‘Businesses will need to make investments to not only thrive, but ensure survival’

17 Jul 2020

Peter Weston, IT director of Mazars. Image: Sharp Pix

Peter Weston, IT director of Mazars, talks about the challenges of keeping communication open between staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since 2015, Peter Weston has served as IT director of professional services firm Mazars in Ireland. Prior to this, he held IT manager positions at Chill Insurance, AA Ireland and Woodchester Bank.

Here, he discusses how Mazars has responded to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and what tech decisions businesses will need to make in order to survive in this ‘new normal’.

‘Digital transformation is key to the evolution of any business and it needs to be closely aligned with the firm’s strategy’

Describe your own role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

My role is primarily to educate and inform where technology can be used to make our business function more efficiently as well as aid individuals and teams in developing their services to clients. I also work to deliver flexible IT infrastructure that ensures data protection and cybersecurity, two increasingly important aspects of my role.

Covid-19 has had a profound impact on businesses of all sizes and sectors, which we are seeing through our work since mid-March. Our business was already a mobile one with Citrix deployed across the firm, so the move to working out of the office was reasonably seamless for us.

Our biggest challenges were maintaining communication amongst our staff teams and interacting with our clients. Video-conference tools were invaluable in this regard, but are dependent on local broadband availability.

We addressed this using mobile broadband alternatives, advising staff on how they could maximise their home office set-up and, as a last resort, using a team that visited homes and changed the set-up to make it optimal, taking into account social distancing of course.

Are you spearheading any major product/IT initiatives you can tell us about?

A significant focus for us as a business has been internal communications and collaboration, and the integration of supporting technologies. As a professional services firm with locations in Dublin, Limerick, Galway and a broader international network, seamless and secure connectivity is important.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made this requirement even more acute. Flexible working in areas such as Microsoft Teams, Citrix and document management systems has been a key focus over the past 12 months. We are also progressing a number of data analytics projects for client activities.

Our ongoing operational effectiveness during the pandemic is crucial and after the initial lockdown we quickly returned to ‘business as usual’. But we are also keeping an eye on what is required of our systems as people begin to return to work, and the firm embraces the ‘new normal’. It is essential that we continue to meet the needs of our Mazars teams and our clients while also addressing our IT development roadmap.

How big is your team? Do you outsource where possible?

We have a small core team, so we do outsource certain specialist functions. As such, procurement of these services is an important activity and we are very focused on accreditation as a starting point when you consider the roles of data processors and other considerations.

While we do keep project management and desktop support in-house for immediate responsiveness, we find that outsourcing is a great way to access talent and specific skillsets that don’t merit a full resource in the team. Covid-19 has been a good test for these outsource companies and we have been accessing their performance during lockdown.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?

Digital transformation is key to the evolution of any business and it needs to be closely aligned with the firm’s strategy. Whatever the type of transformation we are pursuing, they all have communication and collaboration at their core and Covid-19 has presented some challenges in this regard for many firms.

Any reactive decisions to the changes in business processes or models that the pandemic has brought need to be managed and considered very carefully to ensure they don’t deviate from the overall firm strategy. While the Mazars business is flexible and responsive due to our inbuilt processes and systems architecture, for many businesses they will potentially need to make decisions and investments they had not considered to not only thrive but to ensure their survival.

Any business that, up to now, did not have a significant remote working model or online presence will need to seriously consider the future direction of their business and the new needs of their staff and customers.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

AI, robotic process automation and data analytics as emerging technologies are well accepted regarding digital transformation. While the professional services are traditionally not viewed as leaders of innovation, we are seeing these technologies as being more and more relevant to clients and how our teams deliver.

Cloud accounting is a great opportunity for our teams and clients; machine learning that streamlines transaction processes and blockchain that facilitates diversified global networks is potentially transformative. Blockchain is an important one regarding enhanced security, an area that I see becoming more prevalent in line with emerging global threats.

This and a general consideration for how we manage our data in the future was one of the reasons that we at Mazars Ireland moved to Citrix.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

Aside from an appropriate technical solution and consideration of emerging technologies such as blockchain, I believe that training and robust processes are key to security. The digitalisation of data has made it more accessible, but arguably more vulnerable, thus security needs to be adaptive which makes the user more important than ever.

This is particularly important when you consider how people’s ways of working are changing; a change that was ongoing before the pandemic but has now been accelerated for many. Data and documents are no longer physically stored in a central location.

We work on the basis that data should never leave our grasp thus access authentication and clear audit trails are very important. This blend of security, oversight and accountability has enabled our teams to adapt to the needs of clients and indeed unprecedented challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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