CIO50 2022 #1 Sami Yalavac, Bupa Health Services

  • 2017 Rank 12
  • Name Sami Yalavac
  • Title Interim managing director, chief information officer, Asia-Pacific
  • Company Bupa Health Services
  • Commenced role April 2022
  • Reporting Line Asia-Pacific chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function Over 1,000 staff, 9 direct reports
  • Related

    This year's CIO50 winner Sami Yalavac exemplified the pinnacle of digital leadership when he was appointed as interim managing director for Bupa Health Services in April this year, following the departure of incumbent, Dwayne Crombie. 

    Quite the journey for an executive who started working at Bupa as a developer and project manager in 2006 before being appointed chief information officer ten years later.

    Yalavac is now at the helm of a business that provides health services to 1 million people each year through a network of 186 Bupa-owned dental clinics, 47 optical stores, and nine medical visa assessment centres where health exams are processed on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs.

    The role has been a big shift in gears for Yalavac, who now has a wide variety of stakeholders, businesses and customers to support, including a workforce of more than 5,000 people.

    “In technology, we have a team of innovators who share the desire to try new things so we can best support our customers, residents, and patients. However, I have learnt that how you frame innovation within a business is almost as important as the innovation itself,” says Yalavac.

    In 2021, Bupa established a new strategy with a focus on customer experience and digital channels. At its core is Blua, a healthcare solution that lets people access medical services through an app while giving clinicians visibility of their patients’ entire health profile. Customers can find a doctor, access health and wellbeing services, care planning, and speak to a clinician over video.

    There are plans to expand the services and number of practitioners on the system by adding AI and wearables for self-diagnosis and eventually offering real-time health advice and alerts. Psychology services are also being trialled.

    Another key innovation unveiled under Yalavac’s leadership is ‘Sleep Sense,’ an internet-of-things (IoT) technology that is being used at Bupa’s aged care homes. As part of a trial, a device was installed under residents’ beds, providing clinical team members with real time information about their movements. For example, whether they were in and out of bed without staff needing to enter their room.

    Sleep Sense also sends an alert if a resident is out of bed and monitors their heartbeat and breathing rate, which ensures the care team is aware if there is any abnormal breathing activity. This improves how carers respond to potentially life-threatening situations.

    “Our Clayton Care home mentioned that the device has enabled the de-escalation of family concerns through the pilot phase [while freeing up] care members to focus on other activities," Yalavac notes. "As a result of the success of the trial, the technology is being prepared for the next roll out which will be handheld devices that display real time alerts".

    While Sleep Sense helps manage existing health issues, the Benefit Pocket app focuses on preventative health for all Australians, regardless of whether or not they are a Bupa customer. It's a free, curated health and wellbeing platform that offers cashback rewards from certain service providers. Yalavac says the app will soon include bespoke health experiences based on users' interests and introduce course-based learning for subscribers in areas such as healthy ageing.

    Avoiding disconnect

    Yalavac says that when he was chief information officer, one of his biggest mistakes was a tendency to present innovations or ways of working to business stakeholders with a focus on transformative technology rather than the business or customer impacts.

    “This often results in a disconnect between my team and other business units, which had their own ways of working and priorities. If there is a misunderstanding of what the actual change required is, why we’re doing it and what it involves because when it comes to implementation, everyone will be on a different page and may not buy into the idea,” he says.

    This disconnect occurred when Bupa’s technology team wanted to redesign the Bupa Optical website for better engagement with customers and to improve the online shopping and booking experience. But Bupa’s Health Services business leaders simply saw this as a cost to them, despite the potential benefits, Yalavac recalls.

    “What I came to realise is that we weren’t speaking the same language as our colleagues. We were speaking as technologists rather than business or thought leaders. We were assuming a shared understanding and knowledge about the benefits of optimising a website, and tangible outcomes the business would see as a result. So, we developed our presentations based on this assumption".

    Consequently, Yalavac and his team needed to change their approach by understanding the business pain points before presenting the solution using simple language.

    “During the Optical website redesign, we continually tested our solution and designs with our stakeholders and asked ourselves: ‘Do our stakeholders still understand how this addresses the problem? Are they onboard with the solution? Do they understand what we are trying to achieve?’

    This spurred changes in thinking no one expected.

    “We saw an increase in customer satisfaction with our website, and sales figures increased significantly. In the first half of 2022, the number of unique visitors on the website was up 30%, orders were up 13% and our net promoter score (NPS) was up by 11.5 points,” Yalavac says.

    Reflecting on that project in his current role, he now understands clearly where he and his tech team went wrong and how they needed to approach the conversation from the beginning.

    “I can now see the importance of wide-ranging consultations and asking the right questions that get to the root cause of the challenge in order to progress innovations. As such, as a CIO, I always preach that technology leaders need to think like business leaders to truly make change and innovate".

    Byron Connolly

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