by George Nott

CIO50 2017 #19: Farid Jarrar, Stellar

Nov 21, 2017
Technology Industry

Stellar is the voice behind some of the world’s most loved brands. The company provides customers with outsourced customer engagement solutions – from contact centres to managing social media, tackling back office processing, providing support functions to consulting services.

Stellar has seen steady growth since it was founded in 1998, opening centres across Australia, the Philippines and the USA. This month it opened a 120 seat site in Wollongong.

In 2015 the company formally commenced its digital transformation program, which has been led by chief information officer for APAC North Americas at Stellar, Farid Jarrar.

“Changing consumer preference and technology trends in digital, cloud, social and mobile are transforming our landscape,” Jarrar says. “We need to grow and remain relevant in the market, and to be seen as thought leaders. It’s no longer enough to just do our core business well: we need to innovate and be ahead of the curve. We needed to disrupt ourselves before we were disrupted by someone else.”

There are three main themes for the ongoing program: products, people and process.

This year Jarrar and his team has introduced a slew of technologies aimed at adding value for clients and finding efficiencies within the company; including predictive chat, virtual agents and AI, interactive voice response self-service, robotic process automation and predictive analytics.

“With our product roadmap, agility is the name of the game – we’ve discovered what works for us is to investigate the new technology, pilot it with an engaged client, and then roll it out to the rest of our client base,” Jarrar says.

“We’ve found that our agile approach to implementation aligns well with our clients’ desire to remain relevant in their industries.”

Jarrar and his 80 strong technology team introduced an ‘Idea Pad’ through Workplace by Facebook earlier this year that gives any employee, anywhere in the world, the ability to share an idea with the products team.

The technology team then scopes it out and interrogates the concept before bringing it to a steering committee. Those working in corporate have been sent on design-thinking workshop to understand user-centred design, while others have been upskilled, learning how to turn a fledgling idea into a ready-for-market product.

“We know that the best ideas can come from anywhere, and part of Stellar’s transparent culture means that everyone in the organisation feels empowered to share their ideas. We’ve created a structure that nurtures these ideas and brings them through to reality,” Jarrar says.

Connecting people

Stellar operates under the Open Book Management model.

“That means we share transparently with all members of staff. Each person is empowered to understand the business and their role in it,” Jarrar explains.

That means Stellar, more so than other companies, needs to have the right collaboration and information sharing tools and for them to be well used across the organisation.

The roll-out of enterprise collaboration tool Workplace by Facebook has brought staff closer, wherever they are in the world.

“People could make a human-to-human connection and see who they were working with,” says Jarrar, “It has allowed us to share information and collaborate as one single organisation; and enabled us to leverage the collective intellect of our entire organisation across the globe.”

It has been both an eye-opener for different centres (“We had to all get used to other ways of working and understand that one global team is made up of even more personalities and cultural differences than a local team has,” explains Jarrar).

One Stellar

“As we’ve grown, the limitations of our existing systems have become clearer. Instead of having a small offshoring offering, we now have 2,000 people in the Philippines. It’s no longer acceptable to have siloed systems,” Jarrar, who joined the company in 2010, says.

This year Jarrar and his team commenced an initiative named ‘One Stellar’, a project that aimed to integrate Stellar’s 4,300 people, its processes and technology across different countries and time-zones.

“We wanted to reduce the amount of repetition our teams were doing. We wanted to help our IT team find areas to specialise in, instead of all needing to be generalists,” Jarrar says.

“We had to unify all IT capabilities. Voice, network, security all had to be centralised, with no duplications. It forced us to really shake up our silos and streamline everything we were taking for granted,” he adds.

The work has touched every facet of IT at the business; including email, instant messaging, data centres, core infrastructure, procurement and vendor management, service delivery processes and tools, information security processes and procedures, end-user computing and licensing.

Delivered on time and budget, the efficiency gains have led to a headcount reduction at the same time as significant non-linear business growth.

To the lab and beyond

One of Jarrar’s favorite innovations this year has been Stellar’s customer experience focused ‘CX Lab’.

The lab transcribes customer conversations using a combination of AI, voice to text and text into rich text, before they undergo sophisticated conversational analytics to identify, group, and organise the words and phrases spoken during calls into themes.

The offering – which began small but is now run by five full-time employees – has been a differentiator for Stellar, allowing it to more readily gain insights, enhance contact centre performance with practical improvements and reduce customer churn by identifying root cause reasons for cancellations.

For one client, a large utility organisation, two Stellar employees were able to transcribe more than 50,000 calls, with a deep dive into 10,000 chat transcripts within two weeks.

Using the resulting insights Stellar was able to identify significant opportunities for automation, and rank them according to value and complexity.

More innovations are in the pipeline, and the agile team is now in a position to be prepared for whatever next comes round the corner.

“We recognise that we are in an age where technology is becoming obsolete so quickly, the clock speed is accelerating, and consumer preferences are changing. We must accelerate our internal delivery clock speed to meet these expectations. We know that this might mean some failures, but we aim for progression rather than perfection.” says Jarrar.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time in our industry. Technology is transforming everything we do. Change is constant in both technology and business and you constantly need to reinvent your thinking and skills to stay at the top of your game.”