This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Kumar R. Parakala, KPMG Head of IT Advisory Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMA) and India; Chief Operating Officer (COO) Advisory India; past Global COO for Global IT Advisory KPMG; Invited by President Clinton to work on the Clinton Global Initiative, Invited by the Red Cross Society of China Jet Li One Foundation to support various philanthropic humanitarian activities around the world; past National Chairman of the Australian Computer Society (ACS); recipient of national and international honours. Kumar provides unique Insights from an internationally renowned innovator and senior executive with a long history of success.
Mr. Kumar Parakala is currently the Head of IT Advisory for KPMG in Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMA) and India. Apart from leading the IT Advisory business into the next growth phase, he has also been appointed as the Chief Operating Officer of KPMG Advisory business in India. The Advisory practice of KPMG India consists of 2500 people and the EMA IT Advisory practice has close to 3500 people.
Prior to his current role, Mr Parakala was the Global Chief Operating Officer for the Global IT Advisory practice for four years at KPMG. During his career in Australia for over 20 years, Mr. Parakala has worked in senior management roles within healthcare, professional services, manufacturing and the public sector. Boards and CEOs consult with him on various matters relating to management of complex projects, outsourcing, business strategy and IT, performance of IT function and corporate governance. He joined KPMG in Year 2000 and prior to that spent five years in the Queensland healthcare sector in senior executive roles both in private and public sector.
He held several public positions including the National Chairman of the Australian Computer Society and was the IT industry spokesperson for several years in Australia. Mr. Parakala has been a regular columnist for the “The Australian” and his views have been extensively covered across media in India, Australia and overseas.
Mr. Parakala was bestowed with the ACS Honorary Life Membership Award recently; he became the 45th recipient of this award since the formation of the Society in 1966. He also received the Leadership Excellence Award from the Queensland Government and the SEARCC Outstanding Contribution Award.
He has Masters Degrees in Science, Information Systems and Business Administration and is an Adjunct Professor at Central Queensland University, Australia. Mr. Parakala supports major global philanthropic initiatives such as Clinton Global Initiative (by President Bill Clinton) and Jet Li Foundation.
Outside of his professional commitments, Mr. Parakala is an avid golfer, skiing enthusiast, wine connoisseur and restaurant critic.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Tell us more about your work with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and Jet Li Foundation.
"....Since the inception of the Clinton Global Initiative in 2005, CGI members have helped more than 15 million women and girls to have access to empowered initiatives....I’ve been very fortunate to have been invited by President Clinton to be a part of this initiative and I am continuing to support various activities of CGI including a forum to engage with college students in global commitments to action and various other philanthropic activities....The Red Cross Society of China Jet Li One Foundation was founded by Jet Li and I was invited to participate. The main purpose of the Foundation is to support various philanthropic humanitarian activities around the world, starting with China and other countries...."
Now looking back over your early years - what triggered your initial interest in technology and then what forces shaped your interests?
"....I got into technology accidently. I then worked through various opportunities that came my way and persevered and ultimately I’ve had a very enjoyable career in IT spanning more than 20 years...."
What lessons can you share from your positions as National Chairman of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) and regular columnist for the “The Australian”?
"....The main purpose of the Society is to advance ICT professionalism and that is what ACS is well-known for....My columns in ‘The Australian’ have always emphasized the benefits of using technology....My columns were regularly focused on how the government should make technology a strategic national priority, and more importantly what the governments around the world and industry should be doing to leverage information technology and create sustainable wealth for its people...."
From your current roles, what do you hope to achieve and how do you bring value to your stakeholders?
"....Currently I have two roles. One role is being the head of IT Advisory for Europe, Middle East, Africa, and India business for KPMG. In that role we are looking at how we can help our clients, particularly at the CEO and CFO level, address their requirements for technology solutions....I also have another role and that is as Chief Operating Officer for our advisory business in India....My role is very much focused on helping create a team of strong advisors who are able to help our clients in the areas of transaction and restructuring, performance and technology, and in the areas of risk and compliance...."
Looking at your remarkable career of successes - what are your most difficult challenges: past, present, and future?
"....I’ve been in situations in the past where there was very little I could do in terms of helping organizations address issues, such as the downturn in the economic situation or changes in the labour market which impacts their businesses. Very recently I have been working with organizations which have been impacted by the global financial crisis - which sometimes has nothing to do with anything they have done, they just got impacted. All these experiences have taught me to become flexible in my thinking, adaptable and to embrace change...."
Please provide your career highlights and valuable lessons you wish to share with the audience.
