Sharing the stories of the CIO50: #16 Sam Charmand, Qantas Loyalty

Sharing the stories of the CIO50: #16 Sam Charmand, Qantas Loyalty

How Sam Charmand has made significant inroads in transforming the organisation to a digital entity

Sam Charmand, the CIO of Qantas Loyalty, has learned the value of going after innovation – and has seen first-hand how the development of technology (including personalisation) has the power to dramatically change a business.

Over the past 12 months, Qantas Loyalty has continued to grow and diversify into new areas with the launch of its first own-brand credit card – Qantas Premier – and the Qantas Money app, and the addition of life insurance to its suite of Qantas Assure insurance products, supported by the Qantas Assure app.

“Innovation and technology has underpinned Qantas Loyalty’s diversification and new ventures, while investment has continued in the core coalition loyalty business (the Qantas Frequent Flyer program and Qantas Business Rewards) and adjacent businesses (such as the prepaid travel money card – Qantas Cash),” Charmand says.

In 2017, he articulated a new ‘ecosystem’ business model to reflect the evolution of the Qantas Loyalty brand from a Frequent Flyer program to a lifestyle brand with nearly 12 million members all with different interests.

“I managed the technology portfolio that supported this evolution and developed a modern, modular and scalable technology stack that has enhanced consumer and partner propositions.”

With a focus on core technology values, he says he scaled the organisation to support these enhanced business and technical capabilities, while holistically adopting cloud infrastructure, hosted platforms, service enablement, and bespoke build in channels for differentiation through UX, personalisation and contextual experiences.

Top achievements

Over the last year, Charmand has made significant inroads in transforming the organisation to a digital entity as continued to lead the replacement of an aging and legacy core platform.

Rather than a “big-bang” replacement, he advocated and planned a piece by piece migration, with each step balancing the mitigation of identified business risks, with the ultimate objective of modernising the platform and eliminating enterprise technology debt.

Meanwhile, Charmand was also instrumental in the delivery of the Qantas Premier credit card and companion app, Qantas Money’s first product.

“Qantas Money is an entirely cloud based platform, stitching together AWS applications and infrastructure, partner data services, and bespoke innovative channels led by the Qantas Money mobile app,” he says.

Charmand led the technology delivery for this venture, which he says is at the forefront of cyber security, compliant with industry standards and audit attestations.

“The venture was delivered within time and on budget, and with the required quality and rigour of operations practices to support a fully-fledged financial services business,” he says.

“Collectively, these projects help strengthen the foundations of what is now a digital business that needs to be able to compete and differentiate itself in the age of consumer technology.”

From an operational perspective, he set about ensuring the technology organisation is in place to support program delivery and growth. As an example, within the technology function, he set up and grew a technical engineering and operations function, scaling with partnerships, but with centralised thought leadership.

And with these and other projects under his belt, Charmand says he has been able to champion cloud technology with AWS, workplace productivity through Google, position and frame both AI and personalisation, and lead the development of the Qantas Group data strategy.

Power of personalisation

Charmand says 2017 has been significant in that he adopted an innovative mindset, and was formally charged with driving the innovation portfolio for the business.

Charmand, in concert with the innovation team, helped design and implement the AI-driven personalisation algorithms supporting ‘The Hub.’

“This team is responsible for driving the next wave of Qantas Loyalty’s growth, leveraging new technologies, new business models, and considering strategic advantaged assets to attack and compete in new industries,” he says.

As such, he sponsored ‘The Hub’ project, aimed at bringing Frequent Flyer member features and personalised communications into a multi-channel architecture, to be consumed through Qantas’ online channels – first stop, the enhanced Qantas App.

“The app introduced and consolidates a  host of member features, such as points activity, a new status credits widget aimed at eliminating member confusion on what it takes to retain tier status, and the ‘feed’ of personalised content among others. These features are backed by a powerful and innovative AI engine, marketing content interface, programmable triggers and consumable services – which the team will soon leverage to deploy these features into the sky through inflight-wifi in the very near future,” he says.

“The introduction of personalised and contextual communication channels (such as The Hub), used to promote Qantas, partners and associated businesses, is a key engagement tool for our vast and diverse member base. The Hub allows Qantas to add value to members even when they’re not flying with us, ensuring brand presence and opportunities to inspire for future travel.

"The uniqueness is driven by the data driven personalisation algorithms, the content, as well as the channel experience, which is not found in any competitor airline or loyalty application.”

Trust your gut

And while Charmand has learnt a thing or two from a range of tech projects, he emphasises that some of his biggest lessons learned in his time as CIO is to listen to your own voice and be firm in your convictions: “Trust your instinct, and don’t be afraid to make hard and/or unpopular decisions.”

He says his biggest achievement is in creating a technology organisation that has not only enabled, but driven the growth of the Loyalty business.

“Having commenced with a small number of committed generalists, we went about building a wholly owned specialist team with class-leading data, digital and software engineering capability. A significant milestone was the recent achievement of ISO27001 certification for our new Qantas Money venture, which is testament to the practices we have in place.”

Asked what it takes to be a ‘modern-CIO’ Charmand says today’s IT leaders need to be key drivers of value creation for their organisations.

“To achieve this, they must have both influence and credibility, garnered through strong engagement with their executive peers, strategic nous and advocacy for the customer, the ability to make incisive decisions swiftly and deliver results, whilst building scaleable technology capabilities that create advantaged assets.  In this endeavour, CIOs need to ‘think big, start small, and pivot often’

“CIOs also need to be astutely aware of cyber security requirements, and be at the forefront of managing threats and controls in alignment with risks. This is distinct from previous eras where the CIO was focused on ‘keeping the lights on’, desktop and network infrastructure, and managing costs down. This led to conservative technology leadership which tended to be inert and change resistant, or alternatively bogged down in process over results.”

Jennifer O'Brien

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