Four lessons from PwC's digital transformation, workforce upskilling efforts

PwC is automating manual tasks, utilizing AI and looking to free up time so humans can carry out high value auditing and consulting tasks.

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PwC has been undergoing a large digital transformation effort that includes upskilling its workforce to become more technology and analytics savvy. The benefits of those efforts are starting to bubble up.

At a demo day in New York City, PwC outlined a bevy of uses for robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and analytics and how those tools could be incorporated in audits and other services the firm provides.

"The goal is to free up a lot of time for auditors to do the human things that they need to do and democratize innovation," said Sherri Guidone, US Assurance Technology Leader at PwC. "Our people can solve unique problems and we've seen change in just a few years in understanding technology."

Amid the thousands of digital transformation efforts globally, it's worth pulling out the lessons from PwC's efforts. Here are four takeaways to ponder:

Upskilling has returns.

PwC is spending $3 billion to invest in tools, training and technologies to advance its business. A big part of that sum is spent on upskilling its 55,000 people and arming them with digital acumen, understanding data, visualization and analytics, said Suneet Dua, US chief products officer at PwC.

The returns break down like this:

  • Retention rate. The retention rate among PwC workers that have gone through the digital accelerator program is higher, said Wes Bricker, US & Mexico Assurance Leader. "We've committed to people that we'll give them the training and skillsets to be relevant even as business and technology moves forward," said Bricker.
  • Productivity. In PwC demos of auditing tools that will roll out in the Spring and summer, it was clear that technologies like robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning will save time. The mathematics in PwC's services is being automated so humans can analyze, use professional skepticism and increase quality for clients.

Growth. Bricker emphasized that automation doesn't mean fewer jobs. "We become more productive and can do more things," he said. "Our skillsets have incredible relevance and we can broaden out and use the people we have." PwC is increasingly branching out into products as well as expanded services. If PwC's workforce is more relevant so are its services and growth prospects. 

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Automation everywhere.

In a series of demos, PwC highlighted how it is using robotic process automation to scan invoices and input data and collect documents in a way that reduces hours of work to about a minute in an audit. Workflow tools are also centralized in the audit discovery, planning and execution phases. Analysis is aided via visualization software and automated number crunching of payroll. A platform called Cash.ai monitors a company's treasury to boost cash flow and spot issues early. These technologies are homegrown as well as bought from technology firms, but the impact is dramatic. The bottom line is PwC is looking for less data wrangling and more analysis. "We're focusing on the critical decisions, greatest risks and judgments with completeness of thinking," said Bricker, who emphasized that PwC isn't looking to cut headcount via automation. 

cash-ai-screen.png

PwC's Cash.ai application. 

PwC

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The firm highlighted a series of demos for products at various stages of their development. Dua noted that the company is expanding into offering products in addition to its accounting, audit and consulting services. One of the more interesting products was one that focused on Internet of things, tracking employees and creating a geolocation. That product is essentially a dashboard, mobile geolocation terminal and badges that reveal employee location. PwC is planning to expand from implementations at hospitality companies to transportation and logistics, Dua. The PwC IoT and geolocation system also solves a compliance need while improving efficiency because breakfast trays, luggage carts and room conditions can also be tracked.

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Digital assistants can help revamp manual work tasks and be an HR tool.

PwC's product group deployed an assistant called Astro internally to help employees navigate back office tasks and 1,600 systems. Astro, accessible via talk, text and touch, helps employees do things like check mail, calendar, check benefits, find employee ID and other tasks. "We had a disjointed experience where 30% of time at the firm was spent on back office tasks," said Dua. Today, Astro has processed 21,000 people questions into the system. The good news is that nearly all those questions and processes are repeatable for reuse. Astro also provides intelligent notifications and nudges on things like metrics and coaching direct reports. Astro was developed by PwC with help from a third party.

Astro is one app that's had a big impact. The other one is a digital fitness app that offers training on the fly and in digestible chunks, said Guidone.

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