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PwC continues to evolve

  • The professional services firm is now pushing into a market where it’s competing with Northern Ireland’s many technology startups and innovative businesses for the best talent. 

    PwC’s clients are demanding different services, led by humans and powered by technology, and PwC’s approach is changing response. Businesses are under pressure to transform complex business processes to remove structural cost, radically improve customer experience and digitise faster than ever before - which is where PwC comes in.  

    PwC’s Merchant Square office, which opened in the summer of 2021 in Belfast city centre, is home mostly to staff from its Operate business. This is the fastest-growing part of the professional services firm, which deals with clients’ operational and technical needs so, for instance, they stay ahead of regulation change or implement transformation. 

    Dominic Mac, PwC Operate’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), heads up its Operate Digital unit: “We work with some of the most recognisable organisations worldwide - we deliver managed solutions as well as transforming and running complex operational processes that many businesses don’t have the skills or capacity for in their day-to-day."

    “To do that, we harness the power of tech and data, and our newly established Office of the CTO shapes the strategy and identifies transformation opportunities. We’re growing the part of our business in new areas that we’re seeing emerging demand such as in cloud, in application managed services, in ongoing testing and also in data and analytics as a service. And then we have ARC.” 

    Last summer, PwC Operate launched its Advanced Research and Engineering Centre (ARC) in Belfast. This £40m initiative saw PwC join forces with Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast, and is being part-funded by Invest NI. The idea? To fuse the best innovative minds in the country with a business imperative to create solutions for the needs of PwC’s clients into the next decade and beyond. 

    The ARC team is already 60 strong, with 100 expected on board by the end of the year.  

    “ARC is a critical component for where we need to be,” adds Dom. “Through our software engineering excellence, we’re building technologies that enable us to be more efficient and effective operationally, be they propositions themselves or the technology component of new propositions in Execution Managed Services and in the cloud space.” 

    Ian McConnell, PwC Operate’s lead partner, is confident that ARC’s collaboration between business, academia and government will prove fruitful and that Northern Ireland is the perfect place for this new approach. The investment will create 771 new technology and operational jobs as well as a further 38 university research posts by 2026. 

    “Our goal is to turn amazing ideas into technology that’ll solve complex business problems into the next decade and beyond,” he explains. “We’re creating a team of engineers and technologists who’ll work within a bigger innovation ecosystem to help our clients take giant leaps, rather than incremental steps. 

    “Opening this centre is a huge statement of confidence from PwC UK’s Executive Board in our Operate business and our local talent in Northern Ireland. The strength of our people has already enabled us to turn Operate into PwC’s fastest-growing division and I’m very proud that this gives us the opportunity to create hundreds more highly skilled jobs in Northern Ireland.” 

    PwC Operate recently signed the contracts with Ulster and Queen’s universities to formalise their alliance. The first visible move will be for PwC to open a space at Ulster’s Magee Campus in Derry/Londonderry, which will house a small but growing team from ARC. There, the ARC team will be co-located with university postgraduates working on research projects that feed into the software engineering function of ARC. 

    Ian adds: “Having a presence in the northwest is an important step for us. ARC will continue to be based in our Merchant Square HQ in Belfast, but we’re keen to recruit from as wide a talent pool as possible. To be able to offer opportunities to people across this country is something very close to my heart and I believe fundamental to the success of this initiative.” 

    But it’s not just in Operate that PwC is innovating in Northern Ireland to meet the needs of clients. It is taking the fight to online criminals: our team is offering clients protection from phishing and cyber threats, including ransomware - one of the biggest threats to business today.  

    The team supported the response of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), the organisation responsible for managing billions of euros of EU funding into Northern Ireland, to a malicious cyber attack. In another incident, within seven minutes we stopped a novel cyber attack on several of our Managed Cyber Defence (MCD) clients. MCD combines real-time threat intelligence and accurate detection with rapid-reaction response and recovery support. 

    “Cyber is a broad topic - you must successfully defend against an attack all of the time, whereas the attackers only need to be successful once,” explains Ronan Magee, Director of Forensic Services at PwC in Belfast. “Reputationally, operationally and financially this can be very damaging. It’s about having a good cyber ‘posture’ - pre-planning for an attack, testing those plans and being aware. Businesses may consider these things, but without action it can be too late.” 

    Aside from cyber threats, businesses have turned to PwC’s expertise in data analytics in Northern Ireland to ease some of their burdens and improve how they work. 

    PwC is helping an infrastructure business to make better informed asset-management and safety-related business decisions by providing a service to automate a series of manually prepared corporate and regulatory reports. 

    This has involved technical build of the reports and data platform, alongside testing and handling the communication and business change. It is being delivered primarily out of the Belfast office, with support from a new team in Kolkata, India.   

    Technology senior manager Richard Thompson says: “The aim is to reduce the manual workload and streamline processes, as well as improving the standard of the client’s key asset management decisions that enable the safe, efficient and effective delivery of services.” 

    PwC in Northern Ireland is staying ahead of the needs of clients, ensuring that as it innovates with technology it is evolving as a business to deliver services that not even 20 years ago would have been on its - or its clients’ - agenda.  

    This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download your FREE copy and sign up to receive future digital editions here.

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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