A new social contract for the post-Covid world – David Earls, EGM Enterprise Service, Technology, IAG

I am obsessed with rhythm and getting flow and balance across our operations and delivery lifecycle. This requires persistent attention to drive continuous improvement outcomes and address the opportunities and challenges that emerge.


Despite its heft as one of Australia’s biggest and most established insurance groups, IAG last year proved it has the agility and innovative nous of today’s most nimble start-ups.

David Earls, IAG’s Executive General Manager Enterprise Service, Technology, takes us through the tech roadmap that helped the insurance giant not only prevail but also thrive in a year of social and economic upheaval.


 

FST Media: In 2019, with perhaps some pre-pandemic prescience, IAG launched its online ‘flexible working’ portal, Switch, allowing contact centre staff to easily update their rosters remotely. Last year, at the height of the Covid crisis, IAG deployed the widely praised “buddy system”, pairing corporate heads with tech staff to help navigate the business through the Covid crisis.

With 2020 presenting a year of trials and challenges for businesses, economies, and societies, how would you rate IAG’s response? What have been some of the highlights of IAG’s pandemic pivot?

Earls: Our purpose is to make your world a safer place – and, if you recall, we had unprecedented bushfires, followed by severe hail storms, and then the Covid-19 crisis. Through all of this, IAG has honoured its purpose to customers and colleagues.

At the heart of this response has been our approach of enabling our people to be ready for anything across our business, and our success lies in building shared objectives to enable this.

Highlights include:

  • Pre-Covid:
    • Patterns for flexible working were already in place – with 30 per cent of the workforce already predominantly working from home
    • Strategic enablement of communications and collaboration services group-wide with one of the largest Cisco Webex deployments at that time and an 88 per cent adoption rate for MS Teams
    • Activity-based work environments with modern end-user compute to support more flexible working
  • Successful transition of 99 per cent of our workforce to work from home, including contact centre staff, to ensure the safety of our people and the resilience of our customer services
  • We had a significant number of roles on-shored as a result of Covid, and these new starters were onboarded without attending our physical sites
  • To support this onboarding, there was significant engagement from our wider technology teams through a buddy system, where each new starter was contacted by a member of technology to ensure their experience was supported and seamless
  • This was flowed in a relatively straightforward manner, as services had already been built for scale, enabling our staff and our business to be ready for anything

IAG was rated best globally in the Leesman Benchmark for Home Working Experience with an 82.5 per cent overall score and a 92.7 per cent rating for technology.

We also achieved the Digital Workplace of the Year 2020 Top Ten and winner of the Comprehensive Approach category.

 

FST Media: Moving into a new year, and with hints of light at the end of the Covid tunnel, how have the lessons of 2020 shaped or even challenged your thinking as a technology leader and back-office innovator?

Earls: 2020 has confirmed that business resilience is now about people, and enabling services that are ready for anything, that are location agnostic, that are easily secured, continuously updated, and that are scalable. This will allow people to safely bring their best to work each day regardless of the wider environment we all operate in.

It has also confirmed the importance of the social contact; although our newer collaboration tools help, we now need to find that balance of time together to bond while maintaining the best of these new flexible work arrangements.

 

FST Media: Digital literacy – from the boardroom to the front-office – is crucial to advancing keystone innovation initiatives across any business. What strategies have you devised to build a tech-literate workforce that serves to nurture, not stifle, digital innovation?

Earls: As we move away from building and maintaining technology infrastructure towards managing and engineering public cloud services to meet our business and customer expectations, we have trained all of our technology team in contemporary product management skills, and we are now continually improving and maturing our ways of working to exploit this new capability.

We have federated accountability of our products and services to product owners and product managers who are empowered to manage their products and services from cradle to grave with customer outcomes at the centre of everything we do.

Our objective is to drive flow across the operational and delivery lifecycle and synergies across multiple product owners. This is leading to greater transparency and better engagement across our business to prioritise activities that manage risk and drive value for IAG and its customers.

 

As we migrate to increasing consumption of cloud services that enable continuous delivery of features and are increasingly evergreen (or always up-t0-date), our focus as a team has moved to our customer and colleague experience. We now have a change and communications team focused on communicating to and educating our people to use the services productively, resulting in increased adoption and an enhanced experience.

We are now working to collate and manage our operational data for service performance management, risk management and, increasingly, delivery of insight into the customer and colleague experience. This information is widely available, enabling better communication and engagement of our business more broadly.

I am obsessed with rhythm and getting flow and balance across our operations and delivery lifecycle. This requires persistent attention to drive continuous improvement outcomes and address the opportunities and challenges that emerge. We have achieved significant stability, highly connected teams, and rapid response to issues through our general operating rhythm, and the beat is continually improving in our delivery rhythm.

 

FST Media: Looking more widely at Australia’s insurance industry, are the incumbents – many still anchored by legacy systems – in a good place to meet today’s customer demands? What immediate steps can be taken to improve an insurer’s service delivery, particularly in terms of systems architecture?

Earls: Speaking for IAG, we are a purpose-led organisation with a customer-centric strategy that has intentionally focused on streamlining our systems to ensure our service delivery and customer experience. Our plans are focused on execution of outcomes to align with that strategy, along with continuous improvement of our services.

Our culture is evolving to build more resilience to the inevitable changes required to deliver these plans and to prioritise continuous learning and doing new things.

 

Our operating model and ways of working are empowering our people to own their products and services and drive better support, prioritisation, and decision-making.

Our risk culture is enhancing our management of risk and opportunity to optimise and innovate in our business.


FST Media: Digital transformation was, at least within FSI circles, the buzz word of the 2010s. As many financial businesses make rapid advancements in their transformation program, what do you think will be the new digital trend of the 2020s?

Earls: Personalisation around the individual is the future. But this will increasingly be based on trust and ethical use of data.

Individuals will want to know that that they can trust the organisation they are dealing with, that they are secure, that they are carefully managing their data, that they provide insights that are of value to the individual and are not shared, sold or used externally, and that they are getting value from the relationship.

Personalisation may extend to building services that are more flexible, better reflect our lives, and honour IAG’s purpose of making your world a safer place.

Climate change and sustainability will continue to dominate the headlines and insurance companies should lead the way in addressing this challenge. We are continuing to develop our Climate Action Plan to put it at the centre of our decision making.

 

FST Media: Who has most inspired your leadership style? What is one gem of advice that has guided your thinking as a technology leader?

Earls: Bill Gates – a highly successful, purpose-driven engineer and leader whose outcomes speak louder than his words, using science and technology to transform our world.

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”


David Earls will be a featured keynote speaker at FST’s Future of Insurance, Sydney 2021 conference on 3 March, revealing strategies to deliver innovative, yet sustainable, enterprise transformation. Secure your place now!