CIO50 2020 #17 Rob Pickering, Cbus Super

  • Name Rob Pickering
  • Title Chief technology and digital officer
  • Company Cbus Super
  • Commenced role January 2018
  • Reporting Line Group executive, people, technology and enablement
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Technology Function 95 staff with 10 direct reports
  • Cbus Super experienced a large spike in members accessing its services during the COVID-19 pandemic given the dual issues facing its members of equity market instability and the government’s early access to super scheme. At its peak, there was a 170 per cent increase in visitors to Cbus’ website. 

    At the same time, Cbus had a responsibility to look after the health and safety of its teams, particularly staff who provided advice to members. Around 550 staff were sent home, supported by cloud infrastructureso they could work as effectively as they had been in the office. 

    Cbus’ former chief information officer, Rob Pickering, led the transition. 

    “Most teams were able to work remotely with very little issues. However, our member-facing teams had needs that weren’t served by legacy technology – primarily our voice channels – which were essential at this time,” he says. 

    “Because we were seeing such a tremendous spike in call requests through our advice team – around 300 per cent – we looked at our current technology stack to see what we could leverage to replace this existing technology asset.” 

    Pickering and his team used Amazon Connect to provide this voice and chat experience to members within two days with business training and enablement taking a few more days, he says. 

    “All up, we replaced a legacy contact centre in one week. This was able to meet the needs of remote workers,” he says. 

    Over three months, customers also completed more than 900 online chats with Cbus staff, which would have otherwise gone through voice channels, adding to wait times. 

    Further, an AI-powered chat bot on Cbus’ public website also answers customers’ questions. Between February and April, the bot handled 10,000 interactions, enabling members to get answers quickly. 

    “While the tools individually are not particularly unique, the speed by which they were delivered for members was a good outcome. They also delivered operational efficiencies for Cbus, enabling us to completely retire a legacy contact centre platform within weeks, saving the organisation more than $700,000 per year. 

    Built on strong foundations 

    due to the digital transformation led by Pickering over two-and-a-half years. 

    Pickering led a newly resourced team through a move away from an outsourced vendor to an ‘agile’ funding, prioritisation, and delivery model where cross-functional teams across the business work in small teams to provide incremental capabilities on the assets built. 

    “This has involved bringing the board and the wider business on a journey on this as a new concept, particularly in the superannuation industry,” says Pickering. 

    “This move has driven a $4 million reduction in costs for support and improvement on these platforms. 

    Importantly, this funding, prioritisation and governance model ensures that we are working on the items that deliver the most value to members with a focus on ‘show, test and learn’ rather than heavy requirements-driven development, he says. 

    “This change has reduced our development time on initiatives by 35 per cent and also increased the velocity of delivery by nearly 90 per cent,” he says. 

    Be real with the benefits 

    In his 2019 CIO50 submission, Pickering stated that having the right team during digital transformations was his biggest career lesson. 

    Pickering reflected on his answer during a recent panel discussion where he was asked to provide advice to anyone seeking to run a successful transformation given that so many of them run over time and budget. 

    He suggests that transformation leaders be real with the benefits and not overpromise because they will be judged on the metrics and how they shift over time so manage expectations early and often. 

    “Investigate other alternatives before you start. Do you really need a whole of business transformation or can you start small and automate processes that will give you funding for bigger pieces of work after you’ve proven your team’s ability to execute on smaller work? What quick wins exist that can be deployed quickly and off the shelf?’ he asks. 

    Transformations don’t work unless the whole business is aligned to the success of them – right down to the front-line staff.

    Consider what incentives might be deployed to ensure the success of the transformation can be shared across the whole business so there is shared skin in the game,” he says. 

    On the matter of staff engagement, Pickering suggested leaders should back fill early for key resources so they can be focused on the delivery.

    In addition, tech leaders should ‘buy before they build’ and ‘adopt before they adapt,’ says Pickering. 

    “Where you can limit investments to off-the-shelf technologies with minimal customisations, you will build less technical debt to pay off later. Where a system must be customised to match a business process, think very carefully about whether it’s better to adopt the system process rather than adapt the system to match what is probably a broken process,” he says.

    Byron Connolly

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