A look back at last year's CIO50: #12 Rob Pickering, Cbus Super

Rob Pickering
Rob Pickering

CIO Australia is running its fifth annual CIO50 where we highlight the achievements of the top 50 senior technology and digital executives who are driving innovation and influencing change across their organisations.

2020 has been a very difficult year for organisations across Australia and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous pressure on tech chiefs and their teams to deliver remote working solutions that provide business continuity during a crisis.

Nominate for the 2020 CIO50.

We are taking a look back at last year’s top 25. Today, we profile Cbus Super's Rob Pickering, who ranked number 12.

With 800,000 members and $50 million in funds, Cbus Super gave head of IT and digital Rob Pickering a chance to build an entirely new system that brought administration and marketing tools in-house to provide a “sophisticated” experience to its members.

Project Accelerate brings together a combination of solutions from top IT vendors and it's based on Amazon Web Services resilient and secure cloud infrastructure.

"Superannuation funds have traditionally run on an outsourcing model, running a small in-house staff and contracting IT, administration and funds management externally," says Pickering. "This approach limits the ability of super funds to provide a seamless member experience."

"If we engage our membership with a platform that is great to use, we will improve the quality and comfort of their retirements," he adds.

The program led by Pickering has made Cbus Super the "first significant industry fund" to build such a comprehensive member interaction platform.

"It has required an API driven integration set provided by our fund administrator and involving a ground up build of every element," Pickering explains.

"No similar capability existed in the super space prior to this program of work. It was a truly greenfield program that included building the internal capability to work with our strategic partner Deloitte on the delivery of this activity."

A super platform generates super results

Over the last 18 months, Pickering was in charge of leading the design, build and transition needed to support Cbus' $80 million program to insource member touchpoints from its fund administrator – Link Group – to its internal suite of tools and technologies.

The new platform was launched in June 2019 and soon after Cbus realised the results of its investment.

According to Pickering, there was a significant uptick in members visiting the site and interacting with their super in a "more sophisticated" way.

"We have also been using our new marketing technology to drive acquisition and have seen a specific attributable increase of over $12 million in funds under management due to investment in our industry-leading digital marketing stack," Pickering explains.

But this was not the only result, as the transformation also had its impact on the business generating an organisational wide change.

"All Cbus business groups are now structured to use these new tools to become closer to our customers and stakeholders."

Accelerate combines Salesforce CRM, MuleSoft Anypoint Platform, which facilitates back office interactions with administrators, and a mix of data and analytics services from Talend and AWS.

A member and employee identity platform from Okta, with a comprehensive toolset sitting underneath it all to support continuous deployment, monitoring, security and functionality testing and integration across all elements combining Openshift, Jenkins, BrowserStack, Splunk, Fortify, Qualys and Redlock.

It also includes Adobe Experience Manager, Target, Campaign and Audience, and Apple and Android member app.

Team empowerment

The organisational changes were not limited to business processes and technology. Another big cultural change driven by Pickering was more female staff in the team. When he joined there were no women in the IT team, but that number has since grown to 15.

Cbus also experienced an increase in the staff net promoter score from less than 50 per cent to 92 per cent in the last 12 months.

"We have delivered this through empowering our staff in a culture of ownership and accountability to deliver on the transformational programs we have been running," Pickering tells CIO Australia.

Also driven by Pickering is a $3,000 worth of training available every year for each staff and a $6,000 worth for a manager. Through this, Pickering is able to keep his team up to date with technology platforms being rolled out as well as allowing them to keep developing their skills and career.

There is also a shadowing program where a senior leader from Pickering's direct leadership team shadows him for a rotating two week program. During that period, they appoint a team member to step up and perform their roles.

Pickering says this encourages a level of transparency across the business, allows staff members that may want to move into people management an understanding of what's involved, but it's also a great way to build a talent pool from a succession perspective.

Pickering was responsible for a business wide communication framework that includes regular slots in the executive, extended leadership group and board meetings to share progress and updates. It includes bi-monthly updates to all staff briefings across the organisation, a staff intranet and email communications.

A group of individuals – change champions – across the business who've been specifically inducted and trained to provide information and updates, and a defined group of business users, who're able to trial things that Cbus rolls out, participate in user acceptance testing processes and evangelise the technology initiatives across the organisation.

All these changes have seen Pickering's team go from nine employees in January 2018 to 60 today.

"The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt in my journey of senior technology leadership across the last 10 or so years has been that when running transformational activities, you really need to have the right people in the ‘foxhole’ with you. This is as true for both staff, your board and, particularly, suppliers," Pickering says.

"This is the second organisational wide technology transformation program I’ve run in the last four years (the first was Open Universities Australia) and by choosing the right people to engage with on the project we've been able to achieve brilliant outcomes in very short timeframes. This is only possible if vendors and staff are committed and conditioned to go above and beyond for the business."

He reinforced the importance of working as part of a team, and that programs like this cannot be delivered unless you're backed by a team of people who want to see those same outcomes for the business and stakeholders.

"We all deliver on the substantial programs of work we lead through the team we lead and the relationships we have with our peers, executive and boards – so you need to make sure your ‘foxhole’ is big enough, and inclusive enough to have space for everyone who contributes."

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