Giovanni Piazza

Giovanni Piazza of KPMG: Collaboration Fails When it Becomes an IT Play

6 minute read
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Giovanni Piazza’s career tracks the maturation of the enterprise collaboration and knowledge management field over the past three decades.

Piazza’s current job as global head of collaboration and knowledge at professional services giant KPMG can be seen as the pinnacle of a career trajectory which dates back to the late 1980s and his first knowledge management project as a junior member of staff at Andersen Consulting. After Andersen, Piazza held global executive roles, first at EY and then at Johnson & Johnson, joining KPMG in November 2016.

Growing Up with Knowledge Management

“The beauty of having grown up with the discipline means I have the ability to help shape solutions in a way that is coherent and consistent with what’s being debated and the choices being made,” Piazza said. The most significant advance he has observed in improving workplace collaboration and knowledge management over the years is the gradual untethering of the worker. 

“Progressively, we’re moving to a situation where we can work with no physical constraint — from mainframes to desktops to laptops to tablets to phones,” he said.

Piazza is responsible for developing the overall collaboration and knowledge management strategy to meet the business needs of the professional services giant KPMG, which employs 189,000 staff around the world. He’s currently leading its endeavor to rethink its approach to collaboration and knowledge management and the tools it needs.

Piazza will be speaking today at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place until June 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will give a session titled “KPMG at the Turn.” 

We spoke with Piazza about the key issues companies face as they reimagine their collaboration and knowledge management strategy, his advice for such organizations and the role social technologies may play.

'How Do People Really Want to Collaborate?'

CMSWire: Looking back over the past 30 years, what areas of workplace collaboration and knowledge management do you see as still ripe for improvement?

Piazza: I see three challenges. First, there’s the issue of bandwidth and computational power. Then, there’s the challenge of adapting the medium to the content. For instance, one day, when I was working at Johnson & Johnson, I found myself standing at the desk of a scientist who was working on an intricate Excel spreadsheet displayed on two 24-inch monitors. He was asking me in quite a heated tone to replicate his current experience on a portable device. I said, “Look at yourself, you can barely make sense of it with 48 inches of space, how am I supposed to replicate this experience on four inches of iPhone?”

Thirdly, there’s cybersecurity. We’re seeing the transformation of content. Content used to be something embedded in a Microsoft Office delivery platform — Word, Excel, PowerPoint — now it is organic, it is chat. Content is chat. It’s something that gets posted somewhere in the cloud, in a context that is not generated by us, but by the community, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Things are not yet like that in enterprises. We’ve rejected a blind embrace of social technologies so far, but we’re getting there.

CMSWire: In your opinion, what are the major challenges and opportunities global organizations like KPMG face in rethinking their approach to collaboration and knowledge management?

Piazza: Business needs to reclaim ownership and stewardship for collaboration and knowledge management. That’s not just KPMG, it’s applies to all companies. Knowledge management and collaborative enablement have failed when they become an IT play or a pretext for IT to play with cool technology, whether it’s search, social or cloud.

In the enterprise, the only things that succeed are those that have a strong business focus. It can’t be: “Let’s implement Yammer or Jive or an enterprise equivalent to Twitter.” 

It should be: “How do our people really want to collaborate?” Let’s have that debate. I don’t care about product x,y,z, I care about the outcome. Can we please describe the outcome?

CMSWire: What advice do you have for other companies which are eager to embark on their own reimagining of internal collaboration and knowledge management?

Learning Opportunities

Piazza: We at KPMG operate in a fairly regulated industry and we are paranoid about risk management. We keep talking about the risk of doing something, but what outcome are we going after and what is the risk of not doing this? You need to take risk into account, but it’s peripheral or lateral to what we really want to achieve, and we’re taking our eyes away from the outcome.

The enablement of collaboration and knowledge management should take place across people, process, content and technology. For every $3 you spend on each of the first three, spend $1 on technology.

CMSWire: When looking at how to improve collaboration across a global organization, how might social technologies help that project?

Piazza: What you need to think about is what part of collaboration and knowledge management landscape is left unattended today, which could be occupied by intelligent social technologies. For instance, always embedding online chat and making sure it gets captured and is a matter of record and part of the business.

Increasingly, teams are becoming virtual, it’s what is creating the digital workplace. It’s about extending above and beyond the physical workplace. 

With a large dispersed team, it’s enormously inefficient to hold a typical conference call where you in New York are on the call at 6 a.m., while the team in Sydney, Australia is still in the office at 8 p.m. The ability to make that kind of collaboration easier could be a transformative use of social technologies instead of creating yet another digital destination I’ve got to remember and go to.

CMSWire: What books do you like to read and why?

Piazza: There are historical characters that I admire a lot and like reading about, for instance, Winston Churchill. I’m fascinated by his personality.

Churchill had a difficult childhood and was not surrounded by family affection. He had several setbacks that basically ruined him and brought his then-career to an end. But he was able to hang in there and become one of the leading figures at the center of world-defining events. I’ve read a lot by and about him.

About the author

China Louise Martens

China Louise Martens has been fascinated by how individuals and organizations choose and use business software for over 20 years. To dig deeper, she’s interviewed and profiled end users, developers and executives as well as software vendors and IT observers.