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In profile: Katherine Milesi, from dot com to digital revolution

by Robin Christie | 28 Aug 2015

Katherine Milesi has ridden the digital wave through its ups and downs since the 90s, and is now Senior Partner, Deloitte Digital and a board member of Deloitte Australia. 

Milesi will be a keynote speaker at Finsia's forthcoming #nextgenfin forum to share her insights into the importance of the digital world to the financial services sector. For more on the program, or to register, click here.

She's been with Deloitte, on and off, for a couple of decades, and has held a number of roles within the organisation. She's now the leader of customer practice in the firm's Sydney office, which she explained is a new group within Deloitte's consulting division.

"It brings together digital – which is now a really thriving innovative heartbeat of the firm – our customer strategy and insights team, and our new spatial design and brand strategy team," she explained.

"We're bringing together all of these capabilities that are required for our clients to help understand their customer base better, at a time when customer desires and wants and preferences are changing rapidly by virtue of technology enablement."

And with Australian organisations increasingly taking a customer-centric view, it's a fast growing group. "In the last four years we've doubled three times. Which is an indication of Australian organisations' increasingly customer-centric view," she said.

Here, Milesi speaks to INFINANCE about the exponential growth of new technology and social media, her own journey from accountant to digital expert and senior executive, and her role as a diversity and inclusion leader.

Should all financial services organisations have realised the importance of digital?

Certainly financial services organisations need to understand what digital technology is doing, and will increasingly do to the industry. So they need to have a very good understanding strategically of where in the value chain they are vulnerable, and where they're likely to be disrupted so that they can get on the front foot and disrupt themselves.

Particularly the large banks are increasingly investing in digital capability – whether it be from a service design, user experience or customer experience perspective, through to user interface design, front end development and back end development. So they are building digital capability, and I think that's a good thing.

How long have you been in the digital space?

A colleague, Peter Williams, and I built the first Deloitte Australia website in 1996. It was the first website in the Deloitte world, and that was a very good experience. That really increased my interest in this thing called 'the internet', which was in its very early days in the corporate world back then.

Then the leadership of the firm got quite excited about the dot com boom. And we decided to participate in that in a way that would create some value and wealth for our partners by buying a web development company. So we bought a company called the Eclipse Group in 2000. We bought a 20 per cent share and then two years later we bought out the owners. 

So I went from my then role, into the role of general manager of the Eclipse group. And that really started me on the path to where I am today. I've been consulting to, and advising, clients about all aspects of digital since then.

Where did you initially see career going?

Back in the late 80s and early 90s there was a standard ethical ruling that accountants couldn't promote themselves. Then that standard ethical ruling was taken away, so the accounting firms started to think about how they would market their services. 

I was in Deloitte at the time doing accounting work, and I was very drawn by this new era of marketing. I didn't have a formal marketing qualification, but I have a fair degree of creativity, and so I was able to step into that role. 

I was in that role for seven years, so I progressed through this new marketing structure in Deloitte and became the national sales and marketing director. That was my most senior role before I found the internet, so it was certainly a different move to go into digital strategy and consulting – but I had seven years of marketing experience. 

What makes the current digital revolution different from the dot com bubble?

We've got a much better understanding of the data that's being generated, and how we can use it to benefit our customers through personalisation and better service delivery. But beyond data, if we took the time from 2000 to now, the technology itself has matured greatly. 

When I think back to what companies were trying to do in the early 2000s, it's so much easier to do that now because the technology is flexible, and extensible. And often it's cloud based – so operating expenditure rather than capital expenditure. It just does a lot more of what you want it to do.

The other difference is the fact that consumers have really ridden the digital wave to an enormous degree. In the early 2000s it was all new, people had pretty poor broadband connections, their experience was pretty poor and the uptake was a little bit patchy. But now you look at the rate at which mobile adoption has skyrocketed in Australia, and the way in which social media is becoming an increasingly important part of consumers' lives.

Then of course there's just this Moore's Law effect of computer technology, in that we're on this incredibly exponential curve with the power of computing getting stronger and better and the cost of computing dropping. By the time 2030 rolls along, our smart phones will be smarter than us. And by the time 2045 comes along, one supercomputer will be more powerful than all the collective brains of civilisation. 

And it's not as if 2030 and 2045 are a long way away. We're actually on this curve that takes us steeply up to that. So the pace of change is increasing, and it's unleashing the creativity and inventiveness of the human spirit. Entrepreneurs have got a lot more places where they can seek to have their impact.

Tell us about your time out of the workforce

I had one year out of the workforce. My children were at an age where I wanted to be with them full time. 

And then I had two years working in a not-for-profit organisation. I worked for Vision Australia. I was on their board, and I was also their general manager of marketing.

Was it hard to step back into the fast moving digital space?

We were at the flatter end of the curve. In fact, when I stepped back in I didn't feel that all that much had changed. I think now if I stepped out for one year, or three years, without keeping in touch the world would be a very different place. But back then it wasn't such a jolt.

How did you end up returning to Deloitte?

After leaving Vision Australia I set up my own consulting business. I wanted to  moderate the amount of work I did, from a work-life integration perspective. One of my first clients was the Eclipse Group. The person that I had handed the reins to came to me and said would you like to come in and spend a couple of days a week helping us with our client work?'. It was a terrific way to get back in, get up to speed and still maintain that balance that I was looking for. 

Tell us about your role as a leader of Deloitte's diversity and inclusion program?

I work with the executive on our diversity and inclusion program, and that means a lot of education. We rolled out an education program for all of our partners nationwide about various aspects of diversity, including unconscious bias. Now we're rolling that our to all our people in an online learning module, to raise awareness. 

Apart from awareness, there are lots of programs that we run. One's called the Deloitte Businesswoman of the Year, and that's about identifying talented females and giving them accelerated learning and progression opportunities. 

We have an LGBTI community, and we attended a session not so long ago run by the LGBTI community on bringing your whole self to work. I'm just really scratching the surface here, but there's a tonne of things we do, led by the diversity and inclusion committee nationally. 

Then there are the things I do within the customer practice: Holding discussion groups, lean in groups, and bringing men and women together to discuss what it means to have a successful career as well as maintaining your life goals, health and wellness.

And wellness is a major thread coming out of our new CEOs strategy. She is now putting that very much foremost in our partners' minds and our peoples' minds – how wellness is so critical to having a successful career.


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