Tim Phillipps is the global managing partner for Deloitte Analytics, a role in which he works closely with designated Deloitte Analytics leaders in each of the firm's four global businesses: Audit, Tax, Consulting and Financial Advisory. He also serves as the global managing partner for Deloitte's Forensic and Dispute Practice.
But Phillips credits his prior life in law enforcement in the early 1990s as sparking his interest in data analytics, when he used the power of algorithms to study vast amounts of data -- and catch stock-market manipulators and insider traders.
"It was when I took over as the enforcement director for the [Australian] Securities Commission," he told InformationWeek in a phone call. "That's when we really got deep into emerging technologies."
In a sense, Phillipps is still deeply invested in work he began at the securities commission. At Deloitte, he has developed market-leading analytics capabilities in support of fraud and corruption investigations, money laundering compliance, complex litigation and insolvency cases.
Overall, the analytic business has grown substantially for Deloitte. The firm claims some 7,000 of its 200,000 employees worldwide are involved in this sphere of work, which now accounts for about $2 billion of its $32.4 billion in annual revenues.
But Deloitte cannot rest on its laurels, Phillipps said. That's because upstart competitors are working on innovative ways to conduct audits -- audits represent more than half of Deloitte's business -- that could undercut his accounting firm in terms of speed, cost and completeness.
"There are organizations starting to develop tools and capabilities that are 'audit-like,' and could see us deliver audits remarkably differently in the next five to 10 years," he said.
InformationWeek spoke to Phillipps at the end of September.
Name: Tim Phillipps
Title: Global managing partner for Deloitte Analytics. Global managing partner for Deloitte's Forensic and Dispute practice.
How long at current job: Global managing partner since 2009; with Deloitte since 1999.
Career accomplishment I'm most proud of: Deloitte is a very large and very diverse organization -- more than 200,000 people, and a bit a franchise -- and to have [gotten] the organization to turn and face the analytics opportunity globally, so that we're doing it all over the globe, is probably my proudest achievement.
Decision I wish I could do over: Not pushing as hard as I should have in the early days around technology for the forensic practice. Today, around 50% of forensic revenue comes from technology-related activity, such as e-discovery, document management, analytics.
Most important career influencer: The CEO of Deloitte Australia, Giam Swiegers. He took a failing business and, just through having a very clear vision and never swaying from it, built an incredibly successful business. He's the most performance-focused person I think I've ever come across. He has a favorite phrase, "Execute or be executed." The one thing he taught me was to have a go, to take a risk and try new things. We experiment deliberately.
Top initiatives: The No.1, without any doubt, is analytics within everything we do -- to embed analytics within everything Deloitte does. It's not an add-on, a service, a product ... it's just the core of what we do with our 200,000 people in 157 countries.
No. 2 is the way we think about our clients in the analytics space. It's much more around what we call a "domain focus," to think about the customers' business rather than our business units.
Biggest misconception about big data: The name. Seriously, I start most of my presentations by saying, "I'm going to say the word, so I get it over and done with, but after that you're never going to hear me say 'big data' again." It's an exceptional marketing term, and I wish I'd owned it. It's about the attitude, about embedding analytics into everything and getting more value out of what you already have, what you might be able to build. In some cases, does that task involve much larger, much faster data sets? Yes. But in many cases it's as simple as turning your mind to what the data can tell you about your business. Quite often that's not big data.
Most disruptive force in my industry: In our Australian practice and now globally, we did an analysis of "short fuse, big bang," or how quickly it will come to pass that you'll be disrupted. No surprise that one of the industries that'll be most affected is professional services [like accounting and strategic advice]. The days of big accounting firms, big professional service firms doing what they always did and having huge numbers attached are disappearing quickly.
Most promising technology: The concept of "audit" around the globe is the core to the accounting firms, which represents 50% to 60% of our business. But it also the one that is most vulnerable to disruption. There are organizations starting to develop tools and capabilities that are "audit-like," and could see us deliver audits remarkably differently in the next five to 10 years. For example, [doing] 100% of analysis rather than sample testing, and doing it in a way that is much less disruptive to the customer. So, instead of sending in a team of 30 to 40 people for three months at the end of the year, we would, in effect, continually audit on a daily basis, and using deep algorithmic approaches to identify outliers or patterns as they're occurring.
Reasons big data projects go wrong: There's a single underlying factor, and this goes to the heart of one of my concerns about big data. Organizations rarely think about what they want a big data proposition to deliver before they go out and build. They never really understand what it is about the data that actually drives their business. So we'd say to them, "Let's do some experimentation first, so you truly understand where the key information is and what the key drivers are. And then you can build a data warehouse or a big data facility that will enhance and support your objectives."
Making decisions based on flashy macro trends while ignoring "little data" fundamentals is a recipe for failure. Also in the new, all-digital Blinded By Big Data issue of InformationWeek: How Coke Bottling's CIO manages mobile strategy. (Free registration required.)