by Divina Paredes

Julia Raue of Air New Zealand: Building the next digital milestone

Oct 15, 2015
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Julia Raue says it is a privilege to be holding one of the largest CIO roles in New Zealand.

“I’ve never taken the role for granted,” she says. “We work incredibly hard to ensure success,” says Raue on being CIO at Air New Zealandfor the past eight years.

She could have continued to stay in the role as CIO at the airline, but late last year decided it is time to take her career to the “next level”.

“I want to do something completely different,” says Raue, who joined Air New Zealand as a contractor in 1999, then progressed to roles including Distribution and Customer Solutions manager and General Manager Group IT Production.

Raue became a director at TVNZ mid-2014, and this opportunity made her take a step back and realise how much she has experienced at Air New Zealand that she could share with other organisations.

Raue reports to chief financial officer Rob McDonald and discussed with him in November last year her intention to wrap up her CIO role by the end of 2015.

Raue then carefully prepared for this transition.

I would really like to become a CEO of an IT focused company that would really take a digital stand. Julia Raue, Air New Zealand

She worked with the executive team to widen the IT Review to include all areas of the organisation that could influence and grow their digital presence.

Air New Zealand completed the review, and one of its significant outcomes is the creation of the chief digital officer role.

Raue, in essence, disrupted her CIO role– it will be integrated into the portfolio of the CDO, making it a much larger role, with a different reporting line (report to CEO Christopher Luxon). A global search is ongoing for this post.

“It is a CIO-plus role,” she explains.

The CDO’s team will comprise the whole ICT team, along with parts of the sales, marketing and operations.

“It has digital sales, loyalty, commercial, digital innovation and customer experience, as well as information and analytics”.

“It has business as well as IT delivery components”, she says.

She is currently working with McDonald on embedding the structure for the CDO whose key accountabilities include innovation to remove “customer pain points”, working with the digital channels and loyalty teams to boost revenue and loyalty, and harnessing data and analytics platforms to deliver a truly personalised experience for customers.

Security is a key component as the role will be involved in protecting digital assets through an ever-evolving information security practice, she says. “A major aspect of the role is setting the company’s digital strategy, and ensuring there is capability to deliver on this plan.”

She explains the key drivers for the creation of the new C-suite role.

The executive team at Air New Zealand has been giving considerable attention to the areas of innovation and digital over the past 18 months, she says.

Raue worked with the executive team on having a “genuine look” at their operations and business performance.

“How can we improve that, what do we want to do continuously as we grow?

“We wanted to test what works today, what does not work today, and what we could do differently. That was the foundation of how we started,” she says. “What should the structure of the organisation look like and how do we not just rebuild an IT portfolio but a truly digital portfolio? What are the elements that will define and support digital?

“How can we learn from the big offshore organisations like Amazon, Pinterest, Google, Spotify and Facebook? How we can we learn from those that are not necessarily traditional corporates?”

Raue – who went to Silicon Valley every year to meet with key technology companies, venture capitalists and startups – set up meetings this time for the other executives. The Executive Team met with 10 of the world’s top companies in the innovation and digital space in Silicon Valley. One of the sessions included a half day meeting with venture capitalists who were given areas of focus for Air New Zealand. It was similar to a ‘speed dating’ event where the VCs had 15 minutes to pitch their products in those areas.

“It was a good way of bringing to life the digital shift and opportunities to the group, the need to go on a digital journey, and the scope of the CDO.”

The ICT team fully enables the goals of the organisation through ground-breaking, award winning technological innovations.Julia Raue, Air New Zealand

Points of difference

Raue smiles as she points out how her current CIO role is “very, very different” from the first time she stepped into the post.

“When I took the role, we would do one strategic change programme a year, alongside some smaller programmes at the same time.

“When I reflect on my role today, our capital spend has grown three to four and instead of doing one strategic programme, we now run multiple strategic programmes each year.

“This year, we currently have over 100 IT projects running,” she says.

“The ICT team fully enables the goals of the organisation through ground-breaking, award winning technological innovations.”

The shift was also evident in the makeup of the ICT team.

“In my first year as CIO, in-house development was still a relatively new area for us, supporting a small base of online sites,” she says.

Today, she says, Air NZ does a significant amount of in-house development. “Internal development now supports innovations and applications across the entire enterprise and customer experience journey,” she says.

New roles support the shift in digital and include security, user design, interaction and experience, enterprise architects, data architects, business change management and advanced testing roles.

Their work also encompasses information and analytics, APIs (application programming interfaces), infrastructure on demand, DevOps and continuous delivery.

“When I first became CIO, we had very basic testing requirements. Now we have a full range of testing complements in terms of roles and responsibilities. We did not have UX [user experience], UI [user interface] and CX [customer experience] roles,” she explains.

Air NZ had used agencies for these skills, but with its growing work on mobile and digital space, it invested in these roles, and will continue to do so.

