Sunday, May 24, 2009

Professional Profile: Claire Lysnes - PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC)

Although Claire Lysnes has been practicing as an information professional for just over five years, she has been very active in contributing to the field and has a great deal to share with current iSchool students. Claire graduated from U of T’s Faculty of Information Studies in 2004, and is currently the President-Elect of the SLA Toronto Chapter and President of the Faculty of Information Alumni Association. I met with her at the downtown PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada offices where she told me a little about her experiences thus far and her advice for aspiring special librarians.

Please describe your current position.

My title is Portal Manager, and I work within the Knowledge Management group at the Canadian PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) firm. Recently, my team, formerly known as the Portal Services Team, has broadened its mandate and become the Knowledge Management Operations Team, with responsibility for the Portal, by which I mean our corporate intranet, and also our search functionality, meta-tagging, and taxonomy. We are also responsible for tools that are used to facilitate knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer.

PWC provides industry focused assurance, advisory and tax services for public, private and government clients in four areas: corporate accountability; risk management; structuring and mergers and acquisitions; and performance and process improvement.

The Portal, which uses Microsoft SharePoint as its presentation platform, contains information and content for use by all of the firm’s Lines of Service (Tax, Advisory, Audit and Assurance, and Internal firm support services) and industry clusters, such as Consumer and Industrial Products and Services (CIPS), Financial Services (FSIP) and Technology, Information Communications and Entertainment and Media (TICE),. Also found on the Portal is information about the firm’s Sales Relationship Management initiatives, competitive intelligence analysis, and our strategy to make PWC distinctive in the market place, as well as administrative and human resources-related information. The product of my work is the Portal, and it has grown to become quite large, containing much content. There are over 5000 employees at the firm, and the Portal services all of them.

How has your position evolved?

I am at a more senior level now. When I joined PWC, my role was focused on very discrete deliverables and tended to be more operational in nature: My responsibilities included serving our customers and ‘keeping the lights on’ with the Portal. Over the past year, my role has evolved and changed, and I’m currently focused on managing larger projects. I am now more strategy-focused and perform higher-level thinking about the Portal and the Knowledge Management needs of our users. For example, what are our future plans? Do we want to take the Portal to a mobile environment? How do we address the changing needs of our customers?

Please describe your career path.

I had what you might call a circuitous career path. My undergraduate education was in child development, and I came to what is now the iSchool with the intent of becoming a children’s librarian. While there, I found I had more of an interest in courses such as knowledge management than the children’s literature courses. In particular, I enjoyed Professor Choo’s courses, especially Information Management in Organizations: Models and Platforms. As the major project for the course, we developed a mock-up of an intranet for the Inforum staff. It was a great project and really piqued my interest in the web development side of things and modes of presenting information online.

Also while at the faculty, I did a job shadowing placement with AlphaPlus Centre, a government funded non-profit organization that provided library and information services to the adult literacy sector in Ontario. As a happy coincidence, they had a full time position open when I graduated. I worked at AlphaPlus for three years, and that set me on the path of working as a special librarian focused on government-funded projects, website development initiatives, and project management. Two years ago I joined PWC, and have continued to pursue a similar path.

If a student were interested in your area of work, what would you recommend?

If this is your area of interest, gear your course choices towards it: take more of the IS and knowledge management courses. You have to have a natural aptitude for understanding technology and how it works, but I think that most successful people in the role of Portal Manager would have the ability to translate business needs into technical solutions – not necessarily the implementation of the technology, but understanding how the technology can meet the business need. That’s really where we can fit: right at that intersection.

Can you share any helpful lessons that you have learned during your career, or advice you would offer to students graduating in a difficult economic climate?

Don’t underestimate the importance of networking. And don’t let any opportunities pass you by. I would encourage students to participate in programs like the job shadowing program that will expose them to the types of jobs that are out there and the people working in the field. I would encourage them to approach such programs in a professional manner so that they can maintain that contact as it may develop into something advantageous for them.

Knowing the benefits that I’ve experienced, I would recommend that students consider joining professional associations. It really does help cement that network: you not only get to know people who are in your profession within your geographic locale, but if you join a division, you get to know people who are working in similar types of roles and you can enrich your knowledge and your subject matter expertise.

Be proactive about your career! Don’t just wait for the job ad: Reach out to organizations, start making connections, and start liaising with people so that you become ‘top of mind’ to them.
Can you offer any other tips for current students who might be interested in pursuing a career in special libraries?

Be cognizant of the fact that — while it might seem like early days to make these decisions — once you start working in one type of sector, you may be gearing your career to be within that sector. If students are interested in special libraries, they should pursue opportunities in that area. I would definitely encourage it because that is what I love.

I like special libraries and I like working for corporations. Things happen so quickly. It always keeps you interested and engaged. You’re exposed to so many different people and jobs and resources, and you can really broaden your knowledge of what’s out there. The projects you are exposed to are amazing and groundbreaking.

I would encourage people to remain involved with the faculty. Not only to facilitate your network, but to stay in touch with what is happening in academia or related to information studies. Being the President of the Alumni Association helps give me some perspective on what I do and how it fits in within the profession.

Finally, don’t be afraid to go down a path that may be slightly different than your Masters degree because it might lead to great things for you. Don’t take for granted the skill set that you have and do realize that it is valuable, and figure out a way to sell that to your employer.
Claire can be contacted at

Interview conducted by Monica Rettig