PwC Australia: Accounting for change with Apigee

About PwC Australia

PwC Australia is part of a global network of firms in 157 countries with more than 223,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory, and tax services. PwC is one of the Big Four accounting firms.

Industries: Other
Location: Australia

PwC Australia uses Apigee to develop and monetize APIs as products for the global market of cloud general ledger and tax preparation users.

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PwC, one of the Big Four accounting firms, is well-known for professional services structured around auditing, insurance, tax, legal, and traditional management consulting. In Australia, the PwC Innovation and Ventures group is taking the global lead in building new, technology-based, turnkey lines of business outside of PwC’s traditional service areas. Applying its insights and knowledge base to the company’s vast amounts of existing data, PwC is uncovering new revenue models distinct from its traditional, labor-intensive services.

Traditionally, people at PwC connected to critical data in response to scheduled tasks or crises in order to provide independent advice, often after the fact when there is little runway to make considered business decisions. The company wanted to move beyond the status quo where people connected to static data and where benchmarking, deeper insights, and alerts were often an afterthought. Expertise gained from analyzing data and drawing valuable insights often was limited to individuals and didn’t scale. PwC aimed to leap forward technologically and build utility and value for its customers through the development of a vibrant API-based ecosystem.

“The biggest advantage we’re getting from Apigee is the level of professionalism. It’s a well-developed infrastructure that frankly I don’t want my team to rebuild. A dollar spent on something that’s been perfected by Apigee is a dollar not well spent for me to develop in-house.”

Trent Lund, Head of Innovation and Ventures, PwC Australia

Innovation from down under

Australia is helping to lead the way at PwC from a software and development perspective. Early on, the Innovation and Ventures group decided to collaborate with PwC New Zealand, which leads the world in cloud general ledger adoption. The group represents the first with approximately 35% of its customer companies keeping their general ledgers in the cloud and serves as an early example of what can be achieved with APIs based on cloud general ledger data.

Accessing proprietary data, most significantly general ledger data, transforming it, and connecting it to an ecosystem of partners and clients via APIs, has quickly proved a winning formula for PwC, in the form of its Next platform. PwC Next combines multiple cloud accounting tools and integrated cloud applications in an open platform. It also includes customizable dashboards that provide a holistic view of a client’s entire portfolio, including business trends, in real time.

In developing the firm’s first technology products, PwC Australia’s Head of Innovation and Ventures Trent Lund was adamant that as an accounting firm, PwC never spend a dollar building something that technology professionals had already done better. That credo led Lund to select Google’s Apigee as PwC’s platform of choice for developing productized APIs.

“The biggest advantage we’re getting from Apigee is the level of professionalism,” say Lund. “It’s a well-developed infrastructure that frankly I don’t want my team to rebuild. A dollar spent on something that’s been perfected by Apigee is a dollar not well spent for me to develop in-house.”

“The Apigee integration into Google is really helpful for us because we can connect with that same ecosystem. Our team is relatively small by global standards, so we really don’t have time to try and foster multiple technology relationships.”

Trent Lund, Head of Innovation and Ventures, PwC Australia

Cloud-first strategy

Increasingly, the datasets PwC wants to connect with are from public sources and open APIs coming from cloud providers. According to Lund, the Apigee toolset is perfectly positioned for his team’s focus on data connectivity, especially now that Apigee is part of Google.

“The Apigee integration into Google is really helpful for us because we can connect with that same ecosystem. Our team is relatively small by global standards, so we really don’t have time to try and foster multiple technology relationships,” Lund says. “We need to have deep, trusted relationships where we can get a level of sharing now and into the future, and that’s what we get with Apigee.”

PwC Australia continues to innovate and build the platform, but rather than continuing to pay for development from its local innovation fund, the platform is now funded globally so that it can be accelerated and shared across four countries. Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States are simultaneously guiding the platform’s requirements and features as PwC develops with an awareness of each country’s individual regulations

For example, compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and China’s data residency rules would be far more complicated without a single technology partner like Apigee that experiences the same global challenges as part of Google, Lund says.

“By our very nature, we’re a people and services business, evolving into a data business. The biggest help that Apigee has provided in this transformation is in helping us expose core, rich data so that our people who provide services today can actually demonstrate value in the market tomorrow.”

