Q&A with James Lee, Managing Director and Head of Financial Services, Analytics and Cloud Transformation at PwC

James Lee, Managing Director and Head of Financial Services, Analytics and Cloud Transformation at PwC, is a well-recognized management consulting leader and senior technology executive specializing in advising global financial services organizations on “cloud-first, data-driven” digital transformation with data and analytics, AI, and intelligent automation. He has over 20 years of strategy consulting and technology operation experience in North America, Asia, and Europe that spanned across various industries including insurance, banking, asset and wealth management, private equity, and telecommunications.

In my opinion, the most forward-thinking digital leaders usually excel at constantly instilling a digital-first mindset into their workforce and encouraging employees to cherish every “fail fast” lesson learned opportunity.



MEDIA 7: Can you please take us through your 20 years of strategy consulting and technology operation professional experience? Where did your career begin?
JAMES LEE:
My pleasure. I started my career as a software developer in Asia (after graduating with an engineering degree in Hong Kong) and then spent the next 20 years in North America in various management consulting and digital executive roles. For the past decade, I have been working at PwC with a sheer focus on growing multi-competency teams to assist our global financial services clients with driving data-driven innovations and operationalizing high-impact digital transformations. From a consulting career perspective, it has definitely been a rewarding experience over the years as I was fortunate enough to participate in many large-scale transformations with companies across the globe and met a lot of amazing people along the journey. As a trained engineer with years of strategy consulting experience in the financial services world, I found my diverse background (culture, academics, work, international exposure) has given me a balanced perspective in approaching corporate digital challenges by helping organizations better leverage the power of cloud, analytics and automation within the context of their business.


M7: What is PwC’s new global strategy, The New Equation, about? How does it address some of the major challenges in the world today?
JL:
The New Equation is our new PwC global strategy that responds to fundamental changes in the world, including technological disruption, climate change, fractured geopolitics, social tension, and the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It focuses on two interconnected needs clients face in the coming years:

Build Trust - to meet rising expectations of transparency and stakeholder engagement and

Deliver Sustained Outcomes - with an integrated and multidisciplinary approach that combine expertise in strategy, digital, data & cloud services, people & organization, ESG, cybersecurity, and AI.

Our firm will be making over US$12 billion investment over the next 5 years ($3 billion will be in the Asia Pacific to further expand business in this high growth region) with initial commitments including new ESG Centres of Excellence, Leadership Institutes, accelerated deployment of emerging technologies and increased investment to support audit quality and advisory capacity. As a result, we will be creating over 100,000 new jobs so it is definitely an exciting time to be in the professional services industry.


There have been increasingly pressing needs about ESG(especially the “E”) as evidenced by the recent United Nations IPCC report that the earth climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities.



M7: What are some of the successful digital and sustainable transformation strategies that you have implemented through your work at PwC?
JL:
For this question, I think it is very important to define what success means for a digital transformation journey and the answer certainly varies for different organizations. Yet from my years of experience helping global firms strategize and operationalize their digital transformation programs, there are a few key success factors in common and will continue to be crucial:

A top-down approach with clear and measurable goals: Digital transformation is not just another big project but instead a multi-year corporate journey that requires all management teams and staff to stick together to go through the ups and downs associated with the changes. Every successful digital transformation starts with a strongly supportive board with laser-focused strategic vision and an experienced, highly collaborative squad(s) that masters delivery execution with disciplined change management, outcomes-driven budgeting model, and agile-based implementation governance.

‘Employees-Led’, ‘Customer-Focused’, ‘Technology-Enabled’: I know it sounds a bit generic but these are golden rules/guiding principles a digital executive could always rely on to make sensible decisions during ambiguous situations in a transformation. Is this budget decision going to help to upskill our staff to promote the digital-first culture? Which 2 out of these 10 proposed digital servicing ideas will provide the most ‘distinctive’ customer experience? Does this seemingly cheaper or convenient technology option align with our “cloud-first, API-connected” strategy?

“Communicate, Celebrate and Communicate again”: ‘Transformation Fatigue’ is one of the biggest threats for any digital transformation. Over the years, I found the smartest digital leaders were always the ones who mastered the art of active communications and agile goal-based celebrations to continuously instill positive momentum to the organization throughout the transformation journey.

‘Data-driven’: Regardless of AI, IoT, or intelligent automation, data is the fuel that powers any high-speed digital transformation train. A solid enterprise data strategy and a secure cloud data platform are fundamental to every successful digital transformation.

