The CAA CIO’s 5 building blocks to support teams

Jun 28, 20236 mins
Artificial IntelligenceCIOIT Leadership

Kin Lee-Yow, CIO, CAA Club Group of companies, speaks with Canada editor Lee Rennick about key components of technology leadership including putting AI innovation in perspective and the five building blocks of collaboration.

Kin Lee-Yow
Credit: CAA

Founded in 1913, Ottawa-based Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) is made up of eight autonomous regional clubs, each of which provides a range of services, from roadside assistance and leisure travel services, to insurance services, and member discount programs. And at the center of its tech component is Kin Lee-Yow, CIO, CAA Club Group of companies.

The mission of the CAA, unashamedly, is to be obsessed with member safety, Kin says, and when he joined the CAA 11 years ago, he realized that it was an amalgam of independent entities with different demands and priorities—a lot more than just roadside.

“CAA is a federation, so there are eight different entities in Canada, so working together on that has been an eye opener,” he says. “You’re not working with one organization, but separate organizations to be as one. From a technology standpoint, you always look for ways to make life simpler so people know how to get to the end results.”

And in order for those entities to coordinate and synergize, communication among teams is the barometer for success.

“You have a lot of people that you’re interacting with and you have to learn from them and share the knowledge,” he says. “The objective of the roadside assistance part of our business is to help stranded members because it’s a safety concern. So the longer somebody is left at the side of the road, the higher the risk is for that individual. So when we look at it objectively, the question is how can we get there faster and be closer to where incidents are going to happen.”

So in 2017, Kin along with CEO Jay Woo devised an idea to create a machine learning system that helps predict where the next incident is going to happen. But for Kin, fully knowledgeable people have to be in charge of every piece of technology that’s incorporated.  

“One thing about technology is if you’re just applying it and people think it’s going to resolve everything, it’s actually wrong,” he says. “We have the tool, the people, and the process. So we have technology and spend time with the people, educate them and get them to understand. Then we start changing our process once we’ve done that. After a year of implementing one, we saw a 10% reduction in what we call ATA, or average time of arrival, and a 12% improvement in our net promoter score. So people are happier.” Canada editor Lee Rennick recently spoke with Kin about establishing respect as a bedrock in organizational culture, and how a team’s full potential can be realized as a result. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On culture and collaboration within teams: At CAA, IT created what we call five building blocks: respect, learning, collaboration, innovation, and commitment, and a lot of it is in that priority. So I start with respect. If I don’t respect my peers and if people don’t respect me, nothing happens. We can talk about any of the other building blocks but what you want won’t work. Once you have that, you start looking at learning. I’m always open to learning and I say the best way to learn is to share knowledge or teach what you’ve learned. Because the more you teach, the more you know. Then there’s collaboration, which has a very simple definition to make your partners look good. If you don’t, that’s competition. So collaboration to me is how do we make each other look good. Then we talk about innovation. With innovation, you need to find different methodologies for same the objective. And finally there’s commitment, where you do what you say you’re going to do.

On generative AI: AI is a very interesting topic. For me, AI stands for assisted intelligence. It’s really about how do we assist and make things better as opposed to it going to take away your job. So AI technologies like ChatGPT I look at as a calculator. For example, say you’ve been told you need to learn a table by heart. But with the calculator, it can be used when you don’t understand a concept. It’s terrible. But if you use the calculator and you understand the concept, it’s very helpful. So ChatGPT is in the same fashion to see what it’s going to give or help me. But if I just take it at face value and apply it, that’s terrible. But if I understand what it’s saying, it’s really going to help.        

On communication: If I fail to communicate or understand, the outcome can be disastrous. I take the approach that everybody has good intention, but sometimes we end up having different perspectives because we didn’t fully communicate or understand an objective. It’s always good to have a simple question to clarify. I’d much rather sound a little bit awkward at the beginning to get my points clarified, as opposed to wasting time to do the work and not understand it. It’s all about communication. It doesn’t hurt to ask, just to clarify something. So taking a leadership role, you have to make sure your team understands that.

On continuous learning: You’re constantly learning. When I first started in my career, I used to want to keep information for myself because this is powerful. People are told your knowledge is power. So the more knowledge you have and keep to yourself, the better it is. It’s actually the worst thing that you could do, because the more you learn and keep it to yourself, you’re good at that particular job. So you employer says we’re going to keep you at that particular job as opposed to saying, “Hey, you know what, this person can be moved to something else.” But when you start showing the knowledge, people say, “You know what? This person is very willing to share. How about we start moving this person around?” So the more you share your knowledge, the better it is for you, and for your career as well.