PwC showcases new technologies
PricewaterhouseCoopers showed off some of its new and upcoming technologies it has been developing for its staff and clients, particularly in the auditing field, at an event Tuesday in its offices in New York.
At PwC’s Immersive Experience, members of the firm demonstrated several of the products and technologies that are being used to provide audit, assurance and consulting services for clients, and within the PwC workforce.
“What you’ll see is a reflection of the strategy of our firm, upskilling 55,000 people in critical tools, digital acumen and understanding how to evaluate the result of data visualization and analytics,” said Wes Bricker (pictured), vice chair and U.S. and Mexico assurance leader, at PwC. “That helps advance our work. While we’ve trained all of our people to help develop technologies, we’ve also invested very heavily from the top as well, making sure that we have enterprise-wide platforms that come together and enable us to move forward.”
Bricker, who rejoined PwC last year after serving as chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission, noted that in late 2019, PwC announced a multibillion-dollar upskilling program for the firm called “New World, New Skills.”
“We’re people led and we’re technology enabled,” he said. “New World, New Skills for us is a commitment of $3 billion globally doing what we’ve already done in the U.S.: investing in our people with the tools and the training and the technologies that all of our people need in order to continue to advance our business. $3 billion is something that is second to none and enables us to move forward.”
Another program recently announced by PwC is called “Access Your Potential,” which is providing $320 million in technology training, tools and know-how to enable teachers, not-for-profits and students, particularly in underserved areas, to help narrow the digital divide. “That’s bringing our investments to the furthest reaches of our society, helping to bring forward all within society,” said Bricker. “It’s a lot to be excited about. It’s a lot that reflects our investment in the quality of the work that we do. The tools, the technology, enable us to advance the consistency of our work, the depth of our work, the quality of our work. Quality continues to be our number one priority, and what you’ll see is a number of ways in which we’re doing that. But what you’ll also see is a cultural perspective within our firm, an investment in people with a broader set of training — training in computer science, in data engineering, and also in the liberal arts, bringing it together with an essential person and machine collaboration.”
Among the products shown at the demonstration were Cash.ai, a program that uses artificial intelligence to automatically read, understand and test client documents, including reported cash balances, bank reconciliations, bank confirmation letters, foreign exchange data and the financial condition of the bank, to do a more complete audit of cash.
The Aura Execution Engine is a cloud-based system that streamlines the audit-testing process by using artificial intelligence to make initial selections, validate data and flag exceptions.
Aura Planning and Completion provides a web-based planning and completion environment for audits. Aura Risk Assessment supports audit teams to document their judgments and promotes sounder risk assessments and account identifications.
PwC also showed off a connected platform used by some hotel chain clients employing Internet of Things, or IoT, capabilities to enable clients to track assets such as room service trays, locate employees, and collect remote data, as well as recognize people, places and objects.
Astro is a cognitive agent for the mobile workforce that helps staff communicate and manage their time through notifications, using technology similar to digital assistants like Siri and Alexa.
“Astro is an intelligent automation assistant,” said Suneet Dua, U.S. chief product officer at PwC. “We are a firm with 1,600 systems all over the U.S. The goal was to aggregate those tasks. If you think about it, most of you have a system at home that you ask questions like what’s the weather or what’s for dinner? Those systems at home have an open scope. They don’t know what you’re going to ask. They have to figure it out. But in the enterprise the way we look at it is we think it’s an open book exam. I know the questions that my partners and my staff are asking every day. I know where the data exists because there are other people giving them that data, whether it’s invoicing, billing, calendar management, sales. You just go through our back-office and front-office systems. The goal was to get those answers in seconds. We’ve been live for a year, and 21,000 people are on this. We have about 250,000 ‘intents,’ or questions to the system.”
Another new product is FranSuite, a digital marketing platform for franchise businesses that helps them create, monitor and optimize their digital advertising campaigns across various channels to improve brand consistency and digital marketing. Users can view performance data in one dashboard to identify and optimize their local advertising campaigns, and then share best practices and analytics across the network. Greeting visitors to the event was Code-e (shown below), a talking robot.
The main focus at the firm is improving audit technology, and PwC has developed a digital fitness app to help auditors and other staff members improve their technology skills through their mobile devices. “Over time, what’s happening is you’re really changing the day-to-day life of an auditor,” said Sherri Guidone, U.S. assurance technology leader at PwC. “They’re spending a lot less time on those routine tasks and we’re bringing them up to do the human things that we need them to do that the machine is not good at. When you look at what we’ve done with digital accelerators, we’re upskilling all of our people through digital academies, through our amazing digital fitness app, which allows you to assess your current digital acumen and actually learn with learning that’s embedded in the app. As things change and emerging technologies continue to evolve, we can very easily deliver new content to keep our people up to date through the digital fitness app, which is of course mobile. What we’re really doing is democratizing innovation. We’re not just building industrial, enterprise-wide products at the center, which are really important, but we’re also democratizing innovation where our people can solve unique problems on a one-off basis for a particular client’s circumstances.”
Bricker noted that PwC is giving staff dedicated learning days where they can improve their technology skills. “It’s the assurance practice as an entire line of business dedicating a day to learning, protecting that time for all of our people to learn,” he said. “That’s a substantial business decision, reflecting the culture and the emphasis that we have on learning and upskilling and innovation going forward. These are technologies that bring together the best of our people, and the best of our machines. But working together, it creates a much better experience, a much higher level of quality, and ultimately advances our pursuit of our purpose, which is building trust and solving problems.”