‘Digital (& Sustainable) Transformation’: As ESG is gaining more attention in the boardroom, I am seeing more and more corporate digital innovators leveraging emerging technologies to try to improve their ESG outcomes. From the early digital age of automating manual, paper-based processes with RPA and OCR technologies to more recently using AI, 5G, and augmented reality to facilitate remote work to minimize air travel (oil fuel is a major source of carbon emission), I can foresee a growing trend that companies will increasingly integrate ESG factors into their digital transformation agenda to drive sustainability benefits.


M7: What do you see as the most noticeable change right now happening in the workforce, encouraged by the rise of digital technologies?
JL:
This is a great question. I was recently invited to speak at a global digital banking summit with a few fellow C-level panelists and it is interesting that we all shared similar observations regarding some of the implications for the workforce:

The importance of “Thinking Digital, not just Being Digital”: Digital technologies bring inevitable changes to operation as well as a business model but still many companies didn’t do enough to evolve their corporate culture and business processes (“Excel is still my best friend regardless!”) after having invested millions in technology infrastructure. In my opinion, the most forward-thinking digital leaders usually excel at constantly instilling a digital-first mindset into their workforce and encouraging employees to cherish every “fail fast” lesson learned opportunity.

Upskilling in data literacy and risk governance awareness: For most companies, the primary objectives of digital transformation are to improve customer experience or time to market for products and services. While capitalizing on these benefits as part of what I called the offensive aspects of a transformation, corporations should not overlook the flip side of the coin which are the defensive duties to mitigate risks associated with the use of emerging technologies. Are your AI algorithms making decisions that align with your company’s values? How is your brand affected if you cannot explain how AI systems work to your customers and regulators? Do customers trust you with their data and did you provide adequate customer data protection training to your workforce? These are all legitimate questions that require business leaders to revisit their risk management plan and formulate an upskilling strategy for the workforce (e.g. curriculum to improve overall data and analytics literacy as well as risk governance awareness).


In this ever-changing digital world, we always emphasize to our clients the importance of upskilling so you can probably imagine most of us are vivid lifelong learners ourselves too.



M7: James, I understand you had a lot of experience helping financial services institutions with their ESG data management, analytics, and reporting needs. Would you be able to share your perspective in this space given this is such a hot topic in the industry?
JL:
Certainly. There have been increasingly pressing needs about ESG(especially the “E”) as evidenced by the recent United Nations IPCC report that the earth climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities. It is a sad reality but it could get worse if the slim chance remaining to stave off heating above 1.5C is not immediately addressed. It definitely requires stronger global collaborations and I think the financial services industry (as an allocator of capital) will continue to play a pivotal role in the following areas:

Sustainable Finance – promote sustainable economy through prioritizing financing decisions such as sustainability-linked loans, green bonds or carbon tax optimization,

Responsible Investment – promote ESG through thematic investing to achieve better risk-adjusted returns and value creation,

Climate Risk Analysis – mitigate climate-related operational risks (physical, transition) and achieve eco-efficiency by reducing the carbon footprint (e.g. through climate risk scenario analysis) and better managing other environmental risks (water, land, waste),

Resilient Supply Chain – transform supply chain with ESG considerations to enhance operational resilience.

From a data and AI strategy perspective, there are a few key ESG trends that I believe will continue to drive the acceleration of digital transformation in the financial services industry:

Mandatory ESG disclosure: While EU regulators were early movers in leading climate disclosures, other international financial hubs (e.g. Hong Kong Stock Exchange, London Stock Exchange) have already followed the footsteps to demand TCFD disclosures for listed companies. In addition, SEC has repeatedly expressed a new, heightened focus on disclosures about climate change. I think this compliance-driven wave will push more companies to revamp their data and reporting infrastructure to cope with the complexity of the 4Vs (volume/variety/veracity/velocity) associated with ESG data. For example, many companies are currently still using manual processes to collect internal ESG data (water consumption, carbon emissions, workforce demographics) and these data sources are usually scattered in disparate databases in various formats. Adding to the complexity of data collection is the need to bring in relevant (and material) external data sources and alternative datasets for ESG analysis.

Correlation of non-financial KPIs and financial performance: It is not uncommon these days CFOs are asked by an investor on an earning call about their firm‘s climate risk exposure or progress in diversity and inclusion. Indeed many ESG materiality assessments indicated that there are correlations between non-financial KPIs and the financial performance of a company. Given that ESG data has to be ‘Investor grade’ and audit-ready for disclosure purposes, I believe more companies will begin to incorporate ESG data and analytics into their digital finance transformation agenda by centralizing data on a cloud data lake coupled with an agile data governance process to enhance both data access and data quality.

