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Amplify innovation for business change

Amplify innovation for business change

AMP CIO, Lee Barnett, has headed up IT at one of Australia’s largest financial institutions for nearly a decade and believes everybody, from graduates to the board, should share knowledge and ideas.

AMP CIO, Lee Barnett

AMP CIO, Lee Barnett

AMP CIO, Lee Barnett, has headed up IT at one of Australia’s largest financial institutions for nearly a decade and believes everybody, from graduates to the board, should share knowledge and ideas.

AMP will hold its annual Amplify innovation event this week and IT leaders will exchange crowdsourced ideas with the rank and file. CIO, Lee Barnett, spoke with CIO about how IT and business can benefit from all variety of industries.

What do you think you IT staff gain from attending the Amplify event?

Barnett: Amplify is for everybody on a first-come, first-in basis from the board to graduates. It looks to engage the organisation in trends and influences across consumer behaviour.

Through our business lines, Amplify also creates opportunities for customers, planners, partners and vendors to participate and we make a small number of tickets available through Ticketek for members of the public.

For me, it’s about preparing for tomorrow and investment in our people. We experiment with new technologies and have a ‘Tech on Tap’ night where a range of PhD students pitch ideas in a humorous way.

The event is for people to take time out and for thought leaders to consolidate ideas. It is stimulating as we think about where things are going. The theme of Amplify 11 is ‘Everything Connects’. It is an exploration of the interdependence of economic, technological and environmental systems.

What can CIOs learn from start up businesses and entrepreneurs?

One of the strongest criteria for success in a start-up business is the passion of the founders. It’s what keeps them going, when the going gets tough.

I’ve always seen innovation in two dimensions — ideas and staff engagement. Everybody wants to contribute to the company and that’s not often in their role. Through things like Amplify and through our idea capture and management system, everybody gets a chance to make a difference.

IT in financial services isn’t just around systems and transactions it is about exposing the business to technology trends and how that might change.

With Cloud, we can get a development environment up and running quickly and the work we have done looks promising

Through our innovation programme, and events like Amplify, we create avenues for people’s passion to be channeled in a purposeful way. Everybody wants to be heard and to make a difference not just through executing the tasks in their role description.

Providing people with the freedom within a framework to contribute more broadly to company success is a big factor in engaging staff.

More generally, what do you think IT professionals and CIOs can learn from non-IT centric industries?

You can always learn from other industries. Financial services has learnt from manufacturing. If people can learn to be comfortable with ambiguity rather than binary options, deliberately seek out diversity of solutions as well as diversity in their teams, we will cultivate the next generation of leaders needed for a future of accelerating change, more frequent disruption and uncertainty.

A common perception is 80 per cent of IT budgets are spent on operations and less than 20 per cent on innovation. What should CIOs be aiming for and how can they turn the tide?

Companies like AMP and banks are built for scale and predictability, but alongside that you can run with an innovation agenda. We measure our innovation and look at how many people are participating in idea management systems. So we encourage that in addition to what’s needed for core IT services. I focus on innovation as a legitimate activity alongside operational efficiency. We measure performance in both areas in our monthly scorecard and devote time to discussing ideas in the pipeline, participation rates in our crowdsourced idea management system and issues that hinder or help innovation.

We carved out a budget at business unit level and group level, which are both equally important. Nothing else matters, however, if systems are falling down around your ears and the network is down. It is core. Beyond that is delivery of a business change agenda.

What are some innovation projects you are working on right now and what are you trying to achieve?

There are quite a lot of ideas, with more than 400 in the idea frontier. Our model based on crowdsourced ideas and sponsorship is based on the crowd voting for those ideas. It’s a model that’s working successfully. In IT we have experiments with desktop virtualisation which holds the key to moving to a BYO IT model. We are also experimenting with IaaS and PaaS for development environments for prototyping new systems. We have a whole host of ideas from products to servicing customers and continuous improvement ideas, many of which will be showcased at the Amplify EXPO on Friday, 10 June. People are experimenting with a lot of emerging technologies; from new interfaces like augmented reality and RFID to real-time energy efficiency monitors and imagining the future of shopping and shopping centres.

What we try to achieve is a groundswell of interest in a range of technologies, with lots of minds thinking of possibilities, and bringing these possibilities to life in an experiential way. Not all of these ideas will fly, but with some 1500 AMP people passing through the Amplify EXPO, we believe it increases the speed with which new ideas travel from the edge to the centre of the company.

There is a lot of talk about Cloud computing as a source of innovation. Do you think this is so and how can CIOs use Cloud services for innovative purposes?

Cloud enables entrepreneurs to leverage its speed and economic model to bring ideas to market and it will create a richer marketplace in terms of services. In turn, companies can use it for their own services. We use several SaaS apps, from trading to ideas management to compliance tools. We are also experimenting with PaaS. We have gone with a private Cloud solution for e-mail — from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook.

The service we have bought is just for e-mail, but private Cloud mitigates some issues with public Cloud computing. We investigated the two and went with private. We can get a development environment up and running quickly and the work we have done looks promising.

AMP has been a leader in social networking adoption. Has the use of social media been of benefit or has it caused problems as well?

I am happy to report that our experience has been positive. The use of social media supports our cultural values of being real, transparent, involved and connected. Since Amplify 07, which was themed around Web 2.0 and collaboration, we have been early adopters of social and collaboration technologies and these have been integrated into our Intranet.

We have been using the micro-blogging platform, Yammer, since September 2009. We have now signed up for an enterprise licence and believe Yammer can play an important role in the AMP-AXA merger and cultural integration. Through our internal social business team, we run monthly ‘social media cafes’ and the outcome is that these technologies are now finding their way into mainstream business thinking. Amplify continues to lead the way with its strong social media presence on Facebook, YouTube, and of course, @Amplifyfest on Twitter. Our social media policy is sensible. People will always use these services and we don’t think it’s a bad thing.

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