CIO50 2020 #22 Nicki Doble, Cover-More Group
It’s hard to think of a worse industry to be in than travel as COVID-19 hit.
For Nicki Doble, CIO with travel insurer Cover-More Group, the shock was something akin to a cabin depressurising in a free-falling jetliner.
“When COVID-19 hit, our industry didn’t just change, it was wiped out completely,” she tells CIO Australia.
Like many of this year’s CIO50, Doble and her team already had a digital transformation agenda that was well advanced when the pandemic struck.
But the complexity and international scope of the business posed special challenges few organisations ever have to contend with.
“Large and small businesses had to transition to the realities of having staff working from home, but this was particularly complex for the Cover-More Group as our business is spread across 21 countries,” Doble says.
“This was worsened by the fact that the situation was changing daily, hourly even, with things closing down at different times in different parts of the world”.
One especially bizarre situation saw police turn up at the company’s offices in Malaysia, where staff were hiding out back working.
“We couldn’t drop service levels because we have two businesses (Benestar and World Travel Protection) that provide medical assistance and we are legally required to meet 20-second SLAs,” Doble explains.
She quickly realised they needed to spin up a new call centre, which was up and running on AWS in just four days.
People don’t immediately think about actual medical assistance when they think about travel insurance, but it’s long been a key service provided by Cover-More through its World Travel Protection (WTP) arm.
Post COVID-19, and also partly in response to the Sri Lanka Bombings of 2019, the company is expanding into the adjacent area of security assistance, viewing it along with insurance and medical assistance as a new “white space” in the market.
Doble and the tech team set out to develop technologies that would better support travellers in uncertain and dangerous times.
Now, when an event occurs, a specialist WTP team will proactively message and work with affected travellers in the high-risk zone providing advice on how to make safe passage or receive medical assistance.
This delivery of this highly personalised service starts through the ‘travel assistance app’.
Other functionality was introduced to support delivery of fully-integrated services including a 24/7 Security Command centre in Brisbane (delivered in May 2020), Global Provider Network database to record and rate medical providers globally, replacement global cloud core platform that integrates with the apps and integrated geolocation technology to track travellers. New APIs were also developed for specialised global security services to send real time country alerts to travellers.
COVID-19 has given Cover-More greater impetus in moving away from a project mindset to one that is truly product focused.
Core to the success of the transition so far has been maturing the understanding of product management among the executive leadership team.
“My team and I have played a significant role in moving the business into understanding that technology should be engaged and across the entire lifecycle of a customer and the importance of a product roadmap,” Doble says.
“This work is changing how the sales and technology teams are working together.”
Central to this realignment, Cover-More has now begun trialing its mosaic machine learning system which will enable automated optimisation offers to be launched in real time.
“This means our system will learn which combination of pictures, offers and rates – across almost infinite possibilities – sells the best for thousands of flight types and it will present the best possible sales options, in real-time without our intervention,” Doble explains.
“Mosaic learns from historical data, transactional data, servicing data and claims data and will learn what is the best offer combination for every different type of journey and traveller.”
It’s fitting that as global technology leader for an international travel business, Doble should have progressive, broad-minded ideas around diversity and inclusion.
“I am passionate about supporting minorities enter and move through the tech industry,” she tells CIO.
The global leadership team is 40 percent female, an extraordinary achievement in such a male-dominated industry. This, Doble maintains, has created a culture that is already showing signs of attracting more technical women to the global group.
She recalls recently speaking with a male colleague who noted for the first time in his life he had three women above him; Doble herself as group CIO, his direct boss the global head of engineering, and the group CEO.
“All leaders have diversity targets for different segments of our community and, along with gender, we have strong people of colour representation across our teams,” Doble notes.
A respected role model for all women in tech and those aspiring, not only to be in the industry, but also to lead, Doble is a regular speaker at mentoring events such as the Lioness Mentoring Program, and for four years to 2018 host of the popular “Women in Tech Dinner & Drinks” networking group.