Continuous monitoring of ESG performance: I think it is important to point out that the ultimate goal of ESG should not be just a series of sustainability reports for PR purposes. But rather an ability for companies to measure and report ESG progress in a timely manner and for investors and other stakeholders to be able to verify it with data. As I mentioned earlier, with the tightened regulatory requirements and increased complexity of ESG data, I think companies will continue to invest in emerging technologies to address the following ESG data and reporting challenges:

-      Ensure accuracy, agility, and data integrity of the relevant metrics.

-      Reduce the time and cost to prepare ESG disclosures.

-      Improve ESG industry ranking by actively monitoring sustainability KPIs to drive actionable insights.

This is an immense topic that I have a lot of passion about and can easily talk about for another hour with a beer (chuckles). If you are interested in learning more about potential ESG data and AI use cases pertaining to different sectors in financial services (insurance, asset and wealth management, banking, and capital market), I have published a few blog articles that you can easily find in my LinkedIn profile.


M7: This is the last question but it is an important one for our readers. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to the young people who are aspiring to pursue a successful management consulting career in digital transformation?
JL:
I would summarize into 4 key traits which I personally found are important for every management consultant: 

Listening: Management consulting is all about problem-solving for our clients. Regardless of how many world-class strategy frameworks or talented digital/data/cloud individuals a top-tier consulting firm possesses, these are all irrelevant if we don’t listen effectively to the unique challenges faced by each of our clients. Indeed the ultimate responsibility of our digital consulting practitioners is to help clients analyze their problems through active listening and then tailor a ‘fit for purpose’ digital solution approach through our global network of experienced professionals, strategic technology alliances, and intellectual assets.

Proactiveness: Management Consulting is a people business or more precisely a team sport that involves multiple stakeholders in the ecosystem: customers, employees, alliance partners, regulators, industry analysts, etc. I found almost every successful digital consulting leader has a highly proactive attitude and they never shies away from taking initiatives in their approach for innovations, stakeholders management, and professional networking,

Lifelong Learning: In this ever-changing digital world, we always emphasize to our clients the importance of upskilling so you can probably imagine most of us are vivid lifelong learners ourselves too. This trait usually goes side by side with ‘curiosity’ and I think, both are key characteristics for any individual who wants to pursue a sustainable management consulting career.

Empathy: This is my favorite one. As I mentioned before, management consulting is a professional team sport and stress management is an inevitable part of our work life. Throughout my global consulting career, I have assembled many cultural-diverse, multi-competency teams to cope with countless stressful client situations. I found ‘Empathy’ was always my best companion in those situations (for both clients and teams) and it was amazing that every time we were able to emerge as a more united and inclusive team with ever-stronger and trusted client relationships.

ABOUT PWC

With offices in 155 countries and more than 285,000 people, PwC is one of the leading professional services networks in the world that provides assurance, tax, and advisory services.

