by Nadia Cameron

How AMP’s CIO is striving to be innovation and change ready

Feb 01, 2016
InnovationIT Leadership

Customer-led and iterative innovation is the name of the game for AMP’s CIO, Craig Ryman, and he’s not afraid of taking transformative steps organisationally and culturally to achieve it.

Ryman was appointed CIO at the financial services group a year ago, taking over the reins from well-respected and long-serving IT leader, Lee Barnett. Like his predecessor, he has built a significant career within the organisation, working across almost every part of the business along the way.

Joining AMP in 1997 as an ecommerce and business analyst, Ryman was involved in the group’s de-mutualising transformation program, as well as renovating its corporate super business. He then moved into AMP bank, helping launch its Internet banking offering.

From there, Ryman headed to the UK for three years, transforming AMP’s investment management and pension businesses, as well as building its online super funds market. He also spent time in customer services.

“All of these programs effectively enabled me to get a deeper understanding of the business,” he says.

Having left the organisation to travel, it wasn’t long before AMP contacted Ryman with another transformation program, this time installing a new operating model within the investment management business. The work saw about 75 per cent of all technology replaced in the division. Ryman says the first year of the four-year program was the hardest of his career as it strived to get alignment between project, technology and business teams on how to work together to create successfully performing programs.

“At the time we completed that program, the AXA transaction commenced. We looked to merge the two companies and ensure one plus one equalled 2.5,” he says. “We did that in nine months and achieved synergies and cost benefits that were better than any other part of the business.”

Ryman was then asked by Barnett to join her team as an IT director and transform the IT part of the investment management business. Stints with AMP Capital and back in financial services eventually led to his promotion to CIO last January.

“People often talk about your perspectives being quite limited if you’ve worked for one company for a long time, but I’ve worked in all parts of this business, and it’s a broad business,” Ryman comments. “I don’t feel like I’ve suffered any lack of opportunity or diversity by having a good, long healthy career at AMP.”

Ryman’s innovation agenda

Filling the hole left by Barnett was always going to be tough, and Ryman says it was important to put his stamp on the CIO role by adjusting the operating rhythm and cadence of how IT operates.

So he did. Within six weeks, Ryman had held a leaders’ summit with the top 100 IT executes at AMP and effectively launched a new vision statement and several strategic themes he planned to prioritise, all emphasising innovation and a progressive approach to IT. These align to the concepts of agility, efficiency, and people and partners.

“These made it clear that innovation is not something that happens in small pockets, or just at our Amplify event every two years; it’s a responsibility for all of us to think about,” Ryman continues. “Small innovation for me is very valuable. We have 1000 people working in IT at AMP, and if they turn up to work thinking curiously and looking to innovate even within their small area of focus, it’s going to add value to our customers and our business.”

While Ryman’s simply articulated vision represented a change in focus, it energised the team and set the tone for AMP’s business-led IT approach. At the same time, AMP’s wider three-year customer transformation, kicked off by its CEO, Craig Mellor, and spearheaded by its first chief customer officer, Paul Sainsbury, is driving further appetite for change.

“Sometimes you can get caught into visions and themes that don’t result in any actions,” Ryman says. “Importantly, we followed that up with five strategic initiatives that really reinforce the things we want to transform from an IT capability perspective, beyond AMP’s wider three-year customer transformation.”

One initiative launched to drive sustainable, customer-led change is AMP’s Innovation Day, held on the first Friday of every month. The activity taps into AMP’s Net Promotor System (NPS) and voice of the customer data to identify go-to-market propositions that can be improved, then encourages staff to spend a day trying to fix them.

“We’ve had two of these now and it’s been enthralling to see the kinds of problems we can solve very readily when you give people the licence to have a bit of freedom to go and do it,” Ryman says. “They’ve been self-organising as teams as well.”

As an example, one team turned ad hoc statements for super clients that would take 24-48 hours to produce into a 10-minute exercise.

“Yet this was posted on a board somewhere as an issue we needed to solve for much longer – it just took the right energy and culture to release that,” Ryman says. “The important part of this process, and what excited our teams, was they were hearing first-hand about the customer’s problems. They could look at that and realise they could solve it.

“Because they’re not potentially in the loop of these problems being surfaced, the initiative created two opportunities for me. Firstly, as we become a more customer-centred organisation, IT people that would potentially have been two steps removed from the customer are drawn in a lot closer. Secondly, we’re actually solving problems very efficiently that would probably sit on lists and get prioritised at some later stage.”

In addition, Ryman has challenged his broader architecture and business teams to think about solving problems differently by looking outside the typical tier-one solution approach. To do this, he’s encouraging them to delve into open source technologies and capabilities, as well as cloud platforms and applications.

“It’s often not appropriate or at the enterprise level at that point in time, but it’s changing the way they think about solving problems, and it’s making them look up and out,” Ryman says.

Sustainable change

Processes are also in Ryman’s sights. He says it’s important to build enabling capabilities within IT that makes change an opportunity, rather than a threat, and calls an organisation that accepts and deals with change in both a sophisticated and focused manner, “change fit”.

