The potential of technology to transform organisations has kept it at the heart of strategy considerations. But, as we explore in this podcast episode, lasting success will be driven by people. Host Rowena Morris is joined by Mark Moffat, CTO for PwC’s consulting practice, and Semsi Sonmez, Digital Audit Partner and Technology Talent Leader, to explore how diversity helps make the right technology choices and the steps to find, attract and retain the right talent to put businesses ahead.
Welcome to the latest episode of our Business in Focus Podcast. I am Rowena Morris and I am your host for this episode. Digital acceleration, hybrid features, updating or rethinking legacy systems and tech transformation, we've seen a lot of inspiration out there as the most innovative have seized the chance to push the limits of what tech can do, but for many businesses, turning it into something real is easier said than done. What's holding back businesses from their transformation potential isn't necessarily technology, but people, which is why today we are going to explore ways to navigate this area.
In this episode, we will take a quick look at why a meaningful approach to diversity and inclusion helps address some of the talent-related challenges that are holding back tech transformation. We will also explore how to address them and the opportunities to collaborate with others in doing so. Talking us through how to overcome these obstacles today in our virtual studio, are Mark Moffat and Semsi Sonmez. Mark is our CTO for our consulting business across the UK and EMEA, while Semsi is our digital audit and technology talent leader. Great to have you both with us today. Shall we kick things off with some intros for our audience and Semsi, I'll come to you first.
Hi Rowena, thank you so much for inviting me today. I am Semsi Sonmez. I am a partner in digital audit in the audit line of service and tech talent leader for the firm. In my tech talent leader role, I look after our technologists across the firm. I am really excited to be on the podcast and talk to Mark on what we as an organisation can and are doing to create tech talent, really looking forward to the conversation.
Great to have you back with us Semsi, and Mark this is your first time in joining us, so welcome and can you let the audience know about you as well?
Yeah, thank you for having me. It's great to reconnect with Semsi. Semsi and I know each other for, oh God, it must be going 20 years now. We both got a shared passion for this topic. As you said, I am the CTO for our consulting business. It's a huge privilege right now, because technology is at the heart of pretty much everything that we do in all the transformation we're seeing with our client base, but I am also a client facing partner, privilege of looking after one of our global respected clients who are a big, heavy user of technology too.
Lots to cover off between the two of you today, we do need to quickly spend a moment or two explaining why an episode of tech and digital transformation is looking so closely at people rather than technology. Semsi, why does this keep coming back to talent?
It's absolutely critical for successful transformation to have a diverse talent group. If you have a working environment filled with employees of different backgrounds, different skills, different experiences and knowledge, it means that there will be an increase in innovative and creative ideas. It can have a real huge impact on the business as it will help them really expand the business in the long run. Employees will feel comfortable to share their ideas, unique ideas that people don't necessarily immediately think about. Really sharing in that diverse environment is going to ultimately really benefit the organisation itself. It really helps a business stand out from those businesses that still function in like what I would call a one voice. It really will have no transformation. Just I am going to bring it to life how important this is with just an example. When facial recognition software first came out, lots of people noted that it actually didn't work as well with the darker skins. Initially this was attributed to the fact that the algorithm that drives the facial recognition was given too few darker skinned faces, and therefore, hadn't learned to recognise these features. I think about this and I think could this flaw in that transformation have been prevented, if there was a more diverse team working on the software. Diversity for me comes in very different forms in the technology talent. It's not only about of gender, ethnicity, but it's also about experience, it's about diversity in thought, diversity in background. It is really critical, especially in technology talent, and in that success of transformation to have that diversity.
It's really helpful to have that as an example to bring it to life. Mark, how is this challenge being felt in terms of tech transformation?
It's a number of things I'd say to build on some Semsi’s remarks. Firstly, the reality is, the market is tapped out in terms of the skills and capabilities that we need. We need to really be thinking quite broadly in terms of how we staff technology, programs and digital transformation. The second thing I'd say is that technology now is so sophisticated that constantly need some degree of contextualisation, or it ends up becoming tech for tech sake. At PwC, we're all about being tech empowered, but critically been human led. That puts a huge dependency of making sure that you get the right composition of teams, bring in very different and diverse perspectives. My own background, pre-PwC I worked on a summer camp that had all sorts of different types of people, who are on staff, who've gone on to be different things in life. If I think of some of my friends now, I've got a friend who is a professional clown, I've got another who's a NASA engineer, and I could go on and on, Wall Street bankers and whenever we get together as a group, and we still get together as a group, we come up with just very different innovative ways to look at problems that are in life and that we face in business. Constantly I am taught, whether it be professionally or personally, when you surround yourself with people from different skills, different experiences, different walks of life, who inevitably all bring different perspectives, you end up looking at different ways to solve a problem and to create solutions, otherwise you would simply not have thought about. It's absolutely imperative that around tech in particular, you bring those different perspectives constantly, because you always end up with a different and a better outcome.
I remember your stories of the summer camps and your working in the summer camps. Like you, I in my early school years, I used to work at a chicken factory, because that was where you would get the most money to actually pay for the university degree that I was going into. Just like you, I've had many, many friends with all different backgrounds. I would echo what Mark said about bringing that diversity in thought and that new perspective of different way of thinking is really a good thing in that innovative thinking. I would really echo what Mark said.
