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Ultimate Alignment: Ask the Customer

Doing what the customers want and need has been at the core of all of the Evolution activities, Diamond and Miller say, and they have established a number of mechanisms to ensure they are on top of requirements to align with the customer.

First, there are advisory bodies. Originally called Agents Board of Management (ABOM) but now changed to the less explosive ARB (Adviser Representative Board), this comprises a 10-person central board to advise on a range of business issues, as well as an IT subcommittee made up of one member of the central board and representatives from each state. "We worked very closely with them in terms of planning and designing [Evolution]," Diamond says. "We'd also go out to broader groups of planners both formally and informally. And we piloted extensively."

AdTech also regularly survey planners, questioning a different sample group every three months and probably reaching a quarter of clients over a six-month period. Diamond suggests that the level of polling, interaction and piloting they undertook was "certainly larger than you'd do with a group of internal users, but this contact with the user base is pretty much a tradition at AMP. This group may choose not to use your system and you have to be aware of that."

A further part of the new activities to assess client satisfaction was the so-called Planner Experience. "We got the message that the systems weren't as reliable as they needed to be to service clients' immediate needs," Diamond says. "Diagnosing the problem and understanding exactly what's happening in this heterogeneous network is not too easy."

The response, Planner Experience, was to set up a process that would automatically poll the system every half hour across a range of standard planning transactions.

"We'd go to the point of enquiries and going all the way to a new sale, without consummating the actual sale. We monitored up-time, the performance, the stability and so forth," Diamond says. "What we didn't want to do was find out we had a problem from our planners, which was the previous model. We wanted to know before the planners called us."

Once a week, all interested stakeholders - from the applications systems people, the business owners and outsourcers (CSC is used for AMP's IT activities generally), to the training and IT people and, occasionally, the planner advisory groups - get together to analyze everything that has gone wrong and try to minimize it.

Miller says that they are very pleased with the results. "We understand everything that happens on [clients'] desktops. With spending very little money, we've been able to decrease downtime by 90 percent and achieve 99.5-plus percent availability across all of our systems, and that's been done by understanding all of these processes and getting people together on a regular basis," he says.

Ultimate Alignment: Be the Customer

Apart from looking outward through polls, advisory groups and system trials, AdTech has looked inward to its own people to ensure they understand customer needs, and has taken the ultimate step: trained them to be customers.

Ten AdTech staff were put through the basics of financial planning, completing three or four of the eight modules that comprise the Diploma of Financial Services. So successful have they been at this, in fact, that several could have left to set themselves up as planners, and Miller actually topped Australia in the exams. Most of these were volunteers, Miller says, although admitting that a couple had to be nudged into doing it to make up the numbers. "But they all thanked us for it in the end."

Certainly it makes them more aware of the needs of the customers, and customers can talk to help desk personnel who now know perfectly what the planner is talking about.

"We've extended the same formula to our IT developers, our IT professionals," Diamond says. "Frankly, it's been equally well received. We've promoted the various financial services and financial planning type of courses in terms of product and legislation and had a lot of interest from our IT people. We have also run three or four courses from the Securities Institute in-house.

"It's no secret that business alignment is critical and IT professionals who understand the nature of the business you're in and can talk business with our business clients are an absolute bonus."

Speaking of bonuses, AMP has also instituted that dramatic way of ensuring alignment with customer needs: salary at risk linked to customer surveys and planner technology experience scores. That includes all employees of AdTech. There's nothing like the possibility of losing part of your pay to focus your mind.

In addition, Diamond's budget for Adviser Technology comes from the business, while the budget for systems development and support of Adviser systems comes from IT. This is mirrored in his reporting lines - one to CIO Lee Barnett, and the other to the head of distribution, Steve Helmich. "To be responsible to both organizations ensures the business alignment you're after," he says.

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