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SingleStore announces a compute service that works alongside SingleStore’s native Notebooks to let developers spin up GPUs and CPUs to run database-adjacent workloads including data preparation, ETL, third-party native application frameworks, etc. This capability brings compute to algorithms, rather than the other way around, enabling developers to build highly performant AI applications safely and securely using SingleStore — without unnecessary data movement. New CDC capabilities for data ingest and egress. To ease the burden and costs of moving data in and out of SingleStore, SingleStore is adding native capabilities for real-time Change Data Capture (CDC) in for MongoDB®, MySQL and ingestion from Apache Iceberg without requiring other third party CDC tools. SingleStore will also support CDC out capabilities that ease migrations and enable the use of SingleStore as a source for other applications and databases like data warehouses and lakehouses. SingleStore Kai™. Now generally available, and ready for both analytical and transactional processing for apps originally built on MongoDB. Announced in public preview in early 2023, SingleStore Kai is an API to deliver over 100x faster analytics on MongoDB® with no query changes or data transformations required. Today, SingleStore Kai supports BSON data format natively, has improved transactional performance, increased performance for arrays and offers industry-leading compatibility with MongoDB query language. Projections: To further advance as the world’s fastest HTAP database, SingleStore has added Projections. Projections allow developers to greatly speed up range filters and group by operations by introducing secondary sort and shard keys. Query performance improvements range from 2-3x or more, depending on the size of the table. With this latest release, SingleStore becomes the industry’s first and only real-time data platform designed for all applications, analytics and AI. SingleStore supports high-throughput ingest performance, ACID transactions and low-latency analytics; and structured, semi-structured (JSON, BSON, text) and unstructured data (vector embeddings of audio, video, images, PDFs, etc.). Finally, SingleStore’s data platform is designed not just with developers in mind, but also ML engineers, data engineers and data scientists. “Our new features and capabilities advance SingleStore’s mission of offering a real-time data platform for the next wave of gen AI and data applications,” said Nadeem Asghar, SVP, Product Management + Strategy at SingleStore. “New features, including vector search, Projections, Apache Iceberg, Scheduled Notebooks, autoscaling, GPU compute services, SingleStore Kai™, and the Free Shared Tier allow startups — as well as global enterprises — to quickly build and scale enterprise-grade real-time AI applications. We make data integration with third-party databases easy with both CDC in and CDC out support.” "Although generative AI, LLM, and vector search capabilities are early stage, they promise to deliver a richer data experience with translytical architecture," states the 2023 report, “Translytical Architecture 2.0 Evolves To Support Distributed, Multimodel, And AI Capabilities,” authored by Noel Yuhanna, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. "Generative AI and LLM can help democratize data through natural language query (NLQ), offering a ChatGPT-like interface. Also, vector storage and index can be leveraged to perform similarity searches to support data intelligence." SingleStore has been on a fast track leading innovation around generative AI. The company’s product evolution has been accompanied by high-momentum growth in customers and surpassing $100M in ARR late last year. SingleStore also recently ranked #2 in the emerging category of vector databases, and was recognized by TrustRadius as a top vector database in 2023. Finally, SingleStore was a winner of InfoWorld’s Technology of the year in the database category. To learn more about SingleStore visit here. About SingleStore SingleStore empowers the world’s leading organizations to build and scale modern applications using the only database that allows you to transact, analyze and contextualize data in real time. With streaming data ingestion, support for both transactions and analytics, horizontal scalability and hybrid vector search capabilities, SingleStore helps deliver 10-100x better performance at 1/3 the costs compared to legacy architectures. Hundreds of customers worldwide — including Fortune 500 companies and global data leaders — use SingleStore to power real-time applications and analytics. Learn more at singlestore.com. Follow us @SingleStoreDB on Twitter or visit www.singlestore.com.

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Business Strategy

Devo Security Data Platform Attains FedRAMP Authorization

Devo | January 09, 2024

Devo Technology, the security data analytics company, today announced that the Devo Security Data Platform received Authorization to Operate (ATO) at the Moderate level under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). The Devo Security Data Platform successfully completed FedRAMP's rigorous accreditation process, enabling federal agencies to secure their environments with a market-leading security information and event management (SIEM). Agencies and their partners can now leverage Devo to solve their toughest IT and security challenges with unparalleled visibility and a unified view of risk posture, security operations and the threat landscape. The demand to keep pace with rapidly evolving cyber threats at cloud speed and scale has never been higher for the U.S. government. New Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regulations require federal agencies to collect and retain logs for long time periods. These requirements strain legacy SIEM and logging solutions, resulting in higher license and maintenance costs and slower query times. The Devo Security Data Platform's massive ingestion capabilities overcome these challenges and enable agencies to manage petabytes of data—from any device or application—cost-effectively and performantly in the cloud. Kayla Williams, CISO, Devo, said: "Devo relentlessly maintains the highest standards of internal security controls to ensure customers can protect themselves from security threats with peace of mind. Commercial customers have used the Devo Security Data Platform in the cloud for years, and this milestone enables us to continue to extend the same seamless experience to federal agencies and their partners." The Small Business Administration sponsored Devo's authorization. FedRAMP was established to provide a cost-effective, risk-based approach for the adoption and use of cloud services by the federal government. FedRAMP empowers agencies to use modern cloud technologies with an emphasis on the security and protection of federal information. The Devo Security Data Platform is also available in the AWS GovCloud Marketplace, an isolated AWS Region designed to host sensitive data and regulated workloads in the cloud, assisting customers with U.S. federal, state and local government compliance requirements. About Devo Devo unleashes the power of the SOC. The Devo Security Data Platform, powered by our HyperStream technology, is purpose-built to provide the speed and scale, real-time analytics, and actionable intelligence global enterprises need to defend expanding attack surfaces. An ally in keeping your organization secure, Devo combines the power of people and AI to augment security teams, leading to better insights and faster outcomes. Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with operations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, Devo is backed by Insight Partners, Georgian, TCV, General Atlantic, Bessemer Venture Partners, Kibo Ventures and Eurazeo. Learn more at www.devo.com.

