Channa Manoharan followed in his father’s footsteps to become a chartered accountant but he never wanted to be a number cruncher. “I don’t see myself as an accountant or auditor, although that’s my core competency. I see myself as a business enabler,” he says. “I wanted to solve complex business problems and very early in my career, I realised technology was the best enabler.” After completing his training in accountancy and auditing, Manoharan joined the Sri Lanka offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the top four global audit firms.
He was assigned to its client advisory unit in 2002, which then comprised of five interns and a supervisor. Four years later he was promoted to head the division, which had grown to a 20-strong team. By 2019, Manoharan had expanded the division to 150 people. “Half of them are technology professionals,” he says. “We have team members from a diverse range of professions, and I am the only auditor in the traditional sense.”
“I wanted to solve complex business problems and very early in my career, I realised technology was the best enabler.”
While providing traditional finance-based advisory services around mergers, acquisitions, divestitures and cross-border transactions, the PwC Sri Lanka advisory team have capabilities around robotics technology, machine learning and cybersecurity. Its software engineers design and deploy Oracle-based digital systems for production and supply chain processes, human resources, and business process management.
“We are building digital systems for companies in the U.S. and the Asia Pacific from here in Sri Lanka,” Manoharan says. PwC Sri Lanka has developed digital strategies and data analytics for some of the country’s largest organisations in banking and telecommunications.The team has automated Sri Lanka’s national budget, linking every ministry, department and function of the state. “What we bring to the table is not just technical expertise in accounting standards. Our experience is harnessed with our expertise around business and technology to help the client solve complex business problems and grow,” Manoharan says.
However, his clients are not limited to large corporations. Manoharan has a soft spot for startups. He set up the PwC Accelerator with a dedicated team to help startups develop business plans and strategies, test market viability and cybersecurity risks, and provide networking opportunities with local and foreign investors.
Manoharan says the initial idea behind the PwC Accelerator was to take innovation to mature businesses that couldn’t innovate due to limitations from existing organisational structures. Sri Lanka’s tech industry body, SLASSCOM, appointed Manoharan as its Vice Chairman for 2018/19 and elected him to chair the tech chamber in 2020.