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CIO50 2018 #26- 50: Clarence Yap, Smartgroup Corporation

  • Name Clarence Yap
  • Title Chief information officer
  • Company Smartgroup Corporation
  • Commenced role 2016
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 70 staff
  • Smartgroup Corporation commenced a multi-year digital transformation program in late 2016 that would involve re-engineering its technology infrastructure, and business processes and operations.

    But there was a problem: the employee management services organisation’s bespoke legacy systems were hard to integrate.

    “By mid-2017, Smartgroup had acquired 8 new businesses over 24 months through mergers and acquisitions. So we inherited a considerable amount of technology debt,” says chief information officer, Clarence Yap. “We needed to automate manual processes and workflow between these different bespoke systems.”

    In 2016, Yap and his team implemented robotic process automation (RPA) technology to solve this particular issue. Within two years of rolling out RPA, the organisation has more than 60 robots, producing a workload equivalent to 10 per cent to 15 per cent of full time equivalent staff in its operations division. Customer satisfaction has also improved by 15 net promoter score (NPS) points through faster processes, he says.

    “I implemented RPA when the technology was still immature. The technology helped SmartGroup automate manual processes from disparate technology rapidly. I was able to start a pilot of 5 robots with 3 months.

    “By month 6, we had 10 production robots and we were constantly fine tuning it to improve the accuracy.”

    Yap has also led a core system replacement and business transformation initiative across the Smartgroup. This program is a third complete and will be providing the organisation with a single, unified and automated business process.

    The core system is built entirely using micro services in a Microsoft Azure platform-as-a-service environment. It’s fully modular and each business function is a micro service, says Yap.

    “This enables Smartgroup to rapidly deliver enhancements and new business capabilities in days and weeks rather than months because updates are only required for the micro service containing the function. The entire development project was run using an agile methodology and deliver in 20, 3-week sprints. This is potentially the only core transactional business system for an ASX200 company that is developed in full agile methodology and hosted fully in a public cloud,” he says.

    Finally, the organisation has consolidated 30 websites of varying sophistication into a single Drupal platform to provide a unified customer experience across the group.

    “We have driven customer online sign ups to 80 per cent and customer self-service of claims to 93 per cent,” he says. “The final enhancement complete for the car registration process [for its novated leasing business] improved the customer experience with a paperless process. It also improved back office efficiency and eliminated $200,000 in paper scanning costs.”

    Fierce competition, significant challenges

    Yap says the staff management services sector is not large, competition is fierce and profit margins are constantly under pressure.

    “As CIO, you have to evolve your technology at pace and do this cost-effectively. Most core systems in this sector are legacy and the market has been undergoing significant consolidation over the past three years. This further adds to the technology debt of companies in our sector.

    “Our market is niche so an off-the-shelf modern, core system is not available to purchase. Modernising the bespoke core technology stack and delivering innovation simultaneously presents a very unique challenge for CIOs in this sector.”

    Gaining executive support crucial

    Yap says the most significant lesson he has learnt during his years in IT is to effectively engage and negotiate with the executive to get projects over the line. He recalls earlier in his career when he was a senior IT manager responsible for a large transformation program. The CIO at the time did not have the support of the executive team for the program, he says.

    “This made the program extremely challenging to deliver as the CIO was not able to negotiate and lock the scope of the program. This meant it was a constantly moving target and the program ran late, completing after four years with mild success. There was also constant bickering about what was achieved.”

    Byron Connolly

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