Tatts Group CIO, Mandy Ross, is the ultimate agent of change. Whether it’s transforming the way the tech team interacts with lines of business, revolutionising how data is utilised for customer engagement, or adopting an agile way of working to fast-track digital innovation, Ross has a mandate to shake things up and she’s using it.
But if there’s one thing she believes IT leaders must do continuously, it’s step into the shoes of their business colleagues.
“I’ve always sat in a position where I have been effective in stitching business strategy together with technology execution, working with technology and in alignment with executives and COO to get the desire result,” she says of her background.
Ross started as a graduate with Deloitte Consulting after completing an honours degree in IT. After a few years in consulting, she returned to her home town of Brisbane and joined online travel services provider, Wotif Group, at the early stages of the company’s growth, experiencing its rapid rise and public listing.
Commencing as a business analyst, Ross then ran the business analytics team before becoming 2IC to the CIO and finally securing the top role herself. Working for Wotif for just under 10 years, she spent five-and-a-half years as CIO and was quite possibly one of the youngest IT leaders in Australia.
After Wotif, Ross spent a year as CTO with digital literacy startup, LiteracyPlanet, before joining Tatts Group in a technology and process transformation role in 2014. She was tasked by relatively new and equally disruptive CEO, Robbie Cooke, with the job of building Tatts’ digital capability.The group operates three core businesses: Wagering (recently rebranded to Ubet), lotteries and gaming.
When Tatts’ long-serving CIO, Stephen Lawrie, resigned in January after a 10-year run, Ross assumed the chief IT helm.
Ross and Cooke were familiar with each other from their days at Wotif, and over the past 18 months have recruited a number of former colleagues. These include former Wotif CIO and now Tatts Group CTO, Janet Sutherland, and former brand and development executive and now Tatts CMO, Megan Magill.
One of the first things Ross set out to prove was that a more digitally-driven and agile approach to software and technology capability could succeed within the highly regulated environment Tatts operates in. Mid-last year, she began running a series of experiments, bringing in lean methods and creating agile project teams to rapidly test and prove a new way of working in a large enterprise setting.
Ross highlights two initiatives that helped build trust in her plans. The first was integrating a third-party book-making feed into its wagering platform. This saw the range of products offered online increase from hundreds to thousands, generating a direct positive effect on revenue.
“From initiating that project and funding it, we created a team and within four months delivered the minimum viable product we could then build upon,” Ross explains.
“Within that window, we were able to start delivering business value, and could also take our regulators on that journey. It was a big achievement as we were talking about delivering something new our regulators hadn’t seen before, or our bookmakers hadn’t had ever leveraged.”
A second example is ‘Ubet live’, which came out of a lean startup project internally and was aimed at discovering whether customers would use personal tablet devices in a social retail setting, such as pubs or clubs, to interact with Tatts’ wagering products The team used devices and an older version of the Ubet mobile phone app to run live pilots around Brisbane.
“We have proven the hypothesis – from kick-off through to regulatory approvals for a pilot – within a four-month period,” Ross says. “It was basic to begin with, but now we know customers are interested, so it’s worth investing more energy and resource to commercialise that.
“These are two good examples, but it’s just the beginning.”
Bringing about such wholesale change is vital given the digital disruption occurring in the gaming sector. Wagering, for example, has been shaken up by digital-only and international players, such as Paddy Power, coming into the local market over the last five to six years as a result of easing restrictions around online betting.
To rise to the digital challenge, Ross has restructured her team to build the capabilities, skills and experience needed, not just from a front-end perspective, but also to utilise new platforms such as cloud.
In the previous decade, Tatts undertook a raft of mergers and acquisitions to set up various wagering and lottery businesses across Australia. As a result, the technology team was highly proficient at delivering integration projects, Ross comments.
“With the change in CEO, we’re gearing towards readying ourselves for the future, looking at how we adapt, disrupt and respond to the environment changes happening in our business,” she says.
Sutherland, for example, has direct and recent experience in many technologies and strategies Tatts is contemplating and will care of infrastructure delivery, strategy, security and operations areas, Ross says.
“We run our own hosting datacentres, and it’s unlikely to be a feature of our strategy moving forward, so we’ll be doing some work in the next six months to evaluate our options there,” she says.
The bigger team change has been to realign lead technology executives with lines of business. Ross has appointed fourheads of technology, two of which reflect internal promotions: One for wagering, one for lotteries, one for gaming, and one further head of technology for ‘shared strategic platforms’, incorporating customers and data platforms. The latter role is geared at supporting and enabling the activities of Tatts’ relatively new and quickly expanding centralised marketing function.
“The structure had been running in the opposite direction and the COO of a line-of-business would have to go to multiple members of the leadership team to get something done effectively and for me that wasn’t efficient,” Ross says.
“I wanted to create close partnerships with our lines of business and make sure I had people on the ground understanding the business strategies and how best we can position our services to enable and support that.”Read more: What it’s like to be CIO for a not-for-profit
The other piece of the puzzle was hiring a chief architect to provide better structure and governance around the range of bespoke, in-house developed solutions Tatts maintains. “Our chief architect cuts across all the areas and looks at how our platforms should evolve in the future to take advantage of digital opportunities as well as general growth and scale in the business,” Ross says.
