When Sami Yalavac was promoted to chief information officer at Bupa Australia and New Zealand in February last year he found himself head of a technology function divided into siloed teams that rarely collaborated and lacked end-to-end accountability.
Although some core services, including systems availability and service desk support, had been improved in recent years, the overall internal experience of the function was poor. Senior executive stakeholders were even less satisfied, calling the tech division outdated, frustrating, unresponsive and disjointed.
The IT team itself expressed a lack of morale and low engagement.
“Most tellingly, due to a lack of credibility with senior executives and their belief that the function lacked the capability and experience to deliver, the technology function was sidelined in a major business transformation program,” says Yalavac.
Having first arrived at the private health provider nearly 12 years prior, Yalavac stepped into his new role with a bold vision.
“I set about transforming every aspect of the function – changing the operating model, injecting new roles and capabilities, and driving a program of strategic initiatives to move towards an innovative, efficient function that is fit for the digital age. Most critically though, has been a relentless focus on people, culture and leadership,” he says.
At the very beginning of his tenure, Yalavac conducted in-depth interviews with more than 40 senior executives to get an understanding of their dissatisfaction with the technology function.
He also spoke to his 500-strong team, generating buy-in for his plan.
“I invested a significant amount of time speaking with my leaders, peers and my people about the vision. I knew that it was critical that members of the technology team understood why it was important that the function change and grow, and for everyone to be equally invested in achieving the vision,” he said.
The feedback was used to shape a threedash;year technology strategy to ensure alignment to business expectations.
To enact it, Yalavac helped to build leaders and brought additional capability and experience to the team, which was founded on “real trust and accountability” for achieving shared outcomes.
“The core of the transformation of the function has been changing the mindset and culture so that we can deliver an extraordinary customer experience, drive business growth and make it a place where people enjoy working and can grow – underpinned by collaboration, agility, efficiency and innovation,” Yalavac says.
As a result of the transformation effort, and the rising status of the technology function within the company, Yalavac’s team has taken a central role in the delivery of Bupa’s multi-year Customer Transformation Program.
“Where previously the function operated at the periphery with the significant technology delivery for the program outsourced, we are now leading the design and delivery of all technology components,” Yalavac says. “[We have] moved from being order takers to bringing innovations and new technologies to their stakeholders to drive business growth.”
The new operating model – “we have the structure, roles, capability and culture to be thought leaders and influence our business colleagues, not just react to their requests,” Yalavac says – has given rise to a slew of innovations at the company.
Earlier this year the tech team rapidly prototyped a chatbot solution for Bupa’s optical business, and conducted real customer testing to gauge customer propensity to engage us through a chat-style interaction when booking appointments.
In parallel, a chatbot solution is being rolled out to make it easier for internal users to get help via the IT service desk, complementing the existing web interface with a chat-style interaction.
And after a successful proof of concept, a robotic process automation solution is being applied to automate several back of house, labour-intensive business processes to drive business efficiency.
Bupa is also partnering with a Silicon Valley start-up in piloting several ‘minimum viable products’ for customers, including a maternity toolkit, medical factdash;finding and video consultations. Another start-up collaboration is adding functionality to smartwatches to allow elderly people in Bupa’s residential care homes to request emergency help and services.
“We have also delivered a voice-to-text platform that allows us to analyse customer sentiment through our contact centre and predict potential customer churn. We are now working to deliver near real-time, trigger-based customer interactions to improve customer experience through proactive customer engagement, for example outbound calls and push notifications to our customers,” Yalavac says.
Driving such a major cultural change is never easy. It takes strong leadership, and time, especially within a team of more than 500 people with multiple stakeholders across a complex business which turns over more than $8 billion annually and has over 20,000 employees.
“Even with a brilliant vision or strategy, or when implementing a new practice that has been proven in thousands of other organisations (such as Agile), people and organisations won’t follow you without a very conscious and significant effort,” says Yalavac. “When I created the new vision and started redefining our role in the organisation, despite significant effort, it took a very long time to get our people, as well as our business stakeholders, to buy into it.”
Throughout the process Yalavac has coordinated regular workshops and staff training sessions, including off-site Scrum days, and human centred design courses. The company ran its first ever hackathon event earlier this year. Yalavac keeps staff up to date with progress through the company’s internal communications channels and Town Hall events.
Most importantly, via repeated electronic surveys and face-to-face meetings and interviews, feedback was gathered to check progress and adapt. Net Promoter Scores within and outside the technology function have rocketed, with a “clear shift in the sentiment” about IT.
“Whenever you’re driving change, whether that’s changing people’s mindset or running a largescale transformation, focus on your change program, don’t just rely on your assumptions, and find a way to measure how effective your current approach is so that you can keep revising based on progress and feedback. Any change will only be as successful as you are at getting people at both the heart and mind level,” Yalavac adds.