This week marks the first anniversary of the Future Analytics team joining KPMG Ireland. Despite the inherent challenges one might expect in integrating an established business into a global firm, in the midst of a pandemic no less, Stephen Purcell, Director and Co-Head of KPMG Future Analytics, reflects on an exciting and progressive 12 months, and looks forward to the period ahead.
In over 30 years of professional experience, I can safely say that the past 12 months have been some of the more exciting, diverse and rewarding experiences of my career. The pandemic has naturally brought its challenges, but as we emerge from the pandemic, Stephen and I are really looking forward to pushing the boundaries in innovation and strategy and harnessing the great talent within the KPMG Future Analytics team.
We have been delighted with the integration achieved by the Future Analytics team over the past year since joining the firm. The level of collaboration across Deal Advisory and our other business units has been absolutely fantastic, and we are excited to continue to forge new opportunities by leveraging the additional skills in economics, data analytics and regional and urban strategy that the Future Analytics team brings to the firm.
Making the connection
Running an SME from inception and carving out a profile where we consistently punched above our weight was both a demanding and rewarding experience for myself and for my business partner, MD Professor Billy Hynes. Building a team of talented colleagues, advocating a data-led approach to all projects and harnessing our unique experiences in pan-European applied research specialising in Regional and Urban Planning (Strategy, Resilience and Infrastructure, etc.) were all central to our evolution and growth over 10 years.
The opportunity presented to join and lead a team within KPMG Ireland was immediately attractive. While it was not the first expression of interest in our business - something we are extremely proud of, and which is a testament to our colleagues, we at once felt a stronger connection and alignment when speaking with our (now) colleagues. Reflecting on that reality recently, there are a number of reasons for this, centred on our experiences of having collaborated successfully with KPMG Ireland over recent years. Ultimately, it came down to a strong connection with the people and the culture within KPMG Ireland, and a shared ambition to exact positive impacts and change in business and across society.
We realised a deep association with KPMG Ireland’s values, which permeate throughout all activities within the firm:
This chimed perfectly with the ethos and ambition we held within Future Analytics Consulting over the years. What a strong starting point from which to set out on this new adventure!
Given the milestone we reached this week, celebrating our first anniversary within the firm, I’ve set out below 12 reflections from the past year - one for every month in our new home!
Talent, at scale
We always prided ourselves on the quality and talent of the people that worked within our business, and often marvelled at the innovative thinking, analytical and ground-breaking methodologies being applied to policy development and market intelligence and a whole range of projects and initiatives. Working within KPMG Ireland, we have access to a huge talent pool across a diverse range of specialisms, and there are so many complementary and strengthening subject matter experts across the firm to supplement the work we are engaged in, far beyond what we could have anticipated.
Having conversations with colleagues based in other jurisdictions, learning from their experiences and applications and exploring suitable approaches in an Irish context, has been richly rewarding.
It is also fantastic to have access to the KPMG Business School and other internal supports that ensure our team and colleagues can continue to remain at the top of their game, and keep fully up to speed with the latest trends, insights, legal and policy positions throughout the year.
Quality and integrity
We had a tagline that “there is trust in what we do” owing to the evidence-based philosophy we grew our business and our projects within. Quality and integrity are core to KPMG’s projects and activities, and it has been hugely beneficial for us to continue to audit and refine the scientific methodologies and credible strategic frameworks we pursue.
Tracking trends and sectoral opportunities for our clients commands a strong and defensible evidence behind our recommendations and reporting. Working within an organisation renowned for such principles has been extremely positive and continues to strengthen our project outputs.
The focus on quality and integrity permeates all activities in KPMG, with a case in point being the recent coordinated and carefully executed Return to the Office as Covid-19 related restrictions on the workplace began to ease – such a seamless and holistic experience, and yet huge coordination, planning and logistical strategy underpinned the process.
Art of the possible
Our work has always been grounded in evidence – the identification, collection, collation, interrogation, analysis and reporting of key data-led insights. We have sought to positively disrupt those sectors in which we apply our services and continue to follow this development path. Joining KPMG has enabled us to accelerate the development of our population models, the infrastructure on which we explore socio-economic studies and to continue to “think outside the box” and promote and harness “creative and innovative thinking”.