Customer and data platform plans
Having set up the team for digital growth, Ross is now tackling the technology refit. One of the biggest areas of investment for Tatts Group is in customer and data platforms. Thanks to growing opportunities in wagering to interact and advertise to customers, as well as the need to provide a seamless omni-channel experience across both bricks-and-mortar and online services, Tatts is making significant efforts to become more customer-centric.
Tatts has been investing in CRM platforms, and began rolling out SAS’s multi-channel marketing campaign platform in its lottery business in 2014. The next phase, and something Ross is particularly eager to drive in coming months, is getting the data insights platform in place.
“We’re looking at how we best structure that capability so it’s operating as one team – the technology and platform as well as the people generating the insights,” she says.
Ross estimates Tatts only capitalises on up to 20 per cent of data sitting in its legacy data warehouses, meaning there’s a huge amount of untapped customer insights from the past 10 years to be gleaned.
“We are working right now on migrating from legacy technologies that are struggling to cope with what marketing is trying to do,” she says. “That will help us jump ahead of our competitor set and deliver a world-class offering when it comes to data insights and intelligence.
“We have so much history, and all these amazing data points sitting in our operational systems or archived elsewhere, and we’re just not doing anything with it. We have such a large footprint in Australia, there’s such opportunity.”
While work was already underway on how the data technology stack should evolve, what hadn’t been done was education around the possibilities of big data and building demand within the business. To do this, Ross recently co-sponsored a strategic view with her CMO and the CFO, Neil O’Connell. The trio engaged a third party to interview key analysts and lines of business executives to understand what their data needs are.
“We also used this as an exercise to educate and to flag that while you are sitting there working with spreadsheets, here is some stuff that’s happening out there that is possible,” Ross says.
“I didn’t want to be busy building a platform that in no way connected to the reality of what the business needs and where the pain points are. And what came out of that exercise were ideas around how we should structure the capability.
“We’re looking at a multi-disciplinary group that includes technologists, data scientists, analysts and business specialists, working in a collaborative and nimble way to bring these insights to the fore for the lines of business.”
Ross says her team is now winding up the technical execution.“It’s paved the way to accelerate on the technology piece because there is an understanding, momentum and support at all levels around the fact that data is important for the group,” she adds.
“We’re able to take a Tatts Group approach, rather than produce something that meets the needs of just one line of business, which is how we would have tackled it previously.”
Such a wealth of data, Ross says,will help Tatts reach the holy grail for retailers: Omni-channel customer excellence.
“We need to make it more convenient for a customer to interact with us,” she says. “If we know that a customer loves soccer, let’s talk to them about soccer and when they engage with us, make it easy for them to find the latest soccer fixtures and results. For me, it is about that vision of… harnessing data for the benefit of our customers.”
So what does this mean for the role of the technology function? “We need to surface all relevant data from our operational systems, and deliver the tools and capability, so our insights teams sitting in the lines of business can to the greatest extent possible, tap into this information to make best use of it,” Ross says.
“I’m not keen to have lots of report writers sitting in my team.Those people are better positioned being as close to the frontline and to those who know the business as possible.”
It’s not just data delivery getting an overhaul. Ross is also looking at how at cloud services. Historically, Tatts has owned and operated everything,including datacentres. As it works on a new head office in Brisbane, it’s time to make some decisions on cloud, Ross says.
“My sense is we’ll end up with a hybrid strategy – there will be things well suited to cloud, and there might be a category where we determine co-location is the most appropriate path for us given we are highly regulated,” she says.
Having made strong progress around digital transformation in wagering in the past 12 months, work is now ramping up around the lotteries business. This encompasses the website, mobile apps, CRM systems, analytics, and anything measuring the effectiveness of work in these channels, Ross says.
Through all of this, Ross has to balance the big thinking with keeping the lights on. “I’m not a massive supporter of ‘big bang’ initiatives, even with the largest projects we take on,” she says. “I’ll certainly be looking for ways to deliver business value as soon as possible, even if it’s just 2 per cent, and I’d like to see results regularly.
“Gone are the days when you used to sign up multi-year projects and technology comes back in a couple of years with capability. You just don’t have the luxury of time anymore.”
Ross agrees CIOhave had to transform as leaders to cope.“Five or six years ago, it was about standardisation, multi-year projects and making your technology consistent,” she says.
“Nowadays, technology keeps moving. What’s important is we develop the ability to be responsive and nimble.”
Staying relevant as a CIO
Business acumen: For Ross, one of the core attributes of a modern CIO is being able to step into the shoes of business colleagues. “You no longer can be the tech propeller head in the room,” she says.“It’s about being able to translate and move seamlessly across organisational boundaries.”
Put digital front and centre: “Back just five years ago, digital was an add-on piece and a channel,” Ross says.“That’s not the case anymore. Digital must be front and centre. A lot of the practices and approaches being popularised are coming from the digital piece at the moment.”
Support marketing: Ross’ third tip is to befriend the CMO. She notes the rise in vendors selling directly to the marketing function, and the importance of marketing in a digital and customer-led business.
“The value a CIO can add is being agnostic and partnering with executive colleagues to work through and make sense of barrage of technologies and opportunities, rather than being territorial about it,” she says.“There is a lot of buying happening through marketing divisions and with good reason, so let’s make sure that we’re acting in a savvy way around procurement.”