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Big Data Management

Radiant Logic Announces RadiantOne AI, with New Generative AI Data Assistant “AIDA”

Radiant Logic | January 11, 2024

Radiant Logic, the Identity Data Fabric company, today unveiled RadiantOne AI, its data lake powered Artificial Intelligence engine, and AIDA, its Generative AI Data Assistant. RadiantOne AI is designed to complement your existing tech stack and governance products by correlating data across multiple sources and providing contextual information to drive better decision making. The result is a radical reduction in the time and resources needed to gather the data required to effectively meet audit demands—meaning fewer security gaps and increased compliance with organizational policies. The first capability to be unveiled on RadiantOne AI is a truly automated user access review (UAR) process, expertly guided by AIDA. Many business leaders are familiar with the tedious UAR process – it’s crucial for demonstrating compliance and improving organizational security posture. But laborious processes can often end in a “bulk approval” to save time and check an audit box instead of accurately reviewing access rights to ensure the right business outcomes. RadiantOne’s AI-driven approach will be a paradigm shift in the way people work, forever transforming and streamlining the usually time-consuming UAR process down to days and minutes instead of months. “Historically, user access reviews are a highly manual process–a ‘necessary evil’ within security practices. This approach not only creates fatigue for the team but also introduces a considerable amount of risk,” says Dr. John Pritchard, Chief Product Officer at Radiant Logic. “While this may work in the short term to satisfy auditor requirements, the company’s assets are never truly protected. There is also still the risk that something may be overlooked, or someone within the business has retained access to something they shouldn’t. With RadiantOne AI and AIDA, existing IAM and IGA processes can be automated and simplified for overworked teams trying to comb through mountains of user access data to make the right decisions to protect their organizations.” With RadiantOne AI, conducting a user access review becomes as easy as following AIDA’s guidance. Using the power of large language models to drive advanced data correlation, contextualization and analysis, combined with an intuitive data visualization dashboard, AIDA will reinvent the user access review ritual. Based on an organization's proprietary data, the fully guided UAR experience will allow reviewers to interact and pose questions to AIDA using natural human language, like “where does this access come from?” or “show me who else has these access rights?” AIDA will highlight any potential user access risks, offer expert insight, and suggest remediations or access modifications based on an organization’s policies. Any changes, such as low risk bulk access approvals or revoking atypical access rights, are completed via a click of a button, so there’s less training required to complete the reviews and less risk of human error during the process. RadiantOne AI’s AIDA-guided user access review capability works to provide enterprise organizations with: Automated workflows: Leverage vast data sets and contextual insights to make intelligent and confident decisions about access rights. Simplified compliance: Easily detect over-privileged accounts or atypical access rights with intuitive data visualization techniques. Greater visibility into user actions: Get beyond roles quickly to see who has access to what and how they received that access so insights and remediations are easily actionable. Click-button remediation: Based on the insights and recommendations from AIDA, reviewers can approve or revoke access or atypical rights individually or take bulk approval/rejection actions with the click of a button. Data into the hands of business owners: Put relevant, risk-based identity data insights into the hands of business users in the language they understand to make it a breeze to adhere to compliance policies. “User access reviews with AIDA are just the beginning,” comments Joe Sander, Radiant Logic’s CEO. “Using RadiantOne’s AI engine, we see potential to revolutionize identity data management, governance, risk, compliance and cybersecurity processes by removing complexity as a roadblock. This frees up critical IT and security resources to focus on other business-critical tasks and expands the role of identity to truly be a business enabler.” RadiantOne AI comes on the heels of the completion of the integration of Brainwave Identity Analytics into the RadiantOne Identity Data Platform. AIDA will initially be available as a complement to the RadiantOne Identity Analytics solution. About Radiant Logic Radiant Logic, the identity data experts, helps organizations turn identity data into a strategic asset that drives automated governance, enhanced security, and operational efficiency. Our RadiantOne Identity Data Platform removes complexity as a roadblock to identity-first strategies by creating an authoritative data source for real-time, context-aware controls. We provide visibility and actionable insights to intelligently detect and remediate risk using AI/ML-powered identity analytics. With RadiantOne, organizations are able to tap into the wealth of information across the infrastructure, combining context and analytics to deploy governance that works for the most advanced use cases.

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