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CIO50 2020 #26-50: Rebecca Thomas, PwC New Zealand

  • Name Rebecca Thomas
  • Title Chief information officer
  • Company PwC NZ
  • Commenced role August 2017
  • Reporting Line Partner for Technology and Transformation
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Technology Function 35 to 50 staff depending on projects
  • “Our technology team is currently in the midst of two of the largest projects of my career,” says Rebecca Thomas, CIO at PwC New Zealand.

    The two programmes are essentially emblematic of the organisation’s focus to prepare their employees and systems for a more digital, agile workplace.

    First, she says, is the move to new premises on Commercial Bay in Auckland’s Britomart. 

    “This move involves a large and complex technical programme of work,” says Thomas, whose team also got involved in PwC’s move to new premises on the waterfront in Wellington.

    This entails working with many vendors and products, which the team finds exciting and challenging. 

    “The work streams include data centre relocation,” says Thomas. “We have six floors of premium audio visual and video conferencing to design, fit out and achieve user adoption.”

    “There is CCTV, electronic locker systems, close to 1000 worksettings and new voice systems. It is our intention that the technical fit out of this new build be outstanding. User experience is at the heart of our design and deployment.”

    Digitise the Network

    The second programme is the New Zealand deployment of PwC Global’s New World, New Skills programme. 

    “This is a US$3 billion dollar investment by PwC globally in digitally upskilling our organisation, our clients and our society,” she explains.

    In New Zealand this programme is known as ‘Digitise the Network’. 

    The upskilling programme is comprehensive, delivering skills in data analytics, storytelling, agile, AI, and blockchain. It will be rolled out to almost all staff.

    “As staff develop digital assets, these will be shared throughout the globe and will transform the way PwC delivers to clients.”

    “This comprehensive programme of work will greatly change the nature of work and culture of PwC in New Zealand,” she says. 

    As she explains, PwC is looking at how to use the programme for digital inclusion programmes targeting marginalised sectors in New Zealand.

    Thomas is cognisant of the nuances of being CIO at PwC, where she is responsible for fulfilling strategic objectives set both locally and globally.  

    “The global PwC network has a technology strategy that PwC New Zealand participates in,” she states. 

    “The standards of the PwC network are incredibly high and bring an element of maturity to the way we must approach our technology environment, and the leadership I provide here in New Zealand.”

    Thomas, who speaks Thai and Mandarin, heads the PwC Asia Pacific CIO Council, and through this, influences the global PwC IT community. 

    She brings the perspective of 25 CIOs comprising the Asia Pacific ICT leadership team in the Asia Pacific, to PWC’s global decision-making. 

    She also sits on the PwC Global Network Data Governance Council, and contributes to the Global Network Data Protection Programme. “This is an important piece of work where a cohort of leaders in law, technology and ethics work together to protect the important and precious reality of privacy,” she states.

    Thomas reports to the partner in charge of technology and transformation, who sits on the PwC executive team.

    “I have a tech-savvy executive team which fundamentally believes in the opportunity for technology that lies ahead,” she says. 

    She says this helps with getting the support and buy-in needed for getting new technology innovations off the ground. 

    “This becomes particularly evident with projects such as Digitise the Network and the Commercial Bay move.”

    Thomas also reports every quarter to the PwC executive team on progress against their programme of work, and provides regular updates to their regional office managing partners.

    “My method of influence has been one of earning credibility through delivery and trust through improving responsiveness.  With the volume of change delivered, it is fair to say I have earned their trust,” she says.

    She says there are many technologists within PwC who have high expectations for the internal IT team. “Many of them are delivering technology solutions to our clients.”

    “My role as CIO is to be like a bee in these diverse communities, linking people together to support collaboration and innovative outcomes,” she says.

    “We often share resources and opportunities which benefit our clients and gives our internal team a chance to share valuable project learnings. It brings great job satisfaction when these opportunities arise.”

    She says over the last two years, staff satisfaction rating of their technology has climbed from 42 per cent in 2017 to 75 per cent in 2019. 

    This means they lead in tech satisfaction across the global PwC network.

    ‘My job is to look after the people’

    The last two years saw an unprecedented delivery of software and hardware. The results are increased mobility, flexibility collaboration and productivity among staff.

    “These things have significantly changed the culture of PwC,” says Thomas.

    “These solutions have delivered benefits to PwC’s bottom line and enhanced our ability to serve our customers. What’s more, our solutions have also added value to our staff and made people’s jobs and our work culture more fun!”

    “Our NZ technology team has risen to the challenge and successful, thoughtful delivery has become the expectation,” she says.

    “The Staff Satisfaction of our NZ Technology team has also risen from 52 per cent to 89 per cent, and the diversity of the team has increased too - we now have 43 per cent women,” she states.

    “This diverse, high performing, highly satisfied team has made the delivery of so much change possible

    “The projects we have delivered layer one upon the other, and together they have worked to transform PwC into a truly technology-enabled workplace. “

    She says the 33 per cent rise in satisfaction with technology is testimony to that.

    She says the team had a “relentless focus” on user experience and engaging with the workforce as they delivered these programmes.

    When they deployed Salesforce, for instance, 95 per cent adopted it in the first week, she cites. “Each project provided us with lots of opportunities to learn and improve.”

    “I work hard to create a safe and empowered space for staff to try new things,” she says.

    “I provide lots of encouragement, learning from reflection and celebration. I share the strategy through town halls, formal and informal team meetings and I also use videos. 

    “I believe a key part of my role is to connect people to opportunities, to training, to other people - so they can thrive and get satisfaction exercising their amazing talents in our workplace.  My job is to look after the people.”

    “It’s fair to say that these results might not have been achieved if my team didn’t feel inspired, appreciated and empowered. Looking after people cannot be an afterthought – it has to be at the forefront of every leader’s day.”

    Thomas ensures she is involved in a range of programmes at PwC and in the community around three areas - digital Inclusion, data protection and women in technology.

    “To further my effectiveness in these passions, I enrolled last year in a postgraduate development studies at the University of Auckland,” says Thomas. 

    “This has been a rewarding experience. I have learnt so much already and met fascinating people,” says Thomas, who continues her course this year.

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