Mary Hensher, CIO for professional services firm Deloitte in the UK, is refreshingly straightforward about the role of IT in an organisation. “My job is constantly reviewing the firm’s IT cost base, and building on business continuity plans and security,” she says. But when it comes to new ideas and implementing strategic business models she believes the CIO has a central role to play.
“Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas, and the CIO is often in a central position where they have a broader sight of where business processes need to be improved, than other senior executives,” she says. “The CIO should be ideally placed to harness the creative ideas from the best people in their business and bring them together to create efficient business models.
Hensher’s rise to the top of Deloitte began with what at the time was quite a conventional career path. In the 1980s large numbers of programmers were needed by business, and many people with language skills went into it, especially women. “It was a logical route into IT at the time, but now it doesn’t happen so much because programming is much easier,” she says. Hensher was a languages graduate, studying French and Russian at Cambridge. As well as her three-year degree she completed a numeracy course covering maths and computer skills aimed at arts graduates. “This sparked my interest in computing, and I went on to become a trainee programmer at KPMG.”
She thinks the languages route into IT was a good one, and doesn’t believe IT degrees are really worth that much in the real world. “IT is not about programming now, that viewpoint has to be modernised. It is about how many things can you do at once. It is a specialist skill and is not about technology, it is about people.”
Hensher left KPMG in 1999 to move to Deloitte as IT director. By 2002 she was leading the IT integration of 3,500 Andersen partners and employees into the firm, joining Deloitte’s 6,500 people and IT systems literally overnight, including the IT departments of both firms.
Deloitte is one of the UK’s leading professional services firms, providing audit, tax, consulting and corporate finance services. It is run as a partnership, with around 600 partners in the UK firm, 10 per cent of whom are women. It is also a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (DTT), where each member firm is a separate and independent legal entity.
Member firm clients include more than 80 per cent of the world’s largest companies, as well as large national enterprises, public institutions, locally important clients and successful, fast-growing global companies. In 2007 aggregate member firm revenues exceeded £11.8 billion, an increase of 15.5 per cent over 2006.
Recent investments in IT strategies have been very important for the firm, and three years ago it successfully completed what Hensher described as a ‘complex’ full SAP implementation of Deloitte’s practice management. She used the firm’s own consultants on the project, together with the IT team to implement it and to train staff. Last year the firm was concentrating on restructuring the way it works. No small task for an organisation that has so many mobile workers and that operates in a fiercely competitive arena like professional services.
Hensher enjoys the intellectual challenge that working in IT presents in this environment, and believes the IT profession needs to be more proactive about what it does, and about the difference technology makes to an organisation. “IT is very challenging intellectually, but it is not perceived that way. We need to change that perception to get more people into the arena, and to allow IT to enable business process change.”
She thinks the industry needs to raise awareness of technology from the consumer point of view to make it more interesting. “IT is not really recognised behind the scenes. Systems are very complicated things, and that is where we need technical experts. It is these complex skills that will help with serious issues like, for example ID fraud. It is the computer architecture and skills around it that can solve these type of problems.”
To make technology easy to use requires great skill, she says. “There are of course a bunch of bunker people there who use more skill in protecting systems, than the people who want to wreak havoc,” Hensher says. “To make it easy at the front end, requires very specialist skills.”
As one of few female CIOs in the UK, Hensher is a great role model for women, but believes that it is achieving a balance of genders that is the important key for the industry. “It needs to be a two way-street, with equality for men and women, and this situation is not unique to the IT profession,” she says. “However, IT is a male dominated environment and those with families are at a disadvantage. I still feel there has to be more flexibility. IT is not a great atmosphere for those with families and women with children are constantly having to compromise. But women who do have families also have a responsibility to lead, and set precedents.”
CIO CV: Mary Hensher
Mary Hensher is a member of Deloitte’s global IT management body, the CIO Council
2003 CIO for professional services firm Deloitte, in the UK.
2003 Became a partner in Deloitte
2002 Hensher led the IT integration of 3,500 Andersen partners and employees into the firm, joining Deloitte’s 6,500 people and IT systems, including the IT departments of both firms
1999 Joined Deloitte as IT director
Started her career as a programmer, moving on to transforming and managing customer services and training departments, major project management and some consulting work at KPMG.
She believes there are a range of reasons for the dearth of women in the IT profession, and cites the games market as one of the possible causes. “If you look at the games market, most have been designed for boys – there are finally some girl specific games coming on to the market, and the social networking that is going on now has many women in it, but the lack of interest stems from early on. The e-Skills programme is doing good work, taking youngsters on to the job and training them. But it is noticeable how few girls there are – they are just not interested.”
On the lack of women in the IT work pool Hensher thinks the rot starts at school level. “Girls have no sense of the technology, they just use a computer,” she says. “The best skill I ever learnt was to touch type, and to learn to use a keyboard.
“IT is very creative, but isn’t seen like that, especially by girls leaving school. From mapping the air quality outside to creating movies using IT, it is about getting the right hooks, so they understand what is possible, and can see a career ahead that will really inspire them.”
At her rank in the firm there is no gender pay differentiation because Deloitte uses a partner system. But she thinks that further down in management across different industries women are not moving as fast as men. “There does need to be some sort of diversity agenda across the board. It goes both ways too. For example, 100 per cent of secretaries are women – where are the men in that profession? It is a similar thing.”
Hensher thinks that women are also at a disadvantage in getting to the top because many find it more difficult to be mobile. “They tend to have more ties, whether children or looking after older family members, so the global opportunities to move up that do exist are more difficult for them to take advantage of.”
Deloitte’s people are a very mobile workforce, and in the highly competitive market the firm operates in, they require the very best tools to be able to carry out their work. This obviously has a significant impact to the IT agenda. “We want to enable our people to carry their office in their pockets,” Hensher comments. “That way they can spend more time with our clients.” As a professional services organisation the firm is in the enviable position of being able to, as Hensher puts it “eat its own dog food”. So its own highly skilled technical team is able to work with the consulting team, which implements projects for clients and has in-depth change management experience.
This change management expertise has been key to the successful restructuring the firm carried out last year. The London campus, where 6,000 people work, was transformed to accommodate hot-desking, that works in conjunction with the mobile workforce. It was also critical for the document and archiving standardisation and management changes it has implemented in the last couple of years. The firm was striving to improve staff’s workflow performance through changes in document management, as well as complying with new regulatory procedures.
Changes in personal working patterns and in the way the organisation operates are, of course, being enabled by IT, and helping the firm to focus on its green agenda. Deloitte, like most other high-profile organisations, has been increasing the focus on its green credentials. This has included increasing it’s recycling, and the use of audio and video conferencing to cut down travelling. Hensher believes that IT professionals have a great role to play in the corporate ‘green agenda’, because IT can be a user and an abuser of the world’s resources, especially energy.
She also believes that innovations from manufacturers will be important to reducing energy use, with improvements to energy efficient screens and components, and computers that require less power to run becoming even more essential.
Enabling an organisation to implement its green agenda is a great example of the central role that Hensher believes IT now plays. IT’s place in an organisation means that can be more effective for CIOs to head up enterprise-wide initiatives than anyone else in an organisation. “The CIO is responsible for many of the building blocks and foundations on which business activity is based, and their role is to make sure those foundations are fit to serve the business now and in any of its future guises,” she says.