Trent Lund, Head of Innovation and Ventures, PwC Australia

From services to digital products

PwC offers its APIs as products to member firms over several platforms in various stages of development. For example, the Apigee platform helps PwC to package microservices that enable firms all over the world to connect with transformed data through APIs. In this model, member firms in the PwC network can connect to APIs developed by the Innovation and Ventures team and build their own apps, solutions, and products.

“That really is the key part of our strategy,” Lund says. “We act as a middle layer. Extract, but don’t try to own the entire business ecosystem because you can’t grow fast enough.”

PwC America is already using this platform to build several innovative, purely digital products. This is a first for PwC, not enhancing or digitizing existing services, but rather creating entirely new products by connecting to the API framework.

“By our very nature, we’re a people and services business, evolving into a data business,” says Lund. “The biggest help that Apigee has provided in this transformation is in helping us expose core, rich data so that our people who provide services today can actually demonstrate value in the market tomorrow.”

“The business benefit of cloud is vastly outgrowing the fear factor of cloud. Let’s face it, I can’t afford the security, the backup, and the quality that Google provides to my organization in a home-grown solution. Why would I try to compete?”

Trent Lund, Head of Innovation and Ventures, PwC Australia

The Cash Flow Coach product is a great example of a digital-only product that requires no human involvement once deployed. It runs off state-of-the-art machine learning models and predicts businesses’ future cash flows based on five years of past general ledger and banking data. Cash Flow Coach gives predictive views of cash flow based not only on when invoices should be paid, but also on historical trends of when customers have actually made payments.

Beyond being more accurate than any other model available, it’s also far less expensive when deployed across the main cloud general ledgers on the market, including Sage, QuickBooks, Intuit, and Xero. The power and flexibility of this solution has led to the potential for banks to call upon the platform using the same API, while generating their own user experiences, branding, features, or even datasets.

“The business benefit of cloud is vastly outgrowing the fear factor of cloud,” Lund says. “Let’s face it, I can’t afford the security, the backup, and the quality that Google provides to my organization in a home-grown solution. Why would I try to compete?”

The benefits of a cloud-first strategy are becoming evident to tax authorities in Australia and New Zealand as well. PwC expects a big boost to its API product business as discussions between cloud tax service providers and these government agencies yield regulatory changes. Proposals include greater leniency for eventual tax errors for customers who use a cloud service and grant new data access to tax authorities.

“A counterfeit handbag won’t kill you, but a fraudulent product that doesn’t meet food safety standards may well kill someone, and that will kill a quality brand.”

Trent Lund, Head of Innovation and Ventures, PwC Australia

Combat counterfeiting with APIs

Though PwC is known as an accounting and services firm, this new digital product strategy has led to innovative new lines of business. One platform under development aims to assist the Australian red meat industry in combating counterfeiting overseas.

The tool enables companies to track their product using blockchain technology and a physical anti-counterfeiting “krypto anchor” from the point of packaging all the way through to the retail marketplace. The krypto anchor is an edible substance that is stamped on the meat. When scanned at the point of unpacking, the anchor has a unique spectrum print that must match the blockchain birth certificate.

If it does, the provenance data is unlocked to say that meat is guaranteed. At that point the consumer can see detailed data that even reveals at which Australian farm the meat was raised.

The solution was designed to run on Google Cloud Platform employing an event-driven architecture with microservices and using Apigee to connect and manage data for clients.

With PwC willing to look outside its traditional lines of service for product ideas, this solution to a A$4 billion economic problem is a clear winner.

“A counterfeit handbag won’t kill you, but a fraudulent product that doesn’t meet food safety standards may well kill someone, and that will kill a quality brand,” Lund says.

Monetization, enhanced security, speed, and agility

Products like the anti-counterfeiting solution lend themselves well to Apigee’s monetization feature. The company believes that viewing an API call as a product is the best descriptor of consumption value, an important model for an accounting firm like PwC.

PwC needs to connect high volumes of data to its platforms but also needs to develop API products at speed. In addition, the company is handling sensitive general ledger and tax data that require the highest levels of security. Add the analytics that the Innovation and Ventures group rely on to continually improve their offering, and the choice of Apigee is clear.

In the spirit of entrepreneurship that defines Lund’s mandate, the added value of being able to leverage Google advanced machine learning integration with Apigee is a siren call for future product development.

About PwC Australia

PwC Australia is part of a global network of firms in 157 countries with more than 223,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory, and tax services. PwC is one of the Big Four accounting firms.

Industries: Other
Location: Australia
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