We Have Ignition: KPMG’s Mike Nolan talks disruption and the firm’s global Ignition Centers

Seemingly without end, the steady march of disruption continues in every industry. While this has been a boon for consultants, it can be a major pain point for companies. Today, many organizations are disrupting their own industries before change comes knocking on their door. To aid in that process, KPMG has opened a series of global Ignition Centers, where clients can work face-to-face with KPMG researchers, data scientists and other experts to view their workforce model changes in action. Consulting caught up with Mike Nolan, KPMG’s Vice Chair of Innovation & Enterprise Solutions to talk about the high-level strategizing that goes on at these centers and how clients are embracing disruption through innovation.

Consulting: What is the main function of KPMG’s Ignition Centers?

Nolan: At the end of the day it’s about evolving our culture to be innovative, but most importantly it’s about different ways of solving complex business issues with our clients. The Ignition Centers really manifest themselves in just that, standing shoulder to shoulder with clients around complex business issues while at the same time creating a culture of innovation within KPMG, which has actually led to opportunities where clients ask us to mirror what we’ve done in their own organization. Disruptions know no boundaries, so we have a global footprint around these Ignition Centers. Lastly, if we want to attract, recruit, retain the best talent in some of these very specialist data scientist/cyber/technology marketplaces we need work environments that attract that talent and enable them to flourish.

Consulting: How do these centers fit into KPMG’s service offering?

Nolan: They sit on top of our offering and enable transformation. If you think about end-to-end transformation, which is really digital transformation in today’s world, digital transformation several years ago was primarily viewed to be in the front office, so how do you digitally enable your sales and marketing channels. Over the last two years that has really transcended to not just the front office but the mid- and back-office. I think the consulting opportunity in digital transformation is exploding in the mid- and back-office. We have a strategy practice, we have a broader advisory business, we obviously have a tax business, we have an audit business, but a lot of this digital transformation including supply chains and so forth has tax consequences as well. A lot of the skills that align to our services are data and analytics, cyber, tax, strategy and management consulting i.e. technology solutions. All of these practices that have these specialists house select resources within Ignition, or they’re bringing practice professionals to Ignition to work with clients in collaborative ways.

Consulting: What’s the view from the C-suite on tackling disruption?

Nolan: We’re about to issue our 2017 CEO study and probably the most compelling fact in there is that 57 percent of CEOs say they do not have sensory or innovative processes in place to respond to rapid disruption. I think this is top of mind for CEOs. There’s a lot of process required to be effective at innovation. You have to understand the disruption, you have to have structure and governance around the investment, and you have to have a very defined set of milestones, governance and outcomes to manage what you want to have in terms of the implication in the marketplace.

Consulting: What are some important insights the Ignition Centers give both KPMG and clients?

Nolan: As part of Ignition we have what we call a deep sensory capability. We have a number of trend indexes we’re monitoring. We monitor what we’re hearing in terms of signals in the market, what that means to business models, thus, what does that mean to your strategy, where should you make your investments and how do you ultimately grow. We actually take that exact same process and deploy it on ourselves. So we’re using disruption in the marketplace to understand client business model change, which then informs where should we be making investments to continue to align our services with the demands of the marketplace.

Consulting: What are some of the big consulting opportunities to arise from this push for innovation and disruption? 

Nolan: One is intelligent automation. I look at that to encompass everything from robotic process, automation to predictive analytics to cognitive intelligence. That space is really taking advantage of what will ultimately be a world around cloud,  data management and enabling that to happen. I think cognitive technologies are changing and enabling much greater insights. When you get into digital transformation, all firms have a lot of competencies, and we have some market leading positions. Ultimately, you have to bring those together into helping clients discuss end-to-end digital transformation.

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