Contributing writer

South Africa’s Discovery drives customer loyalty via RPA, APIs

Mar 31, 2022
APIsIT LeadershipRobotic Process Automation

CIO Nadira Misthry explains how Discovery’s Vitality medical aids rewards programme is leveraging emerging technologies to improve customer experience, better integrate with partners, and update their systems.

diversity south african woman reaching out to shake hands make deal south africa merger and acquisi
Credit: PeopleImages / Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant shift in South African consumer behaviour, with more shoppers turning to loyalty programmes than ever before. In fact, the average economically active South African belongs to about eight different programmes. As the CIO of Discovery Vitality, Nadira Misthry is invested in this trend.

Vitality is the rewards programme for Discovery, a South African-founded financial services organisation that serves the healthcare, life assurance, short-term insurance, savings and investments, banking and wellness markets. Vitality is one of South Africa’s biggest medical aid rewards programmes, which gives customers benefits for living a healthy lifestyle.

Loyalty programmes are developed to encourage members to stick with a particular product or business by offering rewards as an incentive for loyalty, Misthry says. “Technology and data are key enablers of these programmes because they ensure continuous member engagement, from linking a smartwatch to shopping with a programme partner. Technology underpins and drives the entire process,” she says.

Responsible for the technical side of Vitality — from the mobile app and website to the different integrations with the rewards programme’s various partners — Misthry is regularly looking to improve and update Discovery’s hugely popular programme to cater to a changing technology environment, and to meet the needs of a more digitally enabled and savvy user base. 

Here, CIO Africa chats with Misthry about the technology she and her team are using to keep Vitality members engaged.

CIO Africa: What technology trends are you keeping an eye on in 2022?

Personally, I’m fascinated by the potential of artificial intelligence. There are a lot of use cases for it. I’m keeping an eye on AI on two different fronts.

First, there is what I call the “sexy side” of AI, looking at pattern recognition to help us more accurately make predictions around user behaviour. Here, we are more in the conception phase, looking at what it can do and how it could be applied across our environment.

On the less sexy side, I’m also very interested in RPA [robotic process automation] as an operational efficiency and automation enabler that can help us free up time so that my team can focus on other, more strategic things. Currently, our internal development team is using Blue Prism’s RPA tool to increase operational efficiency so that people to concentrate on the more complex aspects of their jobs. We chose to not outsource our RPA needs because we are using it to improve our internal processes, and obviously our internal teams are best positioned to do the upfront process analysis and they have the insights to design something where we are only automating processes that make the most sense.

CIO Africa: We’d like to talk about some of the projects or initiatives you’re working on at the moment – delving into what you’re trying to achieve, why you’re doing it and what technology you’re using and why?

We are actually doing a systems upgrade on some of our key components at the moment. It’s a natural upgrade to some of some of our key tech. Vitality is an API-intensive operation with many internal and external integrations. The present technology stack is based on Java and the Spring Framework as an in-house-deployed solution. Our focus is to move to a more cloud-native, reactive, and event-driven architecture. The new architecture will be structured around containerised Spring Boot Services running in Kubernetes. The new applications and services will leverage Kafka event streams to trigger various required functionalities. The advantages of this are that it allows for a more robust interconnected system which can better handle more complex business scenarios at scale.

This plays quite nicely into our pay-as-you-gym project, which we’re still working on. This will allow members to access the gym without having a traditional contract. This particular project involved a lot of integration because there are a lot of different parties. With this kind of thing it is critical to keep the integration points in sync so that members always have a smooth journey. This makes the project quite complex but also quite interesting. The project is set to launch pretty soon but the date hasn’t been confirmed just yet.

CIO Africa: Have you experienced any major stumbling blocks while working on this particular project that you didn’t expect?

There haven’t been any significant issues on this particular project but I must emphasise how critical an upfront product and systems design is and how important the iteration process is. Anything we do must be solidified from a product and systems perspective before it goes to the implementation team. This helps us to manage and avoid major issues before they happen. We have intense design sessions upfront. We are quite careful to iterate with the product, operational, systems, and business architecture teams all in the same room so that we aren’t working in silos anymore.

CIO Africa: Are you using the cloud at all?

We are not in the cloud directly, but we do have technical service providers (internally and externally) using the cloud, and we interact with them via APIs.  Our apps are being built with cloud architecture in mind so that they are cloud-compatible should we decide to migrate in future.

CIO Africa: What have been some of your key lessons over the course of your career and, more specifically, during your time at Vitality?

I really think it’s important to roll with the punches and to not take things too personally. You need to be able to accept criticism without getting offended and to give constructive criticism to those working around you. If you’re not open to it, you aren’t growing. As a CIO, I have a massive responsibility to grow and develop the people around me.

Working with Vitality, a platform that my friends and family are interacting with on a daily basis, I do feel a sense of responsibility and ownership around the work I do, which puts extra pressure on me. But it’s also rewarding to be a part of something that has such a widespread impact. 

CIO Africa: What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders, particularly young women?

I think mentorship is incredibly important, but don’t mistake a manager for a mentor. For me, these must be two separate people. This industry isn’t easy, so I’d really encourage women to not be deterred by stumbling blocks. There will be bumps in the road, but you need to persevere and use these experiences as an opportunity to learn and grow.

The IT industry is definitely changing, especially if I compare what it looks like to today to what it looked like when I first got into it. Personally, I have been in contact with so many men who are keen to lift up the women around them and that, for me, is encouraging.