Deloitte CTO Mary Hensher: Agnosticism is the future

Each week we ask chief technology officers (CTOs) and other high-profile tech decision-makers three questions.

Image caption Mary Hensher

This week, Mary Hensher, CTO of Deloitte UK is providing the answers.

The company is the largest private professional services organisation in the world. Deloitte has approximately 170,000 staff at work in more than 150 countries, delivering audit, tax, consulting, enterprise risk and financial advisory services through its member firms.

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

I think the biggest technology issue that we have is balancing the huge amount of mobility we have amongst our people, with their security and the security of the data that they're responsible for.

Our employees are coming and going all the time, and they're putting virtual teams to work on particular client issues to act on their client's behalf.

They need to operate as effectively as possible. But while they're doing that, they want the technology to be as easy to use and collaborative as possible, while dealing with data which belongs to our clients which is sensitive.

They're dealing with intellectual property and data that has to be handled, protected and compliant with different, sometimes challenging data privacy laws and regulation in different countries.

So the actual challenge of making the technology as easy for people to use as possible, while protecting everything they're doing with it and making it secure is potentially a nightmare.

But a problem is always an opportunity, isn't it, so you do sort of turn that around and say, well, we're going to be successful as an organisation if we do that.

So we do try to empower teams to make the technology easy to use, but at the same time secure. They're not happy bed-fellows those two things. So an organisation like ours has to really establish where to draw the line.

The most secure you can be is nailing everything down, and then nobody would actually do anything or go anywhere, and that's not the world we live in.

So it's always going to be a balance. Striking that balance I think is the biggest technology issue we have in an organisation like ours.

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

I bet you if you ask most technologists they'll say, quite rightly, the two Cs - cloud and consumerisation.

Well for me those are not next, they're now. Those things are absolutely on the agenda, but they're on today's agenda.

I think the next big thing is the consequence of consumerisation, which is agnosticism. What I mean by that is people being able to operate effectively as a global brand everywhere, everyone in all sorts of different situations without caring about what they're using.

Because everything they're using is connected to some very secure central hub. This protects all their data, and it doesn't really matter any more or it won't matter - I'm projecting this into the future - it should not matter then to an organisation, or to me in a CTO/CIO role what people have got in front of them, whether it's a laptop or an iPod or a smartphone or the screen on the bottom of their fridge.

We're not there yet, but that's where I think we head next.

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

From a technical point of view I think you don't get to the position of CTO without having a whole series of battle scars and baggage that have got you to where you are.

People rely on your advice warts and all. So I would say you haven't really done the job properly unless you've made a lot of mistakes along the way. You learn from your mistakes more than you learn from your successes, because they're scrutinised more heavily. There's a reason why projects have post mortems. It does really imply that you're picking up the negatives rather than the champagne.

The thing I would have done differently in a technical respect is - it's very easy to develop software from the highest common denominator rather than the lowest. Meaning you develop it in very well-connected bunkers, with very state of the art laptops and machines.

Whereas the people you're actually wanting to use it are not in those situations. It's a bit like size zero models modelling clothes you aspire to, but actually they need to be redesigned for real women.

The human one is obviously email has been a huge prevalent part of peoples lives.

But people get into a lot of trouble, and I have in the past for putting things in email messages, that you don't realise are going to offend someone, because they are not accompanied by tone of voice or body language. That's why half the problems break out on internet blogs. It's simply because you don't see and hear the tone in which people are saying things.

I have more than once in my past - I don't do it now obviously - had to replay to myself what I put in an email because the person the other end who's receiving it can't hear you.

And so you really have to put yourself in the recipient's shoes. And being a linguist - my background is in modern languages - it really brought home to me that that kind of thing can really not help relationships, especially when a lot of people you're managing and dealing with are remote from you.

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