by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2017 #9: Simon Noonan, Sportsbet

Nov 21, 2017
Retail Industry

“When I first started working at Sportsbet, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” says CIO Simon Noonan.

“I remember telling my colleagues that the grass wouldn’t be greener, I just needed different grass. But I quickly learned that the role had significant impact and I was able to make a difference from day one – the grass was greener,” he says.

Since joining the betting organisation in September 2014, Noonan had to change the perception of technology and make a case for significant investment. The tech group was viewed as one focused on IT operations and infrastructure, rather than a department that was critical to the customer and the success of the business.

“I knew that we needed the right environment and the right talent to succeed, a culture where people felt like they could grow, make a difference and enjoy work.”

Noonan can safely say that the technology department at Sportsbet is a very different place, the team has expanded from 100 to 300 staff, which is in line with company growth.

“Over the past three years we’ve progressively lifted the bar, matured our practices and platforms, hired the right talent and I can now say we are no longer an IT operations department – we are recognised as being one off the best digital software engineering companies in Australia,” he says.

“But we have greater ambitions still; we want to create the platforms of the future, we want to create the best customer experience and we will continue to evolve the way we get stuff done and we will use the right tools.”

Sportsbet is now turning over more than $5.6 billion per year with its technology platforms support of over 1 million active customers and 1.1 billion price updates – making the organisation the number one online bookmaker in Australia.

Several innovations have driven this growth. Sportsbet recently delivered a new Android online betting platform – in addition to an Apple iOS app already on the market – using Google’s Material Design principles to create an intuitive experience for users.

Noonan and his team also adopted an agile delivery model which enabled the organisation to release the product to market quickly. This approach ensured that the team could collect insights and feedback from customers, allowing them to learn, iterate, adapt and prioritise which features to release next, Noonan says.

Using this model, the IT team provided a more flexible user experience which enabled marketing and products teams to change the customer experience in real time without a new version of the app. Thousands of tests have been automated, covering 99 per cent of the core user journeys, including security and performance tests.

“We have seamlessly migrated 100 per cent of our Android base to the new platform. The feedback from our customers has been extremely positive and has resulted in an uplift of customers over 10 per cent,” says Noonan.

Personalising customer interactions

Over the past 12 months, Sportsbet has invested in making sure its customers are interacting with content that is relevant to them.

“To achieve this, I have led a team to introduce a customer data platform, models and predictive algorithms (machine learning) to ensure we are learning from our customers and adapting user experience accordingly. We also do massive amounts of qualitative and quantitative research with our customers such as through casual catch ups over drinks and online diaries,” says Noonan.

Sportsbet has also held three ‘hack days’ over the past year which brought together more than 200 people. These events focused on process and backend improvement in addition to innovations in the organisation’s end product and customer experience such as ‘pick your own line’ and ‘share-a-bet.’

“After Hack Day, we encouraged continuous experimentation and as a result one of the hack teams established ‘Voice Club’ at Sportsbet to explore the possibilities of voice and how customers can interact with us,” he says.

Noonan says he has pushed his team to constantly improve Sportsbet’s product offering, creating the best customer experience, automating where possible and using predictive analytics to stay one step ahead.

“Our product is essentially made from a significant amount of data and we consume billions of data updates a year. Sportsbet has been right at the forefront of this kind of innovation in Australia for the past decade, in particular our use of models to inform decision-making processes and product innovations.

“Over the past year I have worked closely with our general managers of analytics and product to ensure we are learning from data to support our drive to personalise customer experience.”

Since 2015, Noonan and his team have also improved product delivery output by 30 per cent.

“By improving our agile delivery practices we’ve shifted from delivering seven releases a year to over 25 releases a year with hundreds of features which can be toggled on and off and are tested with a group of our customers,” he says.

A safe learning environment

Noonan says one of the most integral cultural changes he has initiated at Sportsbet is creating a learning environment – called ‘The Academy’ – which enables its tech team to deliver in an agile way while giving them space to make some mistakes.

This change has led to significant improvements in the quality of products as well as the number of new features being delivered to the customer.

“Our teams now have shared goals, ownership, reduced feedback loops, less handoffs, long-lived delivery teams, and a reduction in context switching. By moving away from working in silos we’ve been able to inspire a culture of growth and innovation, as well as building solid relationships between team members.”

More than 70 per cent of Sportbet’s staff are ‘millennials’ which has also forced Noonan to switch his leadership style.

“We hold regular fortnightly team-wide catchups where I share business updates and the team share their successes in an informal environment. Our teams gather to discuss high level business objectives, emerging tech trends, showcase their work, recognise people through the Tech All-Stars program, and check on our growth and progress on a regular basis,” Noonan says.

Byron Connolly