Case Study

PwC’s Digital Revolution
By Sarah Fister Gale

wC may be best known as a tax and auditing services firm, but its consultants are expected to be knowledgeable about all financial and business trends. These days, most of those trends involve some level of digital transformation.

“We have a lot of conversations about what it means to be digital,” said Joe Atkinson, PwC’s chief digital officer. While everyone has a different answer to that question, the constant thread is that digital knowledge for PwC employees can’t be theoretical. PwC clients rely on their consultants to help them navigate the digital landscape and to implement solutions that will make their businesses more efficient. “So all of our upskilling efforts have to be focused on business outcomes, client outcomes and people outcomes,” Atkinson said. This realization led to PwC’s current digital upskilling journey, which began two years ago and continues to evolve.

“Digital upskilling has to be a focus for us as a knowledge organization,” said Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader for PwC in Chicago.

A key element of the program is that it isn’t just for consultants. Every one of PwC’s 50,000 U.S.-based employees have access to digital training tools, courses and content, and they are all encouraged to use the training to support their own growth and the business goals, McEneaney said. “We expect everyone to opt-in.”

What’s Your Digital Fitness Score?
PwC’s upskilling journey began with the development of its Digital Fitness App, a virtual training tool that employees use to learn about the latest digital trends, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, augmented reality, blockchain and dozens of other topics. With each new topic, the app gives users an assessment to gauge their existing knowledge, which Atkinson likened to a digital fitness credit score. “It’s a rapid way to figure out what you know, and what you need to learn,” he said.

The app uses that score to suggest content that will close gaps and help users build confidence with the topic. All of the content is in short, easy-to-digest formats, including blogs, podcasts and short interactive lessons, so employees can learn as they go. “We wanted it to be available whenever they have time,” Atkinson said.


PwC’s digital upskilling efforts have transformed the learning culture, driven process improvements and turned everyday employees into ardent advocates for change.
The content won’t make them experts, he noted. But it does provide them with a baseline understanding of the topic and the business implications related to it. “It allows them to have effective conversations about how these technologies can be part of business solutions,” Atkinson said.

The app has been extremely popular. It launched in 2017, and today, 45,000 employees access it every week. An updated version is expected to launch in 2019, which PwC will share with clients as well as employees.

Badges Drive Talent Mobility
The second phase of the upskilling journey encourages employees to expand their knowledge through microdegrees and certifications, which require more time and effort than the app training. Some of the certification programs are built in-house around specific PwC service offerings, while others are accessed through third-party organizations.

When an employee completes any of these programs, they receive a badge they can share on their internal and external profiles. The badges encourage friendly competition and break down barriers to talent mobility, McEneaney explained. It’s a popular way for employees to showcase their new skills, and it gives hiring managers a way to identify and vet internal candidates, ensuring the best employees are selected for new projects.

Atkinson’s goal for 2019 was for every employee to achieve the “digital acumen badge,” a PwC microdegree that requires users to go on four “client quests,” where they have to use leading-edge technology to solve fictitious business problems. As of July 2019, more than 80 percent of U.S. PwC employees had completed the badge certification. “I’m particularly proud of that because it’s not required,” he said. “We just encourage them to do it and hope they are inspired.”

2,000 Agents of Change
Employees who want to take their learning further also have the chance to opt-in to one of PwC’s 20 digital academies, where they can get in-depth, face-to-face training on topics like data cleansing and desktop automation. To date, 30,000 employees have completed one or more of the two-day academy courses and are now using those skills on client projects.

Finally, for employees who are even more inspired to learn and share their digital knowledge, in 2018 PwC launched its digital accelerator program, where employees apply to become digital learning advocates for the organization. “Their job is to change the way work gets done,” Atkinson said.

Over the course of two years, 2,000 employees will be selected to complete an immersive three-day off-site digital training program, then to take that new knowledge back to their teams. Once they return, digital accelerators continue to dedicate 10 percent of their time to continuing digital education, and they are expected to promote digital solutions and support digital learning on their teams.

“It is a huge investment to take 2,000 people out of the business for hundreds of hours of training,” McEneaney said.

Once employees become digital accelerators, part of their performance review is based on how well they share the knowledge and encourage adoption of new technologies. McEneaney said that 6,000 employees applied to the program and 1,200 have completed the initial training.

Learning to Lead
Patricia Miller knew she wanted to be a digital accelerator as soon as the program was announced in January 2018. “I applied later that day,” she said. The application required her to explain why the program was a good fit for her, so she made an animated video depicting a real-life client project where her team figured out how to pull data out of a procurement system that ultimately delivered cost savings for the client. “I figured if I could do that with the minimal tools I had, imagine what I could do with some training,” she said.

The PwC team agreed, and she was one of the first 1,200 people to enter the program. “It was amazing to be cocooned with so many like-minded individuals who were so excited to be a part of this organization,” she said. Once the training is over, the accelerators stay connected through social networking and company events, and they rely on each other for advice and encouragement. “If I hit a roadblock, I know these people can help me,” Miller said.

To expand the digital accelerators’ influence, Atkinson’s team created a digital lab, where accelerators (and anyone else) can share automation tools they built to solve a specific business problem, which others can download for their own projects. Employees can also rate the apps and offer feedback. “It lets us see the digital assets that people are using, what’s working and what doesn’t scale,” Atkinson said. PwC pays incentives to developers of automation tools that generate the most business value as a way to encourage innovation.

Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader, PwC
“Digital upskilling has to be a focus for us as a knowledge organization.”
—Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader, PwC
Top-Down Support
All of these training tools and opportunities to share innovation have created a culture of digital transformation at PwC. The Digital Fitness app is boosting the baseline knowledge of the entire workforce, while the academies, badges and digital accelerators are embedding new experts in the organization and incentivizing employees to innovate their workflows.

Internal metrics show these efforts paying off. Atkinson reports that some of the best automation tools have been downloaded thousands of times, including a bot that moves data from spreadsheets to reports, saving users 10 to 15 minutes per use. “It’s a small automation, but if 10,000 people save 15 minutes per task, that adds up,” he said.

Internal survey results also show a 20 percent uptick in ratings for “opportunity to innovate on the job,” and employment data show digital accelerators are 50 percent less likely to leave the company.

Atkinson attributes the success of the upskilling effort to the company’s top-down support for training, combined with giving employees the freedom to leverage the training as they see fit.

He encourages other companies not to shy away from making significant investments in digital training, and to trust their people to step up to the challenge. “Digital upskilling is at the core of how our organization will continue to thrive in the face of unprecedented and accelerated disruption,” Atkinson said. “If you don’t invest in your people, you will get left behind.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in Chicago.