Caltex's Viv Da Ros talks to CIO Australia about how he got into IT, the technology innovations that have been created by its digital lab, the influence of artificial intelligence, and the ever-changing environment for technology and digital chiefs.
CIO: What drove you to pursue a career in IT?
Da Ros: I’ve been in tech since the 1980s when I bought my first Commodore 64 and the gaming focus of the 64 soon turned into operating systems, scripting, coding, the importance of backups, the good old data sets and the disk drives, data storage and networking. This built the foundations for me of what 'good' looks like in technology today so that’s where the interest started.
When I entered the workforce, I landed a role as a computer operator and the interesting thing there was I was running general ledger with punch cards. That was really an inflection point in my career…I knew that technology would keep evolving so I decided that technology was the right path.
CIO: Over the years, you’ve worked in Australia and abroad, rolling out electronic payment systems at David Jones, you were IT ops director at Dairy Farm Group in Hong Kong, CIO at Wincor Nixdorf in Singapore. You also spent time at Tesco in Thailand, Reliance Industries in India, and A.S Watson Group in Hong Kong before joining Caltex Australia in 2016.
How is your background helping you shape Caltex’s technology strategy?
Da Ros: The pleasing thing is that Caltex is an early adopter of technology wherever we see value. We saw value two-and-a-half years ago in [creating] a more agile and ‘human-centered’ design of technical architecture. We call it a digital enterprise architecture and we saw value in that.
So we embarked on quite a significant change program that had digital at the heart of it. We moved our entire landscape to a cloud architecture; we use Microsoft Azure predominantly for computer and we have different SaaS cloud systems so we have a multi-cloud strategy in place. [Cloud] is a game changer in terms of the speed of cloud services versus [those] on-premise.
We’ve also developed a big data platform to draw data insights across our business, not just from customers shopping at our stations but also our trading and shipping in Singapore.
We look at how many of the systems we have in place are connected and we strengthened our integration tooling. At the heart of everything today is cyber security so we embarked on quite a significant cyber security platform. All of these things were building the platform and the foundation to enable automations, digital thinking and human-centered design and we are playing in that space today.
CIO: What role are artificial intelligence technologies (AI) playing in the organisation? What have you achieved with AI so far?
Da Ros: We are in the initial stages of deploying artificial intelligence in our technology landscape. We’ve looked at AI to help us spot anomalies in our network. [For example], you've got 500,000 messages going through all of our systems everyday; these messages look odd, there's an anomaly over here. AI tools can detect that for us, to help us be more proactive with our maintenance and monitoring instead of waiting until something breaks.
We are keeping abreast of the AI technologies available and where they might add commercial value and deliver some speed and accuracy into our business. One of those areas is customer services with monitoring across all of our core technologies and business to make sure that we are always available. AI will be very useful in the area of fuel pricing administration once we understand what the right technologies are.
We can use AI tooling to help customers through various means without them having to wait in queues and be disadvantaged in terms of timing – we can provide them with information without them having to go looking too hard for it. That’s where we see real value in customer service.
We anticipated the commercial value of robotics a couple of years ago and since then, we have successfully deployed 27 automations into our business. We have deployments in 10 areas of our business so far and they are going well so that will be a continued trend in our business.
CIO: You said a few months ago that you were trialing number plate recognition technology for automatic billing at the pump. How is that going so far and when will it roll out across the Caltex retail network?
Da Ros: We’ve got camera recognition technology in over 20 stores right now. Number plate recognition is still in one of our core pilot sites. We are working closely with our retail and property group here to determine which sites we are going to deploy the technology into and how far we go in terms of automatic billing. That comes down to prioritising the customer offer and value creating programs and that’s a decision coming from our retail and property teams. We are ready with the technology. We prototype and get technologies ready so we test and learn them…then we make a commercial decision as to where they will be deployed.
With our Fuel Pay app, users can go to our Concord [NSW] store, for example, register their number plate using the Fuel Pay app and then when they drive into [an express lane] at the station, they can fill up, get back into the car and they will get a text message to say all clear [paid].
CIO: What other innovations are coming out of your digital labs?
Da Ros: Some of the things that we are prototyping right now are different customer solutions including smart vending machines, coffee kiosks, self-checkouts with fuel and shop capability and we will soon be extending our fuel pay app to all of our B2B customers.
CIO: Bankwest’s CIO recently said that creating incubators or innovation labs on the side is doomed to failure because the rest of the organisation conspires to kill them. What’s your view, should digital and innovation activities be spun out separately or should they be a core part of the business?
Da Ros: I’d take a more positive view here especially from the results I’ve seen during my time in Asia and Europe. To me the organisational culture and structure, including the mindset of the CEO and the board is key to driving positive innovation initiatives and outcomes in business.
We anticipate change well and we have the humility to change and in this regard our CEO [Julian Segal] has recently added innovation to my remit, which is a testament to the technological drive that we foresee to make our lives easier for customers and define new ways to drive greater operational efficiencies and make a difference for our customers.
CIO: Where do you see the CIO role heading? Is it under threat from other emerging c-level roles like the CDO?
Da Ros: I’ve been fortunate enough to live in five different countries and work in 18 countries. I’ve seen one extreme to another, the pitfalls of technology and what 'good' looks like. To me, the roles [CIO and CDO] are complementary. For the past eight years of my career, digital has been a part of my CIO remit.
While I physically separate my transaction processing teams from digital teams, the overlap and the integration is core to deliver to customers. Of course, digital is the cool, visible thing to be involved in right now but we can’t lose sight of the fact that it is the 10 to 20 per cent interface that the customer sees - but it is heavily dependent on the underlying infrastructure and connectivity.
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