A look back at last year's CIO50: #4 Robert Bollard, IP Australia

robert bollard final
IP Australia

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 IP Australia's Robert Bollard, who slotted in at number 4.

Intellectual property (IP) is the new fuel for the modern economy and IP Australia is assisting local innovators benefit from their ideas.

The organisation recently embarked on a digital transformation to encourage customers to engage with the agency online. At the time, only 12 per cent of its 850,000 transactions - equating to around $210 million annually - used digital channels.

Chief information officer Rob Bollard has led this transformation and as a result of his leadership, customer uptake of IP Australia’s digital channel has now reached 100 per cent with a satisfaction rating of 88 per cent with digital services.

This has positioned IP Australia as one of the first fully digital federal government service delivery agencies. Bollard is also the lead supplier and sponsor of the organisation’s Transactional Digital Services (TDS) program that is modernising the company’s digital channels using APIs, which is uplifting the organisation’s technology capability and transforming the way it delivers IT programs.

“The TDS program will deliver world-leading digital IP services that are simple and efficient,” Bollard says. “By embracing the API economy, we are building a new ecosystem for innovation and creating data and transactional marketplaces that enable value creation and citizen-centric services. The program is improving services, reducing complexity, cutting regulatory burden and opening the IP services market to new and innovative business models through lower barriers to entry.”

Where the legacy service took months of effort and significant investment on board, customers have been able to successfully onboard and transact using new APIs in less than two weeks.

“The APIs are already enabling innovative new IP services including trademark checking for domain name registration and machine learning-powered lodgement tools that have uplifted customer success by around 18 per cent.”

Bollard also led the organisation’s Rights in One (RIO) program, the largest technology and business transformation activity ever delivered in IP Australia’s 115-year history. The program consolidates around 30 legacy ICT systems and uses a new global best practice AI search capability for customers to streamline the administration of IP rights. In March 2016, the program delivered its first major milestone - RIO for Designs - a modern case management system for IP rights related to designs.

The next milestone, RIO Trade Marks, released in October 2018, is a significant modernisation of the tech infrastructure used to administer trademarks at IP Australia.

Trademarks represents, in volume, the largest IP right for the organisation with 76,594 applications received in 2017. Bollard has recently introduced the first machine learning tools to augment examination of both patents and trademarks and is currently developing a platform to share globally with other offices in a world first.

Driving government firsts

Bollard has adopted a holistic approach to driving technology and working hard across the organisation’s ‘cognitive pipeline’ which includes governance, capability and stakeholder management. He introduced several industry and federal government ‘first’ initiatives, including updating IP legislation to allow computers to make decisions, developing a computer-assisted decision making framework to provide greater transparency around how the organisation would embed AI and machine learning into the corporate risk register to support improved outcomes.

In 2016, he established a cognitive computing area to develop smart solutions and now rolling this out to make AI and machine learning the norm in the way business is done.

Bollard also spent three months assessing the relevance of blockchain technologies to the organisation. Bollard and his team gained the confidence of IP Australia’s director general that two blockchain business cases could deliver value.

“The first blockchain initiative focused on providing commercial licensing for patents,” says Bollard. “Using blockchain and smart contracts, IP Australia built an IP property exchange, which allows for an owner of an IP right to license the use and assist in commercial development of a particular patent or IP right.

“The platform executed a contract between both parties, automating the process to license intellectual property. This was then recorded and shared with all participants of the blockchain.”

Bollard’s trial has implications for fostering global innovation and collaboration. At the World Intellectual Property Organisation, an agency under the United Nations, Bollard influenced the committee and established an International Blockchain taskforce that Australia co-chairs with Russia. The taskforce is investigating how IP Australia’s blockchain beta can provide a global platform for IP licensing.

A second pilot - Smart Trade Mark - is aimed at helping Australian businesses protect their products from counterfeiting and leverage existing services that they already have from IP Australia. This pilot explored how IP Australia can support provenance tracing of consumer goods and linked the identifying thread to a customer’s trademark.

Using two trial participants, the application securely tracked two items into Singapore using the products’ trademark to provide verification backed by blockchain. Bollard’s work with blockchain technology was released by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews and former Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham.

The project received numerous awards including taking out three categories for the AIIA Award and the Australian Blockchain Industry Award for best government project.

Stay connected

When Bollard commenced his role as CIO in February last year, the IT group was very disconnected with a disjointed and broken delivery posture, business dissatisfaction, and making assumptions about what customers want without any validation or metrics.

Since then, Bollard has learnt one key lesson: to achieve success, IT must be strongly aligned and demonstrably contribute to business success and value.

“IT strategy and delivery must be tightly coupled with organisational priorities and direction and requires the voice of the customer to maximise value and deliver longer term operational and strategic success,” he says.

Bollard worked hard within IP Australia to deliver the first business-led ICT Strategy 2022, which aligns the ICT group with business success and was presented it in a consumable format that people could understand.

"The executive of the organisation commented at the time that the [document explaining this strategy] was the first document that clearly and simply articulated in a common language around how technology was collaboratively going to deliver success and provides a clear line of sight to delivering our key strategic outcomes for business and our customers.

"This has been built upon by delivering a new operating model that is changing our IT group towards supporting continuous delivery, automation, and DevOps principles. We must continually deliver customer-aligned value for the organisation, by releasing frequently we are able to measure success and incorporate feedback and release new functionality within quick timeframes."

Bollard has driven these principles about lifting the thinking of IP Australia's IT group to be business-focused and aligned, and coupled that with continuous improvement in how the organisation delivers services.

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