Sha Ali, principal advisor in KPMG’s Tech Solutions team, won The Times Award for Consultant of the Year 2014 at the MCA Awards. Sha devised a revolutionary new way to deal with customer claims which has saved one of KPMG’s clients a huge amount of time and resources. The new approach has been submitted for what is KPMG’s second only ever patent application.
Congratulations on your success at this year’s MCA Awards. Can you tell us a bit more about the patent and how it came about?
It took about a year to fully come up with the idea, but when you have that eureka moment you kick yourself and think why I didn’t do that before.
The patent came about from struggling with the usual technical issues generic to Business Process Management (BPM) applications. Typically when you develop software it takes several months to create and test, meanwhile requirements change so you are always one step behind.
By cutting out the developer from the process you go from the idea to the final product in a much shorter period of time. The patent reads the information and basically creates the software for the business user getting rid of the need for the developer.
Typical BPM deployments are about 12-16 weeks for a short piece of work and we have been able to cut this to 3-4 weeks.
How were you able to convince the client to go ahead and use a system that had never previously been used?
Our confidence in the product was a key factor. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) had just increased the process for interest rate derivatives from 13 steps to 56 steps giving our clients only 4 weeks to go live. They didn’t think they could build a system in that time. The team and I had just developed the product in beta and thought we could do it in the time frame given. We asked them to trust us and, although it may have looked impossible from the outside, because we had delivered before they believed in us.
We actually did the development of the whole process, all 56 steps, in 4 days. The rest of the time we spent testing. It would have taken normal BPM software 4-8 weeks at least.
One of the things you were recognised for as The Times Consultant of the Year was your leadership skills. How do you become a good leader in consulting?
To be a good leader you have to have credibility. I have depth in my area; I love computing, I did computer science, I think, dream and work in computing all day every day. Credibility alone doesn’t necessarily mean someone is a good leader but it gives them the authority to lead.
Once you have stepped up you have to have a persona which exudes confidence in the impossible. You must always project that it can be done because if you ever display any inkling of worry, then the whole team will magnify that emotion and won’t deliver. So keep it cool and make sure your project is going to get done.
You also need to develop an environment of trust. You must always communicate with people honestly; if you don’t have that in your team then it is dysfunctional.
And most importantly you must deliver results.
Despite being a technology consultant you often choose to steer away from email. Why is this?
When it comes to discussion and debates email is not a good form of communication. There are too many people who use it as a means of abstraction. We work in a single room and we have some satellite areas so there is no need to send an email, just come and talk to me. If you trust each other you do not need to cover your back by sending an email.
Clearly there will be somethings you will want to record which will require email but you don’t want to hold discussions via email because it is not the appropriate form. I would rather just call someone.
How do you keep up-to-date with changes in the technology industry?
There is no faking knowledge, you just have to bite the bullet and make sure you read, stay interested and stay current.
I also get out there and meet people. We have great networks at KPMG but I take time to go to conferences, meet other people in the industry and find out what is new.
What challenges are management consultants facing in the technology industries?
The business environment is changing much faster than it was previously. The cycles are tighter and businesses are more aware of their reliance on technology to keep up to speed with competitors.
Today, if you look at the number of disruptive technologies that are coming through, businesses are finding it very difficult to reshape to new environments. You’ll have conglomerate companies that have been built and grown from mergers and acquisitions with several systems for whom change can be tricky. All of a sudden they have competitors who are much more agile, who don’t have a legacy and can quickly come along with a much better system. This is a real complex challenge for technology consultants.
You have done a lot of technology work in Africa, what have you learnt from these experiences?
Those two years have really shaped how I view the world. Africa is booming and has a lot of business to be done. It is a prime time to invest because the supply of services like consulting and technology are far shorter than the demand.
In Nigeria and Ghana there is huge demand for consultancy and technology services but there is not the quality on the ground because people feel it is not safe. I have found Africa to be very safe and welcoming. The food is great and the weather is great so for me there was no down side. I would highly recommend it.
You have been in consulting for 12 years. What advice would you give a young consultant?
Don’t be afraid of doing the hard stuff. You’ve got to take the bull by the horns and get some deep knowledge in one thing at least. Being very light across the top and knowing a little about everything is good but people are looking for advice from the experts.
What does the rest of 2014 hold for you?
We are doing a lot of development work on the patent. It’s going to move from a cloud based service to an application that clients can buy and install in their own environment. Giving the control to our clients is a radical shift, it will be a lot of work but that’s what we are here to do.