The talent agenda where we said okay, currently the talent we attract is the talent that is readily available. I definitely think there is more talent out there, so the focus needs to be on how we find it and how we tap into that talent. People who have the skills we need, but maybe didn't necessarily go down the university route, have a different background, or don't think of themselves as sort of people who work for PwC. If we can find those individuals, we can train them, we can provide them the support that they need, and we can actually allow them to really shine with that skill set that they've got. It is absolutely imperative that we think differently about the technology talent and how we attract that talent. That we also have a regional mindset in addition to, yes, we have a big base in London, but the regional territories that we've got, and the regional offices that we've got, and the talent that sits in those regional offices is going to be so important for us to deliver against the strategy that we've got.
One of the important things and you'll have seen this hopefully in the news is, our announcement of the Tech Centre in Manchester and really creating that ecosystem in technologists in Manchester with the role of really building technologists within that space. For me, this isn't stealing or poaching talent, that is working for other organisations in Manchester or in other regions, it is really creating more technologists in the market, so that everybody can actually benefit from it.
Just, maybe, if I touch on two things that we're thinking about in PwC to bring that talent into the firm. The first one is working with organisations to tap into the talent that corporates don't normally have visibility of, and what does this look like, is using the data that is out there, either internet footprint, the digital footprint that those individuals have got, or educational bodies that we can work with. Use that data to target those individuals that are showing interest in that technology and actually helping them upskill and giving that opportunity. The second one for me is working with other organisations and educational bodies to really run boot camps, really reskilling and helping people back into employment, especially post COVID. It's really an opportunity for us to create talent in the market and make a difference for everybody. There was a lot of things happening in the space and I am really excited about it, but hopefully this provides a little bit of perspective on exactly how do we create that talent.
A solid approach there for building that future pipeline, but what about the need for talent now. We all hear about the pace of change and we may have mentioned it just once or twice on this podcast. What should organisations do to secure their needed talent today, and is this about reskilling, recruiting, or is it something else?
I think it's about all of those aspects. The reality is, as we've touched on a couple of times, skills, capability for technology right now is in short supply. That drives us collectively to need to think very differently about how we attract different talents. It's in large part encouraging organisations and companies to think through how to accept so called imperfection. People who don't necessarily look like what we've looked for in the past, who perhaps come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, who may come from environments where they haven't necessarily been skilled in technology, but they have attributes that could apply well in a technology environment.
There's a whole range of examples that Semsi touched on, that includes second tier education or so called second tier education, retraining professionals from other professions. We're looking at retired veterans from the armed forces, for example, returning mothers, self-trained professionals, people who've applied themselves through government training schemes. The key is looking at all channels, accepting this notion of imperfection or classical imperfection, to make sure you've got the widest possible aperture for attracting talent. I personally came from that type of background into PwC. I went to a polytechnic university. It wasn't the classic source at that time for how PwC looked at talent, that just drove me to make sure I put myself in a position at that time where I could secure a role and a graduate program at PwC. I've got a soft spot for making sure that all environments and all different types of people can get access to a career within PwC and that's the kind of encouragement we put on our clients as well.
Just like Mark, we know what Mark said about his background. When I finished university, PwC was one of the areas that I really wanted to work. I had a technology degree, but nobody in my family have ever actually worked in a corporate, so they didn't actually know what it would be like working in PwC. I've got a real soft spot like Mark has got around making that talent that is out there really realise the opportunities that are out there for them to excel in what they do and what they're good at, with their imperfections, just like Mark said. With all of the challenges that might be coming with it, we should be open for that talent. For me, it's once you get that talent in, and the trick is getting the onboarding right, giving them the support and training needed to bring their skills to life. Get the balance right between ready to deliver now and then training to be the next wave of technologists that we will ultimately need to deliver. In my tech talent role, it is going to be really crucial to focus on that development journey and ensuring that the talent in the organisation gets the opportunity to learn, put their learning into practice and gets the appropriate support to progress in the organisation. That's what's going to make the talent really stay. If we get this right, then we will all benefit from individuals shining in the talent they have, while we also create that future talent that we all need.
I really agree with that, and really important point around that onboarding and getting that part right. I am hearing a lot of different options and channels to get involved in, what's the way forward?
Open up the aperture, you can't afford to be singular in your approach. Meaning, we've touched on many different channels, actually take that step, think through, write down what are all the channels to potentially recruit different skills and capabilities into the organisation. My own passionate belief is when you bring together that diversity of people with a diverse background, and diverse skills, and you combine it with the right technology choices, that's when you get phenomenal real results. That's where you put businesses ahead and that's what will accelerate the big ideas and really help you transform. You know what, it's a bit of fun along the way as well because it's different.
You’re taking this from the realm of big ideas to steps our listeners can take right now today. What is the one piece of advice that you would want to provide?
Rowena, can I do two, hopefully that's okay. One is, you've heard Mark and I talked about this on the podcast, traditional approaches of recruiting technologists don't work anymore. Identify those candidates who are not traditionally your target market, use the data to find that talent. Then the second for me is,don't create a war for talent but create a war for creating talent for the wider community by collaborating and ensuring everybody has an equal opportunity.
One piece of advice, I am not very good at following instructions either, so I am going to give two as well, because Semsi got two. Talk about what you're doing, beat the drum, attract and draw people into your environment, make them want to understand what you're doing or your organisation, make them curious. There are all sorts of ways in which you can do that and then ultimately create the environmental conditions that will make them successful. That'd be one piece. The second piece for me and it's what we're about, I’ve said that earlier, we're all about this mantra of being technology powered and human led, and I would encourage you to think that through to. What does it mean to be human led and technology, don't led tech be for tech sake, really focus on that human dimension.
That's a great point to end things on. Thank you very much both for providing some inspiring ideas and areas of focus for our listeners. You can find out more about successful transformation by visiting our website at pwc.co.uk/beyondchange. Please subscribe to keep up to date with all of our latest episodes. Thanks everyone. See you next time.