Deloitte’s CIO and CDO say the synthesis between business and IT is critical

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Deloitte Africa’s Antionette Wagner and Catherine Stretton say professional services must be an “Uber experience”.

Deloitte Africa’s CIO, Antionette Wagner, and CDO, Catherine Stretton, began their IT careers with a BCom.

Antionette started her career in finance as an accountant, but she was also involved in the implementation of transformational IT projects, which she thoroughly enjoyed. She then joined Deloitte, where she focused on ERP implementations. For the past 20 years, Antionette has led IT teams across Africa, and she’s seen many businesses grow their revenue using transformational technologies.

Catherine did her articles at Deloitte, where she focused on risk management and modelling, but she became interested in implementing modelling at scale. So, 12 years ago, she moved into data analytics.

“It was a complete re-education and I started from absolute scratch,” says Catherine. “I became proficient in concepts like warehousing and data management, then five years ago I started exploring predictive analytics. This has all culminated into a digital career as CDO, which leverages off my business background.”

A service is an experience
As Deloitte continues to place a significant emphasis on being digital-first, Antionette's role as CIO has evolved over the past six years. Another key area of emphasis, particularly for IT, is an ever-increasing need for a stable platform for digitalisation.

“Between Catherine and I, we focus on delivering an IT experience, rather than an IT service,” explains Antionette. “I’ve seen a shift in moving away from a service to an experience, and many people, especially digital natives, want to have exactly the same IT experience that they have in their personal lives – because that's where the world is going.”

Catherine adds that Deloitte, a professional services company, is completely reorganising its strategy, as technology is fundamentally changing how they offer their expertise to the market.

“If you think of the nature of a professional services firm, it was built like a law firm: you charge hours for projects. But there is now an increasing evolution to digital delivery,” says Catherine.

“Most of our businesses have built platforms. For example, we have a digital audit platform, a digital risk platform, and a tax platform,” she adds. “These platforms are developed in conjunction with our global member firm, but they allow our clients to interact with us in real-time, so everyone from our staff to our clients can have the ‘Uber experience’ with Deloitte. Increasingly, we're leading our clients to have ‘Uber experiences’ with their clients.”

But herein lies the challenge for CIOs, says Antionette, as the CIO must ensure that the service-as-experience is built on a secure platform and that the platform works seamlessly, no matter the location. For a global company like Deloitte, this can be difficult, especially when it comes to the African continent, which has its own IT infrastructure challenges.

“It’s a shift from being a batch-orientated organisation to operating in real-time and thinking about what that experience is like – the UX,” adds Catherine.

IT is a business function
While there is an ongoing push for businesses to embrace digitisation, these technologies present major challenges to IT organisations, especially when it comes to building a reliable and secure infrastructure landscape and operating it cost-effectively.

Antionette emphasises that the accelerated need to embrace technologies such as cloud, mobile, and analytics is now putting new pressures on IT organisations. But, as a CIO, she strongly believes that IT must add value to a business beyond infrastructure and cost-saving by creating “an avenue of trust” between IT and the business at large.

“That is the future of IT; it’s not IT anymore, it’s a business function, and IT has to deliver on behalf of the business,” says Antionette. “And yet, the business can’t work without IT. With Covid-19, companies have changed the way they look at IT: suddenly IT is the number one internal function to enable business.”

“Most enterprises are becoming technology companies, whether they like it or not,” adds Catherine. “Technology changes the structure of the organisation and how it works, and the synthesis between business and IT is absolutely critical. As CIO, Antionette’s ability to embed technology services into business has enabled innovation to happen, and it’s a crucial component of Deloitte’s success.”

Antionette points out that Deloitte Africa’s IT strategy is based on Deloitte's Africa business and global IT strategies, which is underpinned by the optimisation of business strategy and the IT operating model.

Following the company’s Africa merger, the disparate legacy systems and infrastructure presented challenges for operating as one firm, but her team was able to automate end-to-end business processes across Africa using a single IT platform. A suite of cloud solutions was also developed in partnership with SAP, which unlocked data insights, optimised cost-effectiveness, and eliminated manual consolidation and reporting.

Along with the benefits of cloud adoption automation, Antionette adds that Deloitte is now going full throttle with digital transformation. “We’re leveraging artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and machine learning, and incorporating all of it into business processes. This has transformed several of our business processes.”

Not missing a beat
Antionette enjoys spending time with her husband, two children, and the dog (“He’s my number one!”). She has a great love for the African sun and the bushveld, and she often visits her brother’s game farm in Alldays, which is about 100km from Beitbridge. Antionette also dislikes flying, but a hybrid-virtual world has changed all of that.

“I only fly because I have to; I'm totally out of control. But it’s amazing what can be achieved now. The future of work holds so many possibilities and it's an exciting space.”

“I just did my first flight to Cape Town since lockdown, and I shed a tear when the plane took off!” laughs Catherine. “But, as a company that’s primarily client-facing, Deloitte hasn’t missed a beat. During lockdown, we continued building technologies for our clients around the world and we expanded our footprint.”

Thanks to technology, Catherine started a new hobby during lockdown: drumming. “I've wanted to drum since I was eight, and I finally bought a drum kit. It's an electronic kit, and I’m told that the sound of the stick on the pads is annoying – but it could be worse!

“Suddenly geography is meaningless and there are no boundaries,” adds Catherine. “And I’m learning the drums.”

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