Returning to the firm’s evolving Technology & Digital function

It’s an exciting time to be at McKinsey, as we continue to have a positive impact on major world issues, like COVID-19 and sustainability, and tech is at the forefront of this impact. We look at digital through a business lens, as a new capability that allows us to reimagine what we’ve been doing for decades, which is helping our clients make substantial, lasting impact while attracting outstanding talent.

Building a knowledge database

At McKinsey, our people and their expertise are our greatest assets. While we have a central knowledge database that helps us effectively bring the right people to every client and internal project, we’re examining how we can expand that to include a variety of formats including audio and video, code snippets, and data sets. In a large, global firm like McKinsey, we run the risk of not being able to effectively tap into the breadth of our colleague’s expertise without proper systems to curate and search. Our digital colleagues are helping us overcome those data challenges.

Our data is held in relational and graph databases with excellent tagging and semantic search capabilities, and we use AI and machine learning to further our cognitive capabilities. But the technology doesn’t improve the client and employee experience, the data does. When you can’t find the answers you need, it is because we have not properly codified or tagged the data and we have not enabled the right search and retrieval capabilities.

We’re combatting this challenge by focusing on four areas. First, hiring the right people who understand the value and relevance data bring to our clients and colleagues. Second, is understanding what data are most important to our customer experience.

Third, we’re using AI, machine learning and other tools to augment human curation to make it a really great experience. We encourage people to take ownership of their data, so the knowledge stays as close as possible to the actual expertise, but we are not there yet. The more we can pre-populate that information from other sources, the easier we can make it for people to refine it.

Last, we’re providing the right architecture to support a data-driven organization. We have moved away from high-rise architecture where everything is in a massive enterprise resource planning system, in favor of a low-rise architecture with application programming interfaces and add-ins to connect different data sources and third-party apps for specific capabilities.

Rethinking IT

Four years ago, we renamed IT at McKinsey; it’s now Technology & Digital. The name reminds us of the importance of digital. This symbolic action is important to supporting our message of change.

As a leadership team, we want IT people to adopt user-centric design. Historically, technology groups have considered deploying technology as their only goal, but our perspective is that our job is not done until we’ve got the right people in the right numbers adopting the new capability. This means a new mindset for people, and hiring the best talent to role model and reinforce those mindsets.

By increasing the transparency between Technology & Digital and the rest of the firm in terms of backlogs, priorities, objectives, key results, and financials, we can build trust and collaboration, which in turn helps guide IT teams with decisions that advance our stakeholders’ goals.

For example, we recently upgraded our expenses application to provide better mobile capability for processing receipts, which was complex because expense rules vary by country and region. We wanted to roll out quickly because our main focus was improving the employee experience, so that meant not waiting to integrate all the existing capabilities, such as a fraud detection tool. Rather than wait, we agreed with our finance function to build in functionality gradually. In short, we reduced the application’s functionality at launch in favor of the user experience.

Looking forward

I first joined the firm in 1992 as an experienced professional on the consulting side and left in 1997 to become chief information officer of a large insurance broker. Sixteen years and three CIO roles later, I rejoined McKinsey as global CIO.

When I arrived, the firm’s IT function reported to the CFO, and hence was seen as a cost to contain. A year into my tenure, we changed the reporting line into a dedicated technology capability, and have continued to push IT to the front lines of client service.

Technology & Digital at McKinsey has come a long way in the last six years. Previously, we thought our job was to develop high-quality code. Now, we’ve realized that is important, but not sufficient. We also need to accomplish great user design, adoption and stakeholder education.

So many exciting things are happening in Technology & Digital. Our AI studio is doing great work, and testing what we need to use AI and machine learning capabilities at scale. We’re shifting to an agile way of working, helping provide our people with wider career choices, and empowering them in their day-to-day work. We’re also hiring talented technologists in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, exhibiting the firm-wide commitment to investing in tech.

McKinsey is a people-centered organization that wants you to grow and develop–in fact, it’s part of our overall mission. I returned in 2013 for a few reasons: the people I had met here, because I hoped to make a difference with McKinsey as my client, and the values I experienced as a consultant. I’ve met a new class of exceptional people and have not regretted my return for a single minute.

Find a Technology & Digital role

More about Mike

Mike is global CIO of McKinsey. He was a consultant at McKinsey from 1992-1997, information technology director for Willis Group Limited and Fidelity International Limited, and global head of technology for Man Group PLC before returning to McKinsey in 2013. Mike earned his master’s in biochemistry at Oxford University.

Based in London, Mike loves to travel and is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Outside of work he enjoys spending time with his family, playing tennis, skiing and scuba diving, and is a second class diver and instructor with the British Sub Aqua clubs.

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