In recent years I embarked on an additional Master’s degree (the perils of being in business with someone with an inordinate number of qualifications!) where I focused my thesis on the Internationalisation of Professional Service Firms, testing the currency of the Uppsala model and exploring current thinking around digital nomads and other related topics. Our ambition was to draw on our extensive European network established in our having written and contributed to European Commission applied research funding of over €45 million for the consortia we coordinated/represented and for our clients. We firmly felt there was an untapped opportunity to pursue our services in the United Kingdom in the first instance and to collaborate more extensively with major partners across Europe.
Joining KPMG has immediately guided our thinking given the global presence of the firm, enabling us to access markets that as an SME we could never have mobilised the resources or bandwidth to capitalise on. This is proving to be really very effective in our continued learning, fostering innovation and introducing efficiencies to how we deliver contemporary and robust solutions across strategy, framework and operational deliverables for our projects. Whereas the impact of lockdown restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic would have greatly challenged us as an SME, the depth of expertise and resilient governance structures within our new home have clearly helped us to excel.
Bringing a level of data and scientific rigour to the Planning and Development profession that traditionally has been slow to adopt new practices, embrace digital solutions and technological efficiency (yet with the onset of PlanTech, PropTech and everything in between, things have massively improved), we always sought to keep a close eye on emerging opportunities in this space, and the means through which to bring efficiency, cost-effective implementation and “game-changing” tools and resources to our clients. But the age-old problem for SMEs can often be a bandwidth limitation, not least within professional services SMEs.
We have been delighted that our team position within KPMG has allowed our existing workforce to deploy new thinking, implement long-desired technical and digital solutions - most notably in the spatial data, population projection and market intelligence themes – and to have access to both the infrastructure and resources to deliver market-leading solutions.
Perhaps there is no better case in point as to how KPMG is helping our team to turbo-charge innovative capacity than the recent introduction of KPMG’s Platform X facility in Dublin City Centre. One of 32 interconnected global Innovation Hubs around the globe, “Platform X brings together global insights, people and technology to spark innovation and deliver the lasting change needed to thrive in today’s world”. To say it is like “kids in a candy shop” for the Future Analytics team would be an understatement, and it is an incredible facility for client workshops and brain-storming sessions.
Sectoral problems, solved
Another challenge we often faced as an SME was a limit to our bandwidth with regard to supporting other sectors to address key challenges. While we continued to raise our profile and scale our project offering in our core sectors, we always knew that much of our expertise could also pivot into other markets and sectors, if the depth of our team could sustain it. Working within KPMG Ireland means we have a pool of great talent to support and augment our existing team, enabling us to work with existing and new clients in sectors where we did not have a presence traditionally, yet where there is clear ’transferability’ of our experiences in core sectors. This model was one we carefully cultivated in terms of our experiences in conducting pan-European research for the European Commission and distributing this learning, innovation and experience into our domestic commercial activities.
Economics - helping business and policy makers apply economic insights
KPMG’s rationale for the acquisition of our business was to pool the dynamism, innovation and experience of our Future Analytics team with the expertise of the existing Deal Advisory practice, offering greater depth of research and analysis to the combined client base. We have been fortunate to have garnered deep experience in economic assessment, whether in affordability analysis to guide housing related investment or policy development to tackle construction viability, and our economic assessment studies have covered the retail, pharma, healthcare and many other sectors. Our Multi-Criteria Analyses has informed major public transport infrastructure projects and CBA studies in education and other fields, all of which complements nicely the established experience of the wider KPMG team.
Since joining KPMG, we have commenced a number of exciting cross-border economic development studies and regional development strategies, with a clear direction towards results-based and implementable investment prioritisation. The economic consulting service offering is a prime example of where, even in our infancy within KPMG, we have collaborated really well with our new colleagues and set a great basis for future growth.
Applied Research – strategy, spatial and technology converge
Recounting how we have twice been recipients of Ireland’s Champions of EU Research – for authoring and subsequently coordinating projects on urban development and resilience and critical infrastructure protection respectively – it is perhaps no surprise to hear that we have collaborated strongly with KPMG’s specialists in European Research to secure major projects under DG Move in the areas of Transport and Mobility, while 2021 also saw us commence major projects like Geolab which targets innovative solutions to safeguard critical infrastructure in the water, energy, urban and transport sectors. These research strands converge perfectly with our focus and specialism in strategy, spatial analytics and the application of technology to deliver positive societal impact.
