PwC: What does digital transformation mean for you at Southern Cross?
Chris: For Southern Cross, it’s about providing a great experience for our members, our Affiliated Providers and also for our teams.
For me personally, it’s around reimagining our business as a digital business. I think a lot of companies fall into the trap where they just digitise their current processes, and we’ve been guilty of that too in the past. But I think there’s a real opportunity with digital to challenge the way we operate and think about the digital experience.
The other thing there is around data. We collect a lot of data and we want to use that information to drive personalisation and a great experience.
PwC: You’ve obviously got quite a strong background in digital, if I were to ask your wider exec what their definition of digital was, do you think it would be the same as yours? Would it be broader/narrower?
Chris: I think it would now be pretty consistent, and we’re working closely as a team to ensure we have clear common goals and KPIs. Digital is a core strategic theme for our business.
When I started I think there was an expectation that I would be driving digital in the business. But while I’m in charge of the digital platforms and driving that change, there is awareness that we need to be responsible as a leadership team. There’s no one person around the table who can do it all – every one of us has to be invested in it.
PwC: So if I were to ask you to score your Digital IQ, what would you say?
Chris: I’d put us somewhere in the 60s. Where we don’t stack up is in the back-end processes that are still very manually intensive. In most cases I think we have the front-end right and are focused on great design and user experience, but there’s still a chance to make the back-end more frictionless.
There’s a real opportunity for us to modernise our operational core. That’s based on legacy technology that has a lot of customisation in it that we have to work around. The opportunity for us is around that piece – get that right and we can accelerate delivery on new products and services and be a more agile organisation.
PwC: So we haven’t specifically spoken about your digital strategy, if you had a list of priorities for the company as a whole, where does digital sit within that list?
Chris: It’s one of our three core strategic themes. Modernising our core system is a key project we’re working through at the moment. That’s not about us being innovative at the core, innovation needs to happen nearer the customer. We are focused on finding those opportunities that will help us move faster and become more agile.
PwC: In terms of where you’re investing, we’re hearing a lot about emerging technology. Are you investing in those newer technologies?
Chris: We’re probably playing some catch-up around modernising our core, building new APIs and so on. Right now our ability to launch products and services is constrained by our legacy systems – and that’s no-ones fault, just symptomatic of how the business has developed. I would guess that most organisations are wrestling with this challenge.
We are really interested in things like AI and chatbots, but right now our legacy systems don’t allow us to turn on those channels. But I think in areas like FAQs and those low-value/high volume interactions – there’s definitely a place for it there. A lot of those come into the contact centre and we’d rather our people were working on those more complicated questions and helping members at what can be a very stressful time if they’re dealing with a health issue.
“We’re also rethinking how we use collaboration technologies so we can connect people across the organisation and give them access to the apps and data that help them do their jobs”
I think we have quite a traditional reporting approach to data and analytics. It’s about reporting back what happened last month or last year. Where we need to go next is around proving a hypothesis and using data to deep dive into that issue. We need to flip into a much more predictive, forward-looking model. That’s not because of a lack of technology or data, we just have to change our thinking to working in that way.
PwC: At the start you mentioned that your members, partners and employees were your key stakeholders, is there one of those that you’re prioritising with your digital efforts?
Chris: I think our members, definitely. Especially with new offerings like our mobile app. But it’s also about driving that experience and giving people a hassle-free, on-your-terms way of connecting with us. There are a lot of times when things will happen in people’s lives and they won’t want to use an app, they’ll want to talk it through with a human who cares about their outcome. So it’s about creating the right channels and offering a great member experience.
But we’re also not losing sight that we want to give our staff the right tools to work more effectively. The thing we hear back from our teams is they want the tools and technology to work better, but also they want to be upskilled in new areas like Agile.
Again, we’re playing catch-up, but the investment there is about giving people the tools to be more mobile and more agile. We’re also rethinking how we use collaboration technologies so we can connect people across the organisation and give them access to the apps and data that help them do their jobs, we need to make it happen in the easiest way possible. We’re also looking at more activity-based working methods to help support agility and collaboration within our offices.
PwC: Let’s talk about innovation. Do you have an internal innovation hub or lab? And where are you now with innovation?
Chris: So when I first started there were a lot of groups looking at things like continuous improvement and making small changes. But that didn’t have much intent or purpose and there wasn’t huge executive engagement.
When we set up our internal Horizons Hub, we had to make it cross-functional, so we went back to the leadership team and asked their teams to participate. We’ve got a project leader for that but every initiative has a team that draws on broad expertise from across the business.
As a result, there’s more of an appetite now in the digital space. So we’re looking around the business and finding who has the right skills and background to lead projects. We’re also looking to upskill our people in areas like design thinking through our leadership program. So that’s going quite well in lifting our capability and putting some meat on the bones of our innovation strategy.
I think the trick now is how you bring that through to production. We now have to carve out some funding and find those opportunities – that may even mean using things like hackathons to find those ideas.
PwC: So what’s the relationship between digital and the rest of the business?
Chris: For me, it’s about being more collaborative and participative with some common context and now we’re leading the charge on a lot of these initiatives. We’ve put 100 people from across the business through Agile training, and that’s not just from the IT team but across the organisation. So we’re really working in partnership with the business.
Our Leading Edge program where we develop leaders within the business has also been really good at bringing cohorts of people together from across the business and train them in areas like agile. That capability then feeds into the way we manage change, and they’re learning skills that are ready for the future.
PwC: With the increasing focus on digital, how hard is it to recruit people with digital skills?
Chris: : I think there are a few hotspots out there where it’s hard to find people. In Information Security, there’s a real hotspot for talent. As organisations figure out how to build out from their legacy systems, everyone’s looking for people who can work on integration solutions. What I’m really keen to do is start working with the universities where students will work with us over the summer so we’re creating a new pipeline of talent, and also get insights into how millennials think and work – we can surely learn from them.
We’re working hard to improve how we engage with prospective and incoming employees who have those digital skills. For me, most people have a good story to tell about our brand, and that makes it easier.
PwC New Zealand’s 2017 Digital IQ Survey reveals that when it comes to their digital investments, only 6% of Kiwi companies are thinking about creating better customer experiences while 76% are focused on growing their revenues.