the way KPMG India delivers its services, and what role does technology play in driving business outcomes?
Digital transformation has been a profound catalyst in reshaping the way KPMG in India delivers its services. At KPMG in India, technology has become an integral component of our business strategy. We understand that technological advancements are necessary for driving growth, optimising performance, and maintaining a competitive edge. By aligning our customer and business objectives, we have leveraged technology as a critical factor in accelerating change and achieving results swiftly and effectively. Our transformation journey has brought us closer to realising the symbiotic relationship between technology and business.

We undertook a comprehensive technology transformation that has streamlined our processes, systems, and operations. Our digital integration efforts have been crucial in adapting to the hybrid work mode, making us more agile, adaptable, and resilient. We have collaborated with all service divisions and internal teams to provide modern technology capabilities, such as AI, cloud, ML, analytics, and automation initiatives, which are accessible and simplified for all our employees and stakeholders.

Moreover, technology plays a pivotal role in our client-centric approach. Through digital platforms and solutions, we have created a more seamless and interactive experience for our clients, enabling them to access our services efficiently, anytime, and anywhere. The use of advanced data analytics and AI-driven insights has empowered us to provide real-time, data-driven advice, which is invaluable in today’s fast-paced business environment.

Can you share some of the recent digital or technology initiatives that KPMG India has undertaken and its impact?
KPMG in India has been at the forefront of pioneering digital and technology initiatives that have had a significant impact on our services and the broader business ecosystem.

Our digital transformation at KPMG in India encompasses a multifaceted strategy that involves workflow optimisation, AI integration, automation, analytics, and cloud infrastructure. These elements work in synergy to enhance our service delivery and business outcomes.

We have heavily invested in harnessing the power of data analytics and artificial intelligence. Our Data and analytics team has developed innovative solutions that help our Partners and clients make data-driven decisions, optimise operations, and detect anomalies for risk management.

We are revamping our internal processes by implementing workflow automation tools that streamline tasks, reduce manual interventions, and ensure consistency in our services. This enhances our ability to deliver high-quality work efficiently. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) plays a pivotal role in automating routine and repetitive tasks, allowing our talented professionals to focus on more strategic, value-added activities. This boosts productivity and minimises errors.

With the increasing importance of cybersecurity, we have expanded our capabilities in this area. Our experts employ cutting-edge technologies to assess, monitor, and mitigate cybersecurity risks. This includes conducting vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, and incident response planning.

By integrating these components, KPMG in India is not only enhancing its operational efficiency but also redefining employee experience, client engagement, the way we drive business outcomes, and deliver unmatched value. This holistic digital transformation is a testament to our commitment to staying ahead in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

Cloud adoption has become a cornerstone of modern IT infrastructure. How has KPMG India approached cloud adoption to improve agility, scalability, and cost efficiency?
Cloud adoption has indeed become a cornerstone of modern IT infrastructure, and at KPMG in India, we have embraced cloud technology as a strategic enabler to enhance agility, scalability, and cost efficiency. Our approach to cloud adoption has been two-fold: a commitment to a cloud-first strategy and a strong focus on security and compliance.

We recognised early on that cloud technology offered unparalleled advantages in terms of agility and scalability. By migrating a sizeable portion of our IT infrastructure to leading and secured cloud platforms, we have gained the ability to scale resources up or down based on demand, enabling us to be more responsive to our business needs. This agility has been particularly valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic when remote work and digital collaboration became imperative. We have adopted a hybrid and multi-cloud approach, which means we use a combination of public and private clouds to meet various business needs. This approach provides us with greater flexibility, redundancy, and disaster recovery capabilities. Cloud adoption also fuels our broader digital transformation, allowing us to leverage advanced technologies effectively.

While embracing the cloud, we have also been meticulous about security and compliance. We have implemented robust security protocols and partnered with leading cloud providers that adhere to stringent security standards and certifications. Data privacy and compliance are non-negotiable aspects of our cloud strategy, given the sensitive nature of our work.

Generative AI has the potential to transform various industries. How is KPMG India exploring the use of generative AI to enhance its services, streamline processes, or drive innovation?
Generative AI has taken the technology scene by storm. It is not just a tool, but a game changer that is turning our data into wisdom, accelerating our service delivery, and opening doors to limitless possibilities. At KPMG in India, we are actively harnessing generative AI to revolutionise our services and drive innovation. Generative AI is instrumental in our advanced analytics capabilities. It empowers us to process vast datasets and generate insights that drive strategic decision-making for our teams. We are also leveraging AI and Machine Learning to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks. This not only improves operational efficiency but also reduces the risk of human errors.

