In February last year, Boral CIO William Payne was brought in to the building and construction giant to drive a new digital agenda. This required starting from scratch to create a digital strategy and then execute it.
In less than 12 months, Payne and his team have completely transformed the approach, engagement and technical capability of the organisation’s IT function. It has moved from a waterfall-based group that was universally viewed as a ‘brake’ on the business to a fully agile, digital leader.
The business now sees the IT group – rebranded as Boral Digital Solutions – as a benchmark to follow, Payne tells CIO Australia.
“Foundation platforms, many of them cutting-edge, have been established from scratch – in some cases being an Australian leader in the capability. Legacy software has been re-purposed to deliver future-ready applications. A wide-scale transition to cloud-based solutions has created a nimble customer-facing architecture where none previously existed,” he says.
Payne points out that the construction and engineering sector is one of the largest in the world, yet one of the last to explore the digital capabilities now widely available.
“A game of catch-up is now firmly underway with billions of dollars – US$1.8 billion in the first 9 months of 2018 alone – being poured into startups, scale-ups and corporate innovation as incumbents and new entrants seek to leverage the value that technology can bring. This presents both a risk and an opportunity for organisations such as Boral, and places technology at the foundation of our future plans,” he says.
Innovative solutions, some of which offer significant commercial opportunities for Boral have been developed via hackathons, design thinking and accelerated lean startup methods – all of which are completely new to the business, Payne says.
“Artificial intelligence and IoT platforms have been established and used to demonstrate significant business value with rapid scaling activities currently underway. Boral Digital Solutions is now a pivotal element of the wider organisation’s future business strategy,” he says.
Payne says that the value to the organisation from this transformation has been significant. Projects that previously took years as being delivered in months, and in some cases, weeks.
“New platforms have increased productivity, reduced costs and built the foundation for completely new business models that leverage technology to improve overall performance. The digital budget has increased by more than 25 per cent with massive business demand across all areas. Business transformation programs are now led by IT,” he says.
The transformation required a complete redesign of Boral’s IT organisation. Aside from the CIO, not one role remains from the previous function. An entirely new digital leadership team was established and a complete ‘spill and fill’ of resources undertaken with numerous skills added to augment the team’s capabilities.
A Netflix-style culture code has been embedded into the IT organisation based on outcomes and key results. This has replaced annual key performance indicators and code and is being looked at by the wider business to measure staff performance. A new training program was also developed.
“All of this was self-funded within the year through savings teased out of existing IT costs,” says Payne.
“Persuading the business of the capabilities of this new IT function was a key challenge and addressed by ‘doing.’ Rather than present what the future approach will look like, this was instead demonstrated through action by rapid delivery of business outcomes which could then be pointed to when talking about the ‘how,’” he says.
An evolving role
Payne says the role of the CIO continue to evolve as back-end technology (software and hardware) slips further down the agenda or virtually disappears in a cloud-based world. Front-end innovation, customer experience, artificial intelligence, internet-of-things (IoT) technologies become the main area of focus, he says.
“The CIO is now firmly a strategic one and in future years, we will hopefully see more CIOs transitioning into the CEO role as digital becomes the basis of an organisation’s differentiation.
“It is an amazing time to be in the CIO role and no-one should feel threatened given the value potential we have to offer. CDOs (chief digital officers) are often CIOs in disguise and in many cases, we put in place to provide the strategic digital leadership legacy CIOs lacked.
“This has changed and many CIOs I meet are extremely capable and adding enormous value to their respective organisations. We may even see the CIO and CDO role blend back into one in the not too distant future,” he says.