CDO interview: Lisa Heneghan, global chief digital officer, KPMG

After 12 years with KPMG, Lisa Heneghan took on her latest and greatest challenge for the consultancy firm when she became its global chief digital officer (CDO) in October 2022. Having been UK CDO for the previous four years, she’s relishing the opportunity to now apply her experience at an international scale.

“As I said to many people, UK CDO was the best job in the firm as far as I was concerned – and now I’ve got the joy of doing that role globally,” says Heneghan. “It’s the opportunity to really change the way we think, the way we operate, the way it feels to be part of KPMG, and it’s been an absolute blast so far.”

In her UK role, Heneghan oversaw a transformation of core back-office technology, built the firm’s go-to-market capability around technology for clients, and worked with line-of-business functions – such as audit, tax, deal advisory and consulting – to think about how employees could use systems and services to transform their business processes.

In her new global role, Heneghan has joined KPMG’s global management team. She will oversee the firm’s $5bn investment in technology, people and innovation, accelerating the organisation’s digital transformation programme, while also finding ways to use innovation to help deliver new products to the consultant’s clients.

As she gets to grips with her new role, Heneghan says the digital efforts she’ll be pursuing will be critical to KPMG’s long-term success: “We all know technology is now consistent through everything that we do as a business – every element. It’s just a very exciting role where we’ve already started to make a difference.”

Taking on a fresh challenge

Heneghan says the opportunity to assume a global remit came about after her predecessor, who headed up technology at the firm, announced he would be retiring. She was keen on the opportunity but wanted to take the leadership role in a new direction.

“I had a couple of conversations where people [asked if I] would be interested,” she says. “My view was that I was interested, but as CDO and not as head of technology. That’s because to me the job title ‘head of technology’ feels internally focused and I felt the opportunity was about changing the way digital feels for our people and for our customers,” she says.

“In my mind, my job is client focused. It’s not just about internal technology. I spend a lot of my time meeting with my equivalents at our big clients and comparing notes and talking about the transformation journey they’re on. I really felt it had to be a CDO role.”

Heneghan reports into the global chief operating officer (COO), overseeing a global CIO and chief information security officer (CISO). So, having assumed the title of global CDO, how does it feel to be the most senior technology executive at KPMG?

“It is a big responsibility,” she says. “On the one hand, it means I get to have visibility across all the different elements of what we’re doing with technology, but it also means that, when anything goes wrong with technology and when there are any concerns, everybody in the room looks at me. I’m very conscious of the two dimensions of the role.”

Given her desire to balance internal requirements with external influence, Heneghan says she’s careful to set expectations: “I tend not to do delivery work, but I spend a lot of time with clients around some of their big transformation activity. And generally, comparing notes – because our internal transformation journey is very similar to other big businesses.”

Assuming new responsibilities

Heneghan breaks her role into three core elements. The first area, she says, is probably the least exciting part, but it’s also a given for any individual heading up technology for a global blue-chip business.  

“That’s all about making sure we have an optimised, customer-centric, safe and secure foundation for technology,” she says. “That part’s focused on providing core, underpinning technology for the whole of the business.”

“Being global CDO is a big responsibility. It means I get to have visibility across all the different elements of what we’re doing with technology, but it also means that when anything goes wrong everybody looks at me”

Lisa Heneghan, KPMG

The second element, and the area Heneghan is most excited about, also involves the biggest challenge – integration. As a longstanding CDO, she looks back on her experiences internally and externally, and says functional silos often constrain organisations from acting in an agile and optimised manner.

Heneghan wants to remove silos and create the “integrated value chain” for the business. As part of this effort, her team is creating a common taxonomy of KPMG’s business activities. Heneghan achieved a similar goal in the UK previously. Now, a large slice of her digital transformation efforts will be centred on how technology can be used to support the firm’s joined-up operations globally.

“When you look at the core things we do, whether that’s audit, tax or advisory, there’s way more commonality than anybody likes to think,” she says.

“Similarly, whatever country you’re in, there’s also commonality. So, for me, the opportunity is about truly trying to create a common taxonomy and then, behind that, to look at the underpinning architecture that we need to support that value chain globally. That’s a big chunk of the transformation effort.”

The third element of her role involves what Heneghan refers to as “shifting” the firm’s brand. She says KPMG does amazing work with technology but feels many people wouldn’t think of the firm as a technology brand. She’s keen to change that perception by ensuring her people have access to great tools and that clients can see this digitisation at first hand.

“That’s about ensuring our people feel they’re enabled through technology, that they use technology and that it reflects into how our clients see us and engage with us, and that they truly see us as a technology-enabled brand,” she says.

Pursuing digital transformation

Heneghan’s priority right now is to hone her technology strategy for the business. She’s working through the core elements of this approach by using something called Connected Enterprise, which is the digital transformation framework that KPMG uses with its clients.

“It’s a business blueprint, not a technology blueprint,” she says. “And that’s a big programme of activity. We’ve got initiatives that are looking at our security architecture and how we evolve that, and how we look at regional versus global versus local issues.”

Another core area of transformation activity, says Heneghan, is around innovation. That work is centred on extending core capabilities to new customers, markets and targets, and thinking about how innovation will play a key role in that process. Emerging technologies, such as the metaverse, will be increasingly important to that effort. Heneghan’s also thinking about how new systems and services will be used to support a shift in approach at KPMG.

“We’re moving away from a model where everything’s about what you charge each day,” she says. “I’ve got a programme of activity where we’re really looking at the evolution of our business models over the next 12 months, built on innovation and the new technologies that are out there.”

Heneghan says driving change is far from straightforward. She says CDO is a complex role that is less about control and more about collaborating and bringing things together. To that end, she says alliances and the firm’s partner ecosystem are critical to innovation.

“It’s through the work we do that you start to see opportunities. Also, we have what we call ignition centres globally, which are our hubs where we collaborate and drive innovation. The work I’m doing on innovation is about bringing those elements together, and then picking out the best opportunities,” she says.

“For me, what’s important is not trying to boil the ocean and do everything. It’s about trying to find enough capability that you can build something, that you can show some success, that you can start to get people understanding what you mean, and to get proof points right the way through.”

Adopting a forward-looking approach

Heneghan says successful CDOs act as enablers – digital chiefs take the best of the technology that’s available on the market and apply it to the challenges they find.

Recent KPMG research shows digital leaders have a wide range of choice when it comes to applying solutions. What’s more, there’s widespread appetite across all businesses for new and emerging technologies – 67% of businesses expect to embrace emerging platforms, such as cryptocurrencies, the metaverse and quantum computing within two years.

In the next 24 months, Heneghan says she’s keen to look at digital opportunities and to find ways to help KPMG make the most of emerging technologies. She says culture will be key and continued digital transformation success will rely on a close relationship between the technology team and the customers they serve.

“It’s about being forward-thinking – having time to look around the corner,” says Heneghan. “I want to create an organisation that isn’t just focused on what needs to be done now. I want us to be customer centric, so everybody has clarity of the value that they’re delivering for our clients. And I want us to be collaborative and for people to feel empowered.”

Heneghan says the systems and services that KPMG implements must make a fundamental difference to the way the firm operates. When that happens – and just like she did in her previous UK-focused role – Heneghan wants to ensure her global technology colleagues get the credit for the digital transformation they enable.

“One of the things I did in the UK when I came into role was to shine a light on to our technology teams. I moved them out of the dark shadows and into the foreground. We have amazing people in our internal technology teams,” she says. “I want those people to be visible. I want them to feel part of the broader business and to not feel that they’re having to do the grind of delivery without getting visibility.” 

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