“It’s about making IT at AMP deliver and help reduce cost of change, increase speed to market, and do it in a way that’s more customer intimate,” he says. “My sense is if I get that operating rhythm right, then irrespective of what changes might come down from the business or from a technology sense, we’ll have an organisation that can respond to that.”

AMP as a whole is stepping away from traditional design, build and implement techniques it used to deliver products and services, and embracing human-centred design. Ryman says this approach also lends itself to more contemporary IT delivery methods, and AMP has implemented an Agile program to better embrace iterative-based innovation.

“It’s about re-architecting our solutions, which enable us to create better customer experiences, more personalised, real-time, and delivered in a way that’s creating engagement with products that those customers potentially wouldn’t have woken up on a Saturday morning thinking about,” Ryman continues.

What these initiatives have also done is improve cross-functional collaboration. As the lead for workplace management, Ryman has also put AMP’s customer experience digital and IT digital teams together on the same floor, as well as introduced more activity-based working spaces.

“It’s shaping different languages and how we talk, it’s changing the energy on the floor, and it really is moving – albeit one step at a time – our culture into more of a dynamic one,” he says.

“We haven’t got to the end game of one team, one set of KPIs – we haven’t felt the need to do that yet as we’re finding these techniques are working well for us.”

AMP’s data strategy

Hand-in-hand with AMP’s customer-centred play is data, and Ryman says advanced data analytics capabilities are particularly important for creating experiences that are personalised and engaging for customers.

One big project AMP’s IT teams have worked on over the last 18 months is implementing a new customer experience management platform. The project included standing up a contemporary data and analytics platform, as well as implementing a master customer data management, giving the organisation a centralised data repository.

“In a very complex organisation, that was a wonderful achievement,” Ryman says. “We have also implemented a campaigns engine that helps us determine how to deliver next best offers and more personalised experiences.

“When we combine the three – analytics for more insight about who you are and what’s relevant to you, clean data, and an ability to communicate with you via any channel in a way that’s personalised and gives you a better experience with us – it’s bringing AMP’s aspirations to be customer-centred to life.”

The next phase is better leveraging the data platform and delivering outcomes off the back of those investments that further improve AMP’s interactions with each and every customer, Ryman says.

Furthering innovation with the cloud

Another transformative shift for AMP IT has been around cloud computing. Ryman, who initiated the group’s cloud strategy about four years ago, says his view of cloud has undergone a significant shift in recent years from cost-effective infrastructure to ultimate innovation platform.

“The view we took back then, when cloud was top of the hype cycle, was that cloud was more than just cheap infrastructure, it was an operating model shift, and we needed to consider its whole impact,” he explains.

“We did that, and we were reasonably progressive in how we thought about it, as we looked at our entire landscape and looked at how cloud played a role in every part of that.”

Among the benefits AMP chalked up from embracing cloud initially was reducing mid-range costs by about 30 per cent. But as Amazon, Microsoft and other players started putting software and platforms such as machine learning and DevOps in the cloud, Ryman sees cloud moving up the value chain for organisations.

“This is accessible infrastructure and software now for anyone,” he claims. “What it enables you to do is to think differently and think more about IT as a platform, rather than just infrastructure and software.”

As a result, cloud is now a great platform for IT innovation, Ryman says.

“Using devops techniques and high-end automation, you can create highly stable environments that allow you to iterate quickly,” he says. “And you can do it very cost-effectively. That creates fertile ground for even the big corporates to do great experiments, but be safe about implementing them into production, because there’s such high automation wrapped around it.

“When I look cloud now, it’s not ‘old news’, it’s almost ‘new news’, because this emerging capability is changing the shape of how you can do innovation in a really cost-effective manner. Corporations like AMP are going to leverage that.”

Going beyond business enablement

Whatever the project or priority, Ryman’s approach makes it clear just how far IT has gone from the days of enablement and support. In fact, during a presentation at the Optus Vision conference last year, Ryman positioned modern IT leadership as actively shaping how an organisation goes to market.

“More and more today, tech has shifted its position in terms of strategic enablement – we’re not just enabler of strategy, it’s incumbent on IT leaders to help shape business strategy,” he told attendees.

Having spent most of his career on the business side, it’s not surprising Ryman finds it easy to frame projects and priorities in terms of the business outcomes AMP is trying to achieve.

“Even the big programs I delivered were really about not only hitting a budget and schedule, but also delivering sustainable business outcomes,” he comments. “I don’t come at it as a technologist, and I’m not a technologist for technology’s sake. That said, I absolutely love technology and I think we’re in a golden era of innovation and potential around what technology can do.

“My perspective is that as the technology heart of the business, if we’re not working side by side and helping them shape their strategies, and leveraging technology in a way that helps them deliver better outcomes, then we’re missing the boat.

“AMP will be a far better organisation if the business leaders are experts in technology in their parts of the business, and are leveraging those for growth and outcomes.”

Ryman points out society as a whole has become more familiar with technology, downloading apps and software upgrades in way that wasn’t conceivable 10 years ago. That’s another opportunity for CIOs to capitalise on.

“Broadening that interest and helping bring that into the workplace and shaping strategies is imperative for a CIO these days,” he adds.