PwC’s Sub Mahapatra guides us through the existential nature of digital transformation, offering his advisory expertise on matters of cloud computing...
Companies who fail to digitize are quickly left behind, but it is not always clear how a digital transformation is best achieved. Enter professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), who are seeing an increasing demand for their expertise in areas such as cybersecurity and cloud computing. Management Consultant Sub Mahapatra has been with PwC’s New York network for more than six years. A director at the company, he specializes in digital, cloud and cybersecurity transformations for the global consultancy’s clients. “I started my career as a software developer,” says Mahapatra. “I'm still a coder by heart; I love building things. And that's basically what we do – internally as well as externally. We help resolve complex issues and identify opportunities across various industries. In this day and age, we are solving our clients' business problems with technology.”
No two of PwC’s client engagements are the same. In cases where the company has a pre-existing relationship with the client it can begin with a simple conversation. “If we have an existing relationship in place, then we’re way ahead in the curve,” says Mahapatra. “They pull us in to talk about what problems they are facing, and how we can help them. If you don't have that relationship in place, we have various ways to approach. For example, our BXT – business, experience and technology – sessions for discovering and exploring the right solutions for their complex problems. We work with our clients to clearly understand the problem we are trying to solve. Do they just want to get into the digital world, or do they want to solve a business problem – increase their revenue, or expand their customer base? We work with them to understand exactly what problems we are trying to solve by brainstorming with the right stakeholders in the room. Then, we lay out a plan for them: this is what we think you need to do, and this is where we can help.”
This help can take many different forms, with engagements varying in size based upon exactly what PwC has been brought in to achieve across the spectrum of cloud, AI, data analytics and cybersecurity. The constant is PwC’s commitment to continued support. “We have a very broad offering from an advisory perspective, but we don’t just strategize and then go away. We are there to help the client realize the value we are trying to envision for them.” Mahapatra provides a case study referencing a recent engagement with a large telecom company, which is rolling out 5G. Aside from the technical and logistical aspects of achieving the rollout as quickly as possible, Mahapatra and his team are also ensuring the introduction of all the associated technology suites contained within a modern product launch. “Similar to various industry players, most of the telecom companies are now changing their business models to be technology companies,” says Mahapatra. “Whatever data they gather via 5G, they want to leverage to do more – and because they want to secure the network, they want to use cryptography and blockchain. Additionally, they want to provide smart city solutions as a part of their 5G offering. Going forward, there is the opportunity to bring a whole suite of products for all the different areas.” It is PwC’s role, therefore, to help clients build efficient, interconnected solutions that enable them to take their offering as a whole to the market, as well as adhering to data privacy regulations and protecting an individual’s personal data.
Data and the cloud
Mahapatra details the holistic outlook companies now require in the area of cloud solutions, where previously they may have focused on a single platform. Only by having access to services across the spectrum can the strengths of each be harnessed. “We have various different public cloud vendor partners, primarily AWS, Azure and GCP, which is now Anthos. Initially, we trained our people for a specific platform. However, these days clients are looking for multi-cloud solutions, or a hybrid solution architecture. A lot of our Fortune 100 clients are saying, ‘can you provide us a perspective to aid us in cherry picking services from all of these different vendors?’, as they all have pros and cons.”
Ease of data processing comes hand in hand with cloud computing, integrating disparate data sources in a central location. These sources can include proprietary PwC software as well as focus groups, interviews and surveys. “Data is everything these days,” says Mahapatra. “On top of that, analytics is an essential competency. We have our own homegrown tools for data analysis with AI models on top of that. Based on the client situation, we use our internal data analytics tool to make sense of data through AI and machine learning.”
One of the main benefits of PwC’s cloud offerings is the associated reduction in cost. By moving away from hardware, expenditure moves from a capital to an operating cost – but Mahapatra points out that it is worth planning for an orderly transition, for a number of reasons. “A lot of clients are taking small steps, and going from hybrid cloud to multi-cloud, or maybe a specific cloud vendor. Mostly, however, they are more efficiently deciding what exactly they want to migrate, and what kind of things they want to keep in the cloud versus what they want to keep on their own premises. We are helping our clients not only migrate to the cloud in a phased manner but also to choose the right cloud native functionalities in the areas of AI, ML, IoT, etc. so that they can reap the benefits of the cloud without putting their data at risk. That’s where our expertise comes into the picture.”
The presence of data in cloud storage makes PwC’s cybersecurity offerings even more crucial. “These days, no one is safe even after having a proper cybersecurity governance and risk management solution in place. There could be hackers in your enterprise systems, and you don’t know.” Mahapatra points to a number of solutions, starting with the cybersecurity and privacy specifications built into the cloud vendors utilized by PwC, which PwC integrates into its clients’ existing cybersecurity environment. PwC is also always on the lookout for the next generation of cybersecurity technologies. Currently, the organization is looking into employing Exabeam’s security information and event management software. “We have seen their demos, and we may want to explore leveraging them for our User Behavior Analytics initiative. They have a great UI and analytics platform, and we would like to explore it further to see if they're open to developing their tools in different areas, as well as having some kind of structure in place that would allow PwC and Exabeam go to market together.”
Beyond that, Mahapatra details PwC’s concept of ‘Crown Jewels’. “We find what kind of data our clients want to keep to themselves, and the extra security they want to have. We work with them to find out where that data is residing, if that data is at risk, or if it is in transit, and we create a whole data protection layer alongside it.” Such prized data requires the most robust solutions, such as encryption, but Mahapatra warns that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. “Encryption always creates several business problems. The most important are impacts to performance. In cases of large data volumes we usually talk about pseudonymization instead. That is where we put security at a field or column level; a more dynamic, data-centric approach. Obviously, we also find out if there is any PII data to ensure we recommend the right data governance framework to our clients.”
This is one of many areas where PwC’s specialization comes into play, ensuring that data is matched with the correct cybersecurity techniques. This in turn contributes to PwC’s growing business in the sector. “Our cybersecurity practice is growing by 20% at least, year over year,” says Mahapatra. “Clients look for our help because they want to understand what kind of benchmark data we have; where the market is going and what necessary steps they need to take to avoid disruption and obtain competitive advantage. They also want to validate the particular strategy which they have in mind, and we can advise them if it is the right area to invest in, as we have been providing end to end solutions for a lot of different customers in this area.”
No matter the technical prowess, technological solutions cannot be instituted and maintained without internal support, and Mahapatra emphasizes the need for dialog within all levels of an organization. “Ten years ago, it was just the CIO who was discussing digital transformation. Today, we engage with the CEO and sometimes the Board as well. The first thing you need to get is senior executive buy-in, then put the strategy in place, and finally have a plan to execute that strategy.” Such is the demand for, and necessity of, designing and developing digital transformation solutions that one of Mahapatra’s biggest challenges is in hiring and retaining the highly specialized talent required to drive digital transformations. Ultimately, for Mahapatra and PwC, digital transformation is not about small efficiency optimizations. It is about survival. “It's not about shiny objects,” says Mahapatra. “Tinkering is insufficient. CIOs should be talking about it all the time with their Boards and C-suite, mobilizing the entire company, because tech is existential. I'm trying to help them understand that it's increasingly clear that we are entering into a highly disruptive extinction event. Enterprises that don’t transform themselves will disappear completely.”