A look back at last year's CIO50: #6 Simon Button, RSL Queensland

button rsl final 300dpi
RSL Queensland

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 RSL Queensland's Simon Button, who ranked number 6.

RSL Queensland’s chief information officer Simon Button knows a thing or two about making himself dispensable. In fact, he refers to it as an ‘art.’ It’s something that was first explained to him early in his career and it wasn't until around 20 years later that he truly understood what it meant.

“In my late 20s, I was thrust, somewhat too early, into a senior leadership role and onto the executive team and onto the executive team of a successful ASX-listed technology company. My mentor, who was also my chairman, was a high profile, seasoned business leader,” says Button.

“Our organisation had lofty growth aspirations and was somewhat of a poster child of listed companies. I had worked at this organisation since graduating in the early 1990s and our vision and product was ‘my baby'."

To deliver on its aspirations, the company, which developed mobile phone technology, needed to scale its technology team and it was the first time Button was responsible for more than 30 staff.

Button found himself out of his depth, struggling to lead and listen, which was compounded by his inability to delegate. He recalls talking to the chairman about his struggles who told him bluntly that to be successful, he must make himself dispensable. It took him some years to understand what his mentor meant.

“I was driven by being the smartest person in the room, always wanting to have the best ideas, not realising I was robbing my colleagues of any opportunity to shine. My focus shifted as a I matured as a leader to a lover of leadership and people learning. I put this shift in focus down to me not achieving the aspirational goals I had of myself and starting to look for answers,” he said.

When he joined RSL Queensland in early 2016, chief information officer Simon Button was asked to develop and sponsor a whole of business transformation dubbed RSL2020. The 3-year, $26 million program was successfully delivered and signed off last December. It included a transformation and insourcing of the RSL Art Union, overhauling business processes, creating a new organisational design and deploying a new LotOS (lotteries operating system). This transformation supported the organisation’s primary objective to double revenue growth by 2023.

The RSL Art Union was critical for many reasons, Button says. At the time, the organisation was operating at high levels of risk as the daily operation of the lottery was outsourced to a third party vendor that had significant tacit knowledge and relied on ageing software to run a critical part of its business that was responsible for 95 per cent of total revenue.

“We had limited access and control over its customer database, something with significant latent value,” he says. “In addition, we could not innovate or proactively grow the business through the introduction of new markets and business models, such as different types of lotteries, as we had limited control over the development or execution of the lottery, including the customer experience.”

Over two years, Button established a team of more than 100 technical and business professionals to help rebuild the RSL Art Union from the ground up. This included intensive efforts to understand the inner workings of the union, to understand customer’s needs and behaviours, while building the new operating system. This took Button and his team around 150,000 hours over 24 months.

LotOS includes, at its core, the Dynamics 365 finance/operations and retail systems, and a services layer with more than 50 APIs and integrations to third-party service providers such as payment gateways and mail houses. A large Sitecore e-commerce site and Adobe Experience Cloud are responsible for executing more than 90 campaigns per lottery. This drives 50 million customer interactions per annum across both digital and traditional channels.

The LotOS platform also has a one billion row data estate providing significant insights through a suite of PowerBI dashboards and reports. This data estate also fuels a range of machine learning and AI/cognitive services functions during various customer interaction channels (chatbots and customer experience personalisation) as well as nurture and retention campaigns to mitigate churn and optimise conversion. All components are hosted in Microsoft Azure cloud. ServiceNow provides the application service management, support frameworks and orchestration to ensure the ecosystem is well governed and supported.

“To deliver this program, I also had to transform the technology and innovation function at RSLQ. This required radical structural change to create centres of excellence in the Microsoft stack as well as data insights and science while also creating product management teams aligned closely with our internal business customers.

“I also introduced new ways of working, particularly adopting and contextualising various agile techniques. During the period from 2016 to 2019, the engagement of the technology team went from 44 per cent to 71 per cent.”

Button said this innovation was a world first using the Microsoft Dynamics suite of products coupled with Adobe and Sitecore to run an extreme volume lottery/gaming use case. As a result, Button shared the story at multiple speaking engagements with Microsoft around the world.

“Since the successful completion of the transformation, our customers enjoy a compelling customer experience in their channel of choice using a device of their choice. We have delivered 15 per cent bottom line growth in the first year of operation. We have also successfully insourced the operation of our lottery and de-risked its operation accordingly. The transformation has been so successful, the organisation is now on a trajectory to deliver $100 million EBIT by 2023, an outstanding outcome for the veteran community,” he says.

Walk in their shoes

When it comes to leadership, Button says he builds respect with his peers by walking in their shoes; observing how they interact with their team, with other employees and groups inside and outside the organisation.

“I also focus on understanding and discovering opportunities, appetite change and where risk may lie. For me to achieve this, I must bring value to the table in the form of industry and knowhow. This takes time, effort and consistency but without building this level of understanding and mutual respect, then you simply do not have the credibility to be considered a trusted ally,” he says.

“Finally, a critically important component to building trust and influence is ensuring your own backyard is in good shape. You must provide great ICT foundations and service. Without this, you cannot possibly expect to influence,” he says.

Finally, having a high level of cultural diversity has also helped increase creativity and driven high levels of productivity and innovations. To celebrate this diversity and assist in engagement and team building, we recognise and celebrate public holidays of team members’ country of origin, including celebrating the national food of that country on the day.

“Gender diversity remains a challenge with only one in three team members being women but to improve this, we continue to offer industry best practice flexible working arrangements, a family friendly office environment and opportunities for participation in women in technology and leadership programs,” Button says.

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