Australia Post: delivering digital transformation of identity products and services

Australia Post: delivering digital transformation of identity products and services

How Australia Post Identity Services helps Australians simply and securely prove who they are. From passports to police checks, property transfers to ta...

Australia Post processes eight million identity transactions every year, supporting consumers, businesses and government with the implementation of products and solutions which require identity checks: from identity verification to support financial services organisations’ anti-money laundering obligations, to property transfers, passport applications, aviation and maritime security identity checks, and police checks for everyone. “Our mission is to simplify identity moments for everyone,” pledges Alberto Simongini, Head of Technology & Engineering. “Identity products and services are actually one of the key growth areas for Australia Post over and above our core mail and parcel services.”

Simongini joined Australia Post in 2017 in the midst of its digital transformation and notes this transition is allowing the postal organisation’s Business & Government clients to directly interact with their customers. “In regulated markets where a face-to-face identity verification is required, Australia Post can play to its strengths, because we run the largest retail network with trained people in the country, with nearly three times the number of retail outlets of the second largest retailer. With our vast range of services to connect Australians in every corner of the country, there is no reason why we cannot become the front door of Australia for important services that require identity verification.”

Australia Post is behind Digital iD™, the first form of digital identity in the country to be accredited by the federal government’s Digital Transformation Agency. In a full online experience, Digital iD™ combines back-to-source document verification and facial biometric binding, which offers communities access to both government and private sector services. Simongini’s team is responsible for the execution of this product roadmap in terms of engineering and operation. 

Technology plays an important role in attracting and retaining the talent required to continue the work started with the organisation’s digital transformation. “Our workforce is very diverse, from customer experience design to development, security and operation,” explains Simongini. “Our business transformation triggered a large investment into the latest technologies from cloud infrastructure to automation (e.g. Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery), from Big Data to machine learning and from cyber security to compliance (ISM and PCI). Now that we’ve established new ways of working and integrated this with a new technology ecosystem, our team’s engagement is more about our passion towards continuous improvement and growing our products in the market.”

Simongini believes a tight integration between product management and engineering is a must. “At Australia Post, we follow the scaled agile methodology. Most importantly, it's a collaboration to allow people to understand why things are needed, so you can all rally behind the challenges ahead to deliver a customer-focused solution. The team becomes owners of the product and we see a shift from engineering being about execution to actually becoming the subject matter expert of the product in itself, and pushing its area of influence towards sales and customer engagement  rather than being inward facing; that’s when engineering becomes product engineering.”

“We’re at an exciting point where we can see the fruits of our labor and the real business benefits of our transformation,” affirms Simongini. “It's fantastic to engage customers directly, collect feedback, and continue to work on our products, because even with small changes we can make a very big impact. It's actually become a part of the lifecycle of our products and the way we take them to the next level, which makes the potential for what we can achieve in the future very exciting.”

Creating the right culture to develop new ways of working and an ability to constantly adapt across the organisation has been integral to the success of the transformation. “Ideally, you want to build your team from the very beginning and scale it so the culture grows with it,” reasons Simongini. “This is not always possible, so we have to find ways to support other parts of the organisation by inheriting the resources of different teams. Often, each team brings their own technology and culture, so we’ve had to break down the old ways  and encourage a new esprit de corps a few times.” 

This approach has been vital for Simongini when faced with resistance to change. “It’s been a barrier to overcome because ultimately we are accountable for the end-to-end results and delivering the benefits to the business and customers.”

Building the alliances and partnerships required to sustain Australia Post’s digital transformation has led Simongini and his team to source field contractors to ensure they keep control of the outcome. “The traditional ways of sourcing contractors didn’t fit our purpose, so we are enriching our approach with different ways of recruiting the right people,” he says. “Not just in terms of what they know and the way they execute, but also in the way they engage and operate within the business. That’s why we have started prototyping different ways of engaging consulting companies in the market, like HCL, a fast growing entrant in the digital transformation market in Australia”. Simongini notes, “We’re working successfully in this way as our suppliers are deeply engaged in our delivery rhythm and provide us the flexibility to make sure we find talent that is the right fit in our teams. They are invested in developing and maintaining with us the right people within the teams’ culture and Australia Post delivery framework.”

Australia Post collaborates with key providers in the identity products and services space and innovators in developing and deploying biometric authentication and identity assurance solutions worldwide, like Daon with a long history of product development to enable high quality and international standard photo capture. Simongini notes that the business is very careful in its vendor selection: “We’ve invested in a relationship with solid and international companies providing specific, extremely reliable and secure software for our products. We need vendors that keep feeding us with ideas and innovative capabilities that we can leverage, now and in the future, to evolve our level of compliance and digital maturity in what we do.”

Simongini sees a place for start-ups in the ecosystem, viewing them as offering “cherry on top” potential. “They're not necessarily at the core of our ecosystems, but we definitely see the value in specific and innovative tools in software lifecycle to help us better build, operate and monitor our applications. At Australia Post, we’ve learned how to select and groom opportunities with our innovation programme to select ideas to accelerate and incubate before we actually start to invest considerably. Corporations, like Western economies, are often impatient, and moving from innovation to growth takes time and perseverance. We can’t just invest in innovation hoping to find the unicorn; we  must carefully analyse the potential and the timing of the commercial return.”

“For example, we’ve been working with the National Australia Bank on a joint venture for identity fraud prevention called TrustCheck,” reveals Simongini. Essentially, TrustCheck is a service aiming to build a positive reputation and strong engagement across all functional areas - particularly risk, legal, privacy, sales, governance, corporate development and partnerships, and data service owners. “This new e-commerce fraud detection product came through our innovation programmes, and allows for applied machine learning to offer merchants a high degree of confidence that customers they are interacting with are not using stolen or synthetic identities.”

Australia Post understands the complexities of transforming a vast network of legacy systems, processes and people and has been focused on utilising its own digital solutions. In 2019, it launched its own Workforce Verification product, enabling businesses and government departments to utilise a SaaS offering. This enabled a re-use function in Digital iD™, which has the ability to automate pre-employment identity verification checks, removing the burden of manual processing for HR departments. “It’s been a great success,” confirms Simongini. “In just six months we already have 30 customers on board. They’re attracted by the fact that our digital services are ISM and PCI compliant, accredited by the Australian federal government’s Digital Transformation Agency as a provider of the identity exchange to be rolled out across government services. Now, the market is ready to embrace our solution, which gives consumers the choice of face-to-face or digital identity verification and puts consumers in control of their identity. We’ve also signed an agreement with Mastercard to use Digital iD™ as a form of identification in its trial of a broader digital identity service for customers when interacting with other businesses and private organisations.”

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