Others studies at the European scale which we are participating in are centred on Smart Cities and Smart Energy Blocks, and we are drawing on these insights for a number of our domestic projects, including a significant body of work on Smart Villages and competitive regions.
Data as a ‘diamond’
The provision of highly nimble, pragmatic, results-based solutions has become a core requirement for public and private sector clients in an increasingly competitive and complex market and regulatory, procedural and technical demands. The Future Analytics team continues to champion the realisation of reliable, interrogable and future-proofed strategy, advice and evidence for decision-making, drawing on our extensive and proven data-led methods for project delivery. With a team of subject matter experts in all things data – carving out market opportunities and positioning assets for optimal results is a mainstay of our offering.
I read online recently a clever analogy on the value and application of data, when it is effectively applied, which went something like this:
Data is like diamonds - raw, uncut diamonds. Share it with a non-expert and they won’t know what to do; it is like giving them many raw diamonds, overwhelming and potentially annoying them. But hand them a cut, refined diamond? That can bring delight.
Time and again we are finding that our project deliverables are making the difference in the successful outcomes of projects, underpinned by our appreciation for, and application of, quality data.
Societal challenge 1: Housing
The housing crisis has and will continue to be a pressing societal challenge nationally. The recent publication of Housing for All presents a roadmap to comprehensively address some of the key challenges facing the housing delivery cycle to ensure a sustainable supply of homes in cities, towns and villages throughout the country.
Over the last 12 months we have delivered more Housing Need and Demand Assessment projects for Local Government, by some distance, than any other organisation. We are actively exploring and implementing novel thinking and rigorous methodologies in studying population, housing targets and distribution, all of which supports the housing strategies for city, county and regional scales.
This year, we have also secured planning consent for thousands of additional residential properties – private, social, age-friendly, step-down, sheltered, built-to-rent and tourism accommodation. We continue to work on masterplans and town renewal plans across Ireland – plan-led development that focuses on the realisation of sustainable communities and delivers on the requisite social infrastructure and employment opportunities in parallel with new homes.
We continue to engage with Central, Regional and Local Government and to work in supporting the private sector to bring forward development projects that contribute to the pressing need for housing delivery.
Societal challenge 2: Climate action
Since joining KPMG, the Future Analytics team has collaborated with all disciplines across the firm. One such team where we have collaborated particularly extensively is ‘Sustainable Futures’. Born of a recognition that the climate change and sustainability agenda has reached a tipping point, and recognising the pressing need to respond to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) topics to stay relevant and drive long-term shareholder value, the Sustainable Futures team help corporates and private sector clients to plan and execute ESG issues, decarbonisation and long-term value creation.
We have been very impressed with the talent within the team, and have jumped at the opportunity to work with sustainability practitioners, fellow economists, corporate strategists, accountants and financiers – enabling us to better manage and respond to the climate change and sustainability agenda. The insights gleaned from COP26 coverage through the dedicated insights platform perfectly demonstrate the access we benefit from by working within an organisation at a much greater scale.
Societal challenge 3: Infrastructure
The recent publication of the National Development Plan 2021-2030 is a critical component in our efforts to renew our economic development as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and exact meaningful change in the context of climate change. Government investment in infrastructure, done the right way, can directly help this recovery. We have been working closely with Michele Connolly, Partner, and Robert Costello, Managing Director, both specialising in the Government and Infrastructure arena within KPMG Ireland.
Working alongside them, we implemented studies centred on the supporting infrastructure to ensure that all of society has access to the digital platforms, public transport and wider urban and regional infrastructure. Having this access to insights from our colleagues, and exposure to some mega-projects in Ireland and internationally, coupled with a global network of thought leadership and international trends, has been of great benefit to the Future Analytics team.
We continue to deliver rigorous and scenario-based population and corridor analysis studies and coordinate a range of blue and green infrastructure projects, port-related, aviation and tourism studies with actionable recommendations and measurable impact.
We have been delighted to continue to deliver successful outcomes over the past year for our loyal and respected client base, and to have had the opportunity to solve strategic and asset-specific challenges for the wider client network within the firm. We continue to harness the resources and supports available within our new home to take the Future Analytics team to new heights - onwards!