The ICT teams are also working on more diverse technologies across the airline.

Technologies that were not in the team’s original portfolio eight years ago include self-service kiosks, gate and lounge technology; mobile apps; inflight entertainment; data and analytics platforms; buy on board systems; aircraft systems including on-board the aircraft; new financial partners, systems and cards including the OneSmart online wallet and application.

Raue says ICT now also works on advanced systems to support communications and staff engagement, sales, ancillary revenue, cargo, crew, finance, human resources, operations and business performance.

When Raue started, she had an enterprise data warehouse, but no data analytics platform. Now, she says, “We use analytics with every single thing we do.”

She says other areas where ICT at Air New Zealand will expand are security, enterprise architecture and business change management.

“We continue to grow our security practice,” she states. “We have to, as trends change and the threat landscape continues to shift.”

Tradition and innovation

Raue says her experience at Air New Zealand highlights the importance of being able to trial new ways of working,without risking the stability of the corporate that is heavily reliant on technology.

She says while the traditional ICT elements were needed, the airline also worked on projects that gave it opportunities to “change the future”.

“We do things differently,almost like a startup,” she says.

Their approach is to “ring-fence some elements and use them to try new ways of working”.

“If they are really successful we can embed them into the corporate,” she states.

She stresses these activities cannot be done in isolation. “You still need the business knowledge, all of the skills and experience, but you can protect it within. The corporate rules and regulation are there for good reason.

“How can you not impact the business, but at the same time protect elements and use it as a test bed?”

As to keeping up with major trends in the industry and beyond, Raue says, “I continued to watch what is happening globally and locally and understand how we can push and stretch ourselves to make a difference to our customers and Air New Zealand.

“I look at what others are doing but am not always too quick to jump,” she says. “I also trust my gut.”

This happened when she and the team were working on their booking engine, she says. Their competitors were signing up big licensing contracts for their booking engines.

She says she chose to stop signing it off to an outsourcer for two reasons: to grow Air NZ’s own online experience, and to be in control of its own destiny.

“That was where we could see good opportunity for growth,” she says.

“It was a lower cost platform that was getting more and more uptake.”

As she notes, the online uptake was quite immature in New Zealand at that time.

The booking engine platform and in-house development team enabled the launch of ‘grabaseat’, followed by other successful projects like self-check kiosks and RFID tags.

She says other organisations were looking at what they did, recognising they were some years ahead.

“It was a risk for us but one that we managed carefully and one that paid off.”

She does not specify which of the projects she has worked on that proved to be the most challenging, but cites instead those that had the “most rewarding deliveries”.

These were the airline’s move towards online booking engines, the self-check kiosks at both the domestic and international airports, and the mobile app.

Her takeaway from this is: “What makes us successful as leaders is people – collaboration with stakeholders, partners and our own teams is vital to our success. The rest is a mix of an idea or innovation, testing it, taking it to market and watching it grow.”

Next in line

Building a leadership bench through mentoring is a key feature of Raue’s stint at Air New Zealand.

“There are a number of people across the ICT community whom I have mentored, and continue to do so,” she says. Raue also mentors a number of female leaders at the airline outside of the ICT portfolio.

“I’ve spoken at numerous events to continue to drive awareness and interest in an ICT career with a particular focus on encouraging women to consider this career opportunity,” she says.

“When I joined the IT industry, it was very male dominated,” says Raue, who had worked at the Auckland City Council and Presbyterian Support at the start of her career.

She recalls that when she attended training courses and events, the other participants assumed she was the administration person for the event.

“That could be hard for some women,” she says.

This personal experience has driven her to support a number of community and school projects like the Girls Innov8 and Girls Coding Camp initiatives.

She has also spoken to parents at the Manukau Institute of Technology on the opportunities that a career in ICT can offer their children. Often, she says, the parents are the ones who guide their careers.

“I have also spoken at a number of organisations and conferences on what it means to be a female leader and technologist, as well as what it means to be CIO at Air New Zealand,” she says.

She looks at her post-CIO role at Air New Zealand as another milestone.

“It is interesting what milestones trigger what you are doing.”

She says her son Ethan was aged one when she joined Air New Zealand, and he is leaving school at the end of this year.

That is why she timed her departure at the year-end when her children are off school. The whole family will then head on holiday together to Europe.

While she has yet to finalise what her next career step will be, she knows what it will – and will not – entail.

“I am not interested in a smaller CIO role,” she states, as she is looking for a “really large digital transformational type role”.

“I would really like to become a CEO of an IT focused company that would really take a digital stand. That would excite me.”

It could be another enterprise, a technology company or a startup, she says.

“I will leave the airline at a really exciting time,” she says, smiling.

“Air New Zealand will be into one of the largest internal transformation programs from a people’s perspective…I will see it grow, from a distance.”


This is part of a special report in the Spring 2015 edition of CIO New Zealandon: What is next after CIO?

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