We have also introduced AI chatbots as virtual employee assistants. These digital colleagues are available 24/7, ready to assist our team members with a wide range of tasks. From answering HR queries and assisting with onboarding to providing IT support and offering guidance on company policies, these chatbots are like having a knowledgeable co-worker at your fingertips.

Our recent partnerships with leading technology firms will further accelerate our AI journey. This strategic initiative will empower our professionals with the tools and resources they need to thrive in an AI-driven world.

With the rise of cloud services, what considerations does KPMG India have with respect to its data centre strategy? How does it balance the benefits of cloud with any remaining on-premises infrastructure?
We have adopted a balanced approach that considers both the benefits of the cloud and the continued relevance of on-premises infrastructure. Cloud services offer unparalleled scalability and agility, allowing us to rapidly provision resources as needed.
However, we acknowledge that some legacy systems and sensitive data may not be immediately compatible with the cloud. Maintaining on-premises infrastructure allows us to support these critical systems while gradually transitioning to cloud-native solutions.

Our strategy revolves around a hybrid approach that balances the strengths of cloud services with the necessity of on-premises infrastructure. This approach allows us to mitigate risks, leverage the best of both worlds and plan for a gradual transition to the cloud. It’s a strategic approach that aligns with our commitment to innovation, security, and adaptability in a rapidly evolving digital landscape, ensuring we deliver the best possible service to our employees and clients.

Technology trends evolve rapidly. How does KPMG India ensure it remains adaptive to emerging technologies and is prepared to leverage advancements that could reshape the business landscape?
Remaining adaptive to rapidly evolving technology trends is a cornerstone of our strategy. We recognise that the business landscape is continually reshaping by emerging technologies, and our commitment to staying at the forefront of these changes is unwavering.

A crucial aspect of our approach is nurturing a culture of continuous learning and innovation. We invest in our people by providing ongoing training and upskilling opportunities. We encourage a growth mindset that embraces change and eagerly explores innovative ideas and technologies. Strategic partnerships play a pivotal role in our adaptability too. We have collaborated with leading technology companies and vendors. These partnerships grant us insights into the latest technologies, access to innovative tools, and opportunities for collaborative innovation.

Our client-centric approach ensures that our technology initiatives align with our clients’ evolving needs and objectives. We prioritise understanding their unique challenges, aiming to leverage emerging technologies in ways that deliver tangible value. Cross-functional teams bring together experts from diverse domains, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration. This approach identifies opportunities for technology-driven innovation and tailored solutions to specific client requirements.

Ethical and responsible innovation is non-negotiable. We emphasise data privacy, security, and compliance in all our technological endeavours, maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through this, we have ensured that we, not only keep pace with technological advancements but also actively shape how these technologies redefine the business landscape, offering our clients innovative solutions and insights for the future.

We’re continually exploring emerging technologies such as blockchain, IoT, and data analytics to remain at the forefront of innovation and better serve our employees, partners, and clients.

How does KPMG India measure the success and impact of its technology initiatives? Are there specific metrics or indicators that you use to evaluate the effectiveness of digital transformation efforts?
We place a strong emphasis on measuring the success and impact of our technology initiatives to ensure that our digital transformation efforts are both effective and aligned with our commitment to delivering value to our employees, partners, clients, and stakeholders. We rely on a comprehensive framework of specific metrics and indicators tailored to the objectives of each initiative.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are established for each initiative, aligning with specific goals. These KPIs encompass a range of metrics, such as reduced processing time, increased efficiency, cost savings, and improved accuracy. Operational efficiency is a critical factor, and we closely monitor how technology initiatives streamline processes, reduce manual efforts, and enhance overall operational effectiveness. The economic impact is also assessed through ROI calculations, considering both the initial investment and cost savings realised over time.

Data analytics initiatives are evaluated based on the quality and depth of insights derived from data analysis, providing actionable information to the concerned teams. In cybersecurity initiatives, we monitor metrics related to incident detection and response times, vulnerability assessments, and threat mitigation. Compliance with regulatory standards and risk reduction are assessed for compliance and risk management initiatives.

User adoption and engagement are vital, demonstrating the usefulness and acceptance of technology tools among our teams and clients. Internal feedback and satisfaction stand as one of the primary indicators of success. We actively gather and analyse our employees, and partners’ input to understand how our technology solutions have improved their experiences and outcomes. This comprehensive assessment ensures that our digital transformation efforts continually deliver value to our teams and enable our commitment to innovation and excellence.

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