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CIO interview - Dinkar Gupta of KPMG creates a culture for learning

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth April 23, 2024
Summary:
Digital leader prepares KPMG Switzerland for next generation of digital services with a culture that is focused on outcomes

An image of Dinkar Gupta, Chief Information and Technology Officer at KPMG Switzerland
(Image sourced via KPMG)

Technology professionals are one of the key foundations of today’s digital business models and need to be considered with the same consideration as other business professionals. Dinkar Gupta, Chief Information and Technology Officer at KPMG Switzerland, believes organizations that develop the right culture within their engineering teams will thrive, reduce risk and be able to respond to technology-led impacts on their market. 

Gupta joined the professional services firm KPMG Switzerland in November 2021 as both its CIO and CTO. He says of his role:

As CTO and CIO, I am leading firm-wide efforts to realize next generation digital business and operating models, technology strategy and governance, solution delivery, organizational change, talent transformation and emerging technology inspired innovation.

Central to this is developing the right culture in the organization for engineering excellence. His reason for this: 

They are a segment of our professionals whose footprint on your services and impact on your clients is increasing day by day.

Therefore Gupta is a keen advocate of psychological safety, business domain aligned teams, platform centricity and operational resilience in the organization. These methods, which are growing in popularity amongst digital leaders, empower teams to take greater responsibility and work with greater flexibility and trust - according to the evolving demands of the business, which he says leads to continued agility.

Organizations must undergo significant cultural change to make these methodologies work and become digital organizations with a resilient technology backbone. Gupta believes many organizations fail to realize that without a focus on experience for developers, their digital transformation will not succeed: 

Experience matters for everybody. So, when you build technology for teams developing digital business services, experience becomes central to the design of these technologies. Generally, nobody thinks that these teams are consumers experiencing your technology, whether it is through a platform or APIs, and how they deal with this during development. 

This is where things like developer experience, developer portals, platform tools, and API documentation become relevant. It is essentially about becoming a lot more helpful to the consumers (developers) of your technology.

As organizations increasingly operate within market ecosystems, Gupta’s point is a reminder that as a digital leader in 2024, you have to consider not only the developers directly employed by your organization, but also those of outsourced service providers and companies in your market, or adjacent markets, that need to connect into your systems in order for both organisations to deliver an outcome for a customer. If these experiences are poor, then Gupta says this will lead to poor quality of engineering and, therefore, poor business outcomes: 

With dependencies, developers often jump through hoops to get things done, and this will lead to them taking short cuts. So, if you are building technology, and it is not a good experience, you will not see it being utilized properly. Poor experience and friction will leak into the product or service. It is an adage that a happy employee equals a happy customer.

And with CEOs demanding digital leaders explore emerging technologies, the need for the right developer experience is more important than ever, according to Gupta: 

Look at AI; if you are not thinking in terms of experience, then there will be mistakes and sub-optimal quality - in data, infrastructure and models, so the quality of service at the front end will suffer.

The role of digital leaders will, therefore, change to adopt these new methodologies and cultures. With decision-making devolved to the teams, the role of digital leaders is focused on the north star, looking out for the well-being of teams, and breaking down barriers. All of which is a flattening of organizational structures: 

You need the right culture, and this is my job as the leader. When I am in the room, I’m just an enabling colleague. Hierarchy enforced authority is not something I am comfortable with. Authority is only needed when decision making requires an appropriate level of authority to unblock decisions for the team.

This is also where the impact of cognitive load, clarity of roles and understanding boundaries is important.

Reduced risk

Just days after Gupta and I met at Tech Show London, international fast food chain McDonalds and the UK’s two largest grocery retailers were hit with major technology outages. These incidents, and there were a number in 2023, give evidence to Gupta’s view on how important the digital systems and the culture of the organization towards these is. 

The KPMG Switzerland digital leader believes the new methodologies will create resilience, which reduces risk. He says: 

I always go back to the model of leadership that is not someone who is designated leader, but anyone on the team that is leading an effort. Leading is more important than ‘Leader’ and hence we should strive for creating leadership bandwidth with collective ownership.

This, he says, creates a high level of transparency so that everyone has a voice, and it is heard. Again, on challenge these existing models of hierarchy, he says: 

I’m not a big fan of the term ‘speak up’. As that term suggests, you must speak to someone who is a higher authority than you, so you are starting the conversation with your back against the wall, and you may be someone who needs help. I generally try to have an equal footing so that people can bring something out into the open and make bottlenecks or cybersecurity issues visible.

Gupta says he is inspired by the US military model of the three Cs: competence, character, and connection. Credibility is built on competence, and the connections are built on the strength of the character and the competence, he adds: 

The other aspect is the language that you use when you are trying to bring an issue to the table that you need help with. We can get the feeling that people are not trying to help, or they are avoiding the issue. They are not. They often don’t comprehend the language. Therefore, clarity of language is crucial and it helps build credibility. 

This in turn, will help the wider leadership community understand the risks of certain technology decisions, such as investment decisions, cuts, or strategies, he says: 

Some people say boards don’t understand digital. I do not agree. They do, but in the context of business impact, not technical details. Where we in technology have struggled is articulating values or risks in the right manner. These must be stated in business or operational language.

My take

Over the last three decades, it has been vital that everyone in the organization understands and works towards sales. Sales equal revenue, and those with a sales background or a good understanding of sales have become senior leaders. In the 2020s, engineering, particularly digital engineering, is the understanding that has become the vital business language and knowledge. 

Without good digital engineering, then no sales take place, as retailers Sainsbury’s, Tesco and McDonalds discovered during their outages. As vertical markets digitize, organizations are moving back to a product focus. Organizations with great products - products that are resilient and reliable - will succeed. As such, Gupta’s focus on the right culture and language is timely. 

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