Kent Kaufield is EY Calgary office managing partner and energy managing partner.
What are the main services EY offers to companies and businesses?
Kaufield: We’re a professional services firm, which means we traditionally get grouped in the same bucket as auditors and accountants. We do that work and we love doing it, but how we help companies goes far beyond.
We have people in advisory, tax and transaction advisory services doing everything from performance improvement and financial reporting, to cross-border tax planning and cost restructuring.
We’re also evolving to meet changing client needs. Our workforce now includes engineers, data scientists and application developers designing blockchain platforms and building out artificial intelligence risk management frameworks.
What’s been a key differentiator over the last few years is that we’re not only embracing digital in how we run our business, but how we deliver our services. I know I may be stating the obvious, but digital is really creating a whole new ball game. It’s changing the way our clients go to market, how they work and the way they make decisions.
So it’s an absolute imperative that we keep one eye on the future so that our responses and services are delivered in a much more cohesive and transformative way. That’s why we’ve taken a “OneEY” approach to break down silos and bring the best teams across all service offerings to deliver a consistent and innovative client experience.
What are the major trends you’re seeing these days?
Kaufield: I mentioned digital. That’s a big one. If we look at robotic process automation, for example, many businesses are embracing this technology to provide more accurate and efficient financial controls and management reporting.
Tied closely to that, data and analytics is another major trend. Companies are proactively looking for ways to not only collect data, but ways to leverage it to make more timely and strategic management decisions. Businesses are also challenged to balance their short- and long-term strategic objectives. Some businesses are getting caught in the here and now, rather than investing in the critical infrastructure, technology or talent that will position them to meet longer-term goals. Short-termism can be a real struggle, and a trend we’re seeing across the business community.
The balancing act may have been difficult for Calgary during the recession – with more companies focused on survival than growth – but now businesses have an opportunity for unique investments. Part of that is investing in adjacent businesses to find new ways to use their resources. For example, investing in technologies that help minimize the negative environmental impact of hydrocarbons, or investing in product development related to renewables.
It’s about broadening the scope of the business footprint, and doing it at a pace that is reflective of the industry transition.
What are the main challenges faced by business today?
Kaufield: I’ll divide the main challenges into two categories: controllable and uncontrollable. The broad disruption technology driving across businesses is both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s also more controllable than you might think – you just need to embrace change and recognize the pace of technology is only going to increase.
Organizations that quickly figure out how to use data strategically will be long-term winners. Technology now allows us to capture new data and use current data in a cohesive manner to make better decisions. Senior leaders are demanding better data – because they know it’s possible. With that demand for data comes the need for new skill sets.
At EY, we’ve seen a drastic change in the composition of our staff over the last decade or so. We’ve traditionally recruited out of business and commerce programs, but we now have a keen eye on STEM students. As the search for new talent becomes more challenging, we’re urging more businesses to look from within. There’s a lot of value associated with reskilling current staff so that they’re ready to navigate the future of your business.
From an uncontrollable perspective, geopolitical uncertainty and regulatory policy challenges are impacting business investment and confidence. Calgary is a resource-based economy and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. For a lot of businesses, not knowing how future policies and decisions will play out adds a level of difficulty for businesses deciding where to invest for future growth. Policy decisions are out of their control – which can be frustrating and create untenable levels of uncertainty for business investment.
Besides the obvious impact of job losses and revenue loss, what other main impacts did the recession have on Calgary businesses?
Kaufield: It’s easy to think of the recession in a negative light. But in a glass half full sort of sense, there were positive outcomes as a result.
In some ways, the recession forced Calgary businesses to rethink their strategy so they’re fit for future – thinking about the product they deliver and the customer they deliver it to. Businesses have taken a value over volume mantra – one that’s driven by resiliency, so that businesses can bounce back stronger.
The recession was certainly an eye opener that stability is likely a thing of the past. Businesses learned they need to resist the urge to expect comfortable operating environments, and continue to invest in new technology and talent as differentiators.
The recession was painful but lessons learned will provide benefits for decades to come.
Where do you think we’re at with the economy now and what are you hearing from businesses?
Kaufield: We’re in a state where the economy is more stable, but there’s still a sense of concern related to policy and decision-making on projects at a national and global level. Businesses fear that those concerns, coupled with the uncertainty of ongoing geopolitical decisions, could push things one way or another and effect Canadian competitiveness in a global market.
Although Calgary business may be cautious about how markets will grow, they’re focused on building resiliency. They understand that some things are beyond their control. Rather than staring policy in the face and waiting for change, businesses are investing in technology and talent, so that when concerns dissolve, they enter as bigger and better players. It’s inspiring to see that confidence in the Calgary business community.
– Mario Toneguzzi