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Mere data & analysis doesn’t cut it. Clients want solutions.

Technological developments and innovative applications are moving at breakneck speed. Now more than ever it’s imperative to keep changing, both at clients and at EY. “We constantly explore how we can leverage technology even more smartly to provide an even better service to our clients.” We are talking to Mohamed Bouker, FAAS BeNe Data & IT partner at EY, and to Simon van Ulden, former i3 founder and owner, and now EY partner about how EY innovates in its service provision.

Adding value to disruptive technologies
data at their disposal and are using this data ever more smartly. And so are we,” says Mohamed Bouker. “We too, use data analytics, but we take it a step further: we’re not just looking back but also ahead, with predictive data analytics. We provide new opportunities to our clients.

Our business-issue led, sector-relevant services help grow, optimize and protect value. We focus on the human element that is required to go from data to insights to action to value.”

Simon van Ulden observes: “Data analytics on its own doesn’t do much: clients want solutions and answers, are looking to improve their management information to become actionable and smart.” Data analytics helps EY to offer its clients precisely these services. Bouker also sees a change in EY services as a result: “Data analysis and smart use of technology enable us to assess companies faster and better – and throughout the year, as well. Take our audits: we’re now able to provide continue, real-time insight. If we spot an unusual transaction, for instance, we’ll tell clients as soon as it happens – no more waiting until the end of the year when one of us happens to stumble across it in a random check.”

But this isn’t just about audits.

“The possibilities are game-changing,”
Van Ulden says. “Take this one client we were analysing accounts payable and receivable for. The data we were tapping into also included lots of VAT information, so we called in one of our VAT colleagues, who immediately flagged a couple of issues. Without any explicit client instructions, we were able to point out that the client wasn’t making optimum use of VAT arrangements. […] And we can also track social media sentiment about a company, or investigate the impact of a sudden downturn in share prices.”

This use of data & analytics capabilities makes EY’s services both broader-ranging and more powerful.
Technological trends and developments have changed the work, but also made it more fun – especially for young people, as Bouker describes:

“They’ve had a different kind of schooling – they’re very adept at using the internet and a whole range of tools. If we want to be attractive as an employer to them, we’ll need to offer exciting work to fit the tools they’ve learned to work with when they were trained.” Up until now, new joiners would be put on less challenging jobs in the first couple of years of their careers. “But as we’ve automated a big chunk of the process, we’re left with more time to do the smart, intelligent work. And that appeals to young people, of course. Besides, innovation is just fun – it makes everyone happy.”

Collaborating with experienced specialists
Van Ulden observes that the field of business intelligence and advanced analytics is a massive growth market across the world. “The amount of data is increasing exponentially, and all processes in organizations are data-driven these days. Key drivers are big data, data analysis, business intelligence and predictive analytics. Because of the enormous speed of the developments, we’ve made a conscious decision to go down the acquisition route to lock in specialist knowledge.”

“We were looking for a player able to quickly accelerate in these areas and that was a good cultural fit with EY. A name with credentials. After all, clients really want us to be experienced at all this.” The name that fitted was i3. Bouker comments: “i3’s data & analytics specialists are incredibly valuable to EY’s service – and across the board: assurance, tax, advisory services or transaction advisory services, you name it.” Its collaboration with i3 has brought EY specialist knowledge that benefits the company on all fronts, whether we’re talking services to clients or improving EY’s own processes and making them more efficient.

Cube thinking
Putting the same data to use for different purposes – Bouker calls it ”cube thinking”: “We unlock data at our clients and look at it from a financial angle. But other angles are also possible: investigating potential fraud, VAT issues, supply chain management, and so on. That’s where it’s going. We constantly receive data from our clients, we constantly assess data and share our observations and advice with them. Van Ulden adds: “If our clients wish, we can automatically select and review all emails with purchasing agreements and link them to financial systems: invoices, purchasing contracts, purchasing orders and receipts. This helps us see whether or not our client has fully leveraged discounts agreed with suppliers, for example – at major companies we’re often talking serious money.” Obviously, this involves a lot more than just ”automate and conclude.” As Bouker puts it:

”We want to do much more to protect our clients from the risks they’re running – we’re talking risk, governance and compliance.
Risk is a very important theme. Clients want us to help them keep out of trouble. If entrepreneurs know what their clients buy, what they’ll buy tomorrow and the day after, they should be able to adjust their inventories accordingly and organize the costing of these inventories much better. If a company masters this, they’re in control. And we can help our clients get there.”

With i3 now in its stable, EY wants to stand out from the other players in its market. Van Ulden is confident: “I believe we have a very strong combine here.” Bouker believes that, previously, EY used to just flag issues, “But now we can resolve these issues, taking a comprehensive approach with our state-of-theart technology and in-depth business and sector knowledge.”

And this isn’t just happening in the Netherlands, either: “At the moment, we’re in Quatar,” Bouker reports, “where they wanted our best people on the interface of health care and technology – who we were able to send out within the week. Conversely, we draw just as much on expertise from other countries. Our best man in retail sector channeling has come to us from EY Germany.”

Closer to the client
Big data and other disruptive technologies are also changing the business model towards a more managed service framework. “i3 has built a whole infrastructure for this express purpose,” Van Ulden tells us. “One thing we offer to our clients is daily processing of their data as well as continuous monitoring to ensure all goes well – a clear SLA.” Bouker adds: “EY is busy setting up this service and we’re looking to cross borders while we’re at it – services are getting increasingly global, including 24/7 availability right now.

Funnily enough, our service isn’t becoming more remote as a result, as we’re constantly involved with our clients. In fact, we’re growing into trusted business advisors.”

For this vision to become a reality, clients will need to find their way to EY. As Bouker puts it: “We’ll have to make plain how we add value, what we stand out for. Clients have grown much more discerning and want to know what’s in it for them. And because we have accountants and other financial experts on board, we can break down for them – almost down to the last euro – how much our advice will bring in.”

Running marathons
Trying to work out the new reality is like reading tea leaves. Bouker is convinced uncertainty is here to stay and innovation is the new modus: “Ask me what 2019 will bring and we’re entering the realm of guesswork. The best we can do is a sketchy outline, our biggest challenge being to attract and retain talent. There’s a massive shortage of technology and ICT experts. Of course, we don’t want your bog-standard, average ICT person, we want the really smart people.

Meanwhile, we’re also seeking to attract people from completely different educational backgrounds, say industrial engineering, as we’re creating teams in whole new ways. What we want is specialists that excel at what they’re doing.”
“The sheer speed of these developments means always being in change mode. Stop and start may have been possible in the old days, but we’re now facing continuous marathons. So we need to make sure we stay healthy, take enough breaks and recharge. In fact, it’s more like a relay race: the next runner will have to run fast the minute you pass the baton. There’s no falling behind, it’s instant performance. It has to be, as we want to help our clients stay in control and become and remain the competitors of the future – we need to make them better and keep them out of trouble, that’s EY’s legacy,” van Ulden concludes.