"....I’ve had had many highlights in my career....The great times I have had working with people and working for large organizations in Australia and overseas....Getting the Leadership Excellence Award from the government....Joining my current firm KPMG....Coming to India (about 18 months back) again after living in Australia for almost 20 years....In terms of valuable lessons - I realize that ‘human-connect’ is the most important valuable lesson I learned in my career over the last two decades...."
Which recognition are you most proud of and why?
"....I am very grateful for these awards but I’ve always enjoyed the journey and will continue to enjoy the journey. I will cherish whatever rewards and awards come my way but I’m focusing on the journey and I want to make sure that the journey remains as enjoyable as is possible...."
Can you share your insights on India and the IT industry?
"....I have no doubt in my mind that the way India is going, it will continue to remain a global force in the IT space and will become a major contributor, not only to many businesses around the world in terms of helping them grow, but also significantly helping the quality of lives of people in all parts of the world, both Western and Eastern...."
What about leadership in emerging markets?
"....Where leadership is concerned, we tend to take a little bit more structured approach in a developed country. We have well defined paradigms and we follow the philosophies and models that have been introduced over several years. But coming to India I found that leadership needs to take a different meaning in terms of organization and its people and in an emerging economy like India where there are lots of young people, it’s very important that the leadership aspects take into consideration the need to be able to connect with these people at every level possible – from senior management to the entry-level...."
What is Professionalism in ICT?
"....Professionalism is beyond qualifications, it’s about creating and maintaining a culture where there are high ethical standards and values where skills are regularly updated and validated, where there is a regular exchange of information and ideas and there is accountability and responsibility of actions. If we look at the dependence that we have on ICT, no matter which industry we come from, you will very quickly come to a conclusion that ICT professionalism is mandatory to have a successful business or industry. I’ve been a great advocate of professionalism for several years in ICT in several roles I’ve taken on...."
What are your thoughts on computing as a recognized profession like medicine and law, with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, and globally recognized credentials?
"....Professionalism is very important, regulation is very important and the governments around the world should embrace the regulation of the ICT profession as a risk mitigation strategy...."
What is the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3) and how does this program provide value?
"....IP3 in my view is the only professional IT standard that we have with relevant accreditation policies and procedures that can be applied globally in the ICT industry....I believe that it is very important that all the industry and trade bodies around the world embrace IP3 as a set of standards that they should aim to comply with and help create professionals standards committees to take the good work coming out of IP3 and use for improvement of professionalism in the ICT industry globally...."
Where do you see CIOs in the future?
"....Increasingly in these times we are seeing the CIOs becoming more business orientated and their ability to develop greater business and communication skills is going to determine their success....CIOs are also increasingly putting on the hat of Chief Innovation Officers. The role of CIOs is becoming more and more diverse and you can see that CIOs are increasingly contributing to directly running of the business...."
You talked about CIOs becoming Chief Innovation Officers. How do we enable innovation?
"....Make it a priority and part of the value system of the organization....Allow their staff to make mistakes to fail and to learn from those mistakes. If you don’t allow people to do that there will not be much innovation because everyone will be playing it safe....Organizations need to continue to remain connected with their ecosystem (their customers, suppliers, shareholders and others)….Give appropriate levels of recognition - to help motivate and inspire people to innovate...."
What are some of the values of being involved in professional societies?
"....Offers individuals an opportunity to support and be actively involved in research, communication and personal development programs in their chosen field....Being part of a community that helps them to learn from each other and the experiences of others....Allows people to network with leaders in the industry....An opportunity for professionals to become a part of the ecosystem and contribute towards driving their profession and building professionalism...."
You choose the areas – can you provide your top predictions of future trends and their implications/opportunities?
"....There are five trends....Cloud computing....Sustainability....Technology convergence....Social networking....RFID and automatic data capture...."
Which are your top recommended resources and why?
"....As a KPMG partner I’d recommend KPMG Thought Leadership Directory that comes out in 140 countries. Businesses’ have found those resources to be of incredible value for their growth and progress....Resources coming out of Harvard Business School, Australian Institute of Management, Australian Institute of Company Director....Australian Computer Society (ACS)...."
Kumar shares a story from his many experiences.
"....You never know what is coming your way and you need to always be out there building relationships and see what you can do in the present moment...."
If you could sum up your life experiences with career tips for the ICT professional, what would be your tips and the reasons behind them?
"....Make sure that there is ‘people-connect’....Remain positive....Important for people to feel the need to learn....Have a very clear view in your mind of what you want to do...."
If you were doing this interview, what questions would you ask and what would be your answers?
"....’With growing calls for protectionism in developed countries where they are still going through a recession, what do you think about the future of outsourcing the industry?’....’We hear a lot of stories about India growing and making great progress – but what are the challenges that would prevent India from becoming one of the significant players in the global scene?’...."