More than just a health insurer, Bupa cares for its clients’ health and wellbeing across many aspects, from dental and lifestyle to aged care, and most importantly providing funding at vital moments. The company maintains a strong commitment to connecting customers with affordable and accessible care, not least across the ANZ region which makes up almost half of the company’s global business.
This commitment rings true with Sami Yalavac, CIO at Bupa Australia & New Zealand, who drives the organisation’s technology transformation journey with a noble goal in mind. “It’s a great organisation with a great purpose – a day at work means you are helping people live longer, healthier and happier lives,” he enthuses, adding that the people involved in this mission make Bupa what it is. “There’s a really friendly, collaborative, supportive culture from the top down.” Indeed, of the 78,000 staff employed globally by Bupa, around 22,000 are based in ANZ.
Despite making up approximately 45% of the company’s revenue, Bupa only entered the Australian market around 16 years ago having partnered with HBA, which Yalavac describes as “a really successful business with a successful leadership team”. A healthy national economy and a relatively young population open to new developments assisted Bupa’s entrance into the Australian market, with the organisation having gone from strength to strength over the last 12 years. From health insurance, new business areas were explored including health coaching and telehealth. “We then entered the Aged Care market, moving on to Optical, Dental, and eventually won some government tenders,” adds Yalavac.
Throughout this growth and development, technology has moved to the fore as a key driver and is now central to the business, with Yalavac citing that 90% of funding and internal investment within the business goes toward technology transformation programs. “It’s an additional enabler for business survival and business growth,” says Yalavac, as customers increasingly look to access services via digital platforms. In addition, the fragmented nature of healthcare in Australia (with separate services across dental, optical, aged care and other areas) makes technology vital. “Technology is the glue that holds pieces together, making it easy to access information, get guidance and do transactions.”
Data across sectors
Across the many elements of Bupa’s business and healthcare in Australia and New Zealand more widely, Yalavac is keen to emphasise that data is key. From providing funding to introducing technology into people’s lives to monitor their health and lifestyle, capturing real-time data can be vital in providing the insights Bupa and its clients need. “Through their demographics and real-time abilities, we can provide health coaching and advice,” he explains.
“As data collection increases, we can even detect some of the events happening in the body to proactively warn people to see a specialist or access a test. Data is your fuel,” he adds. “You might have a brilliant car with a great engine, but without fuel you can’t go anywhere.” As well as using data to improve the health and wellbeing of Bupa customers, Yalavac is also using data and insights to improve the colleague experience of the IT function. Over his three years as CIO the colleague NPS (Net Promoter Score) has improved from -16 to +30 in one year, reaching +20 in the second year and now standing at +30.
As technology disrupts every industry and the lines between sectors become increasingly blurred, Yalavac has improved the customer experience with the clear understanding it’s not his own sector he is competing with. “Customers are not comparing us with our competitors as they aren’t usually with another health fund or insurer at the same time,” he explains. “Instead, they compare us with banks and travel agencies and likes of Amazon and Airbnb.” Customers compare their experience with Bupa to their experience accessing any other facility, and this must be done seamlessly and efficiently, most often driven by tech. “The customer looks for whatever the best experience is in the market, regardless of industry, and expects Bupa to do the same thing.”
Efficiency across a broad market
Technology drives growth at Bupa not only through customer satisfaction in creating a seamless user experience, but also in improving operational efficiency within a business that spans a broad and somewhat disparate landscape. As CIO, Yalavac is responsible for an IT team of over 600 people across 7 locations, and he credits technology as essential to helping people work together while maintaining that it can also bring significant culture shifts that must be managed across teams. The secret? “Communicate the vision and purpose really well, so everyone understands what we need to achieve and why,” he explains. “You then keep communicating back the progress: where you are, what’s left to do, success stories and lessons learned.”
Effective communication is vital to assuring IT professionals of their position within the organisation in relation to its overall mission and goals. “The role of CIO is of course being responsible for technology, but we should also see our job as a business leader and part of the executive team. The CIO is a trusted consultant and partner and if you don’t play that role you will miss opportunities because in the future, more and more business growth will rely on technology.”
Yalavac has taken steps to ensure the IT professionals he manages are viewed, and view themselves, as members of the business’ overall teams – they are not just referred to as the technology team, but some members might be referred to as the ‘claims’ team, for example. “IT departments are part of the business – there shouldn’t be a separation of business and IT. We all have the same responsibility to make sure this organisation delivers the best service for the customers. We’re here to deliver the company’s purpose, not deliver the technology.
“In our IT department, we try and get the teams really close to the business and close to the customers – ‘What’s happening over there? What are the exact pain points?’ – and then we start thinking about how technology can solve those. Without that mindset, you never efficiently deliver results. You’ll have a huge data warehouse but no idea what to do with it.”
Aside from focusing on customer needs and business growth, Yalavac also maintains that creating an environment people enjoy working in and can grow and develop in is paramount. “A positive environment attracts and retains talent, keeping everyone connected to business outcomes, customer expectations and strategic partnerships” he says. Engaging his people and developing a collaborative, agile culture has been a huge focus for Yalavac since he became CIO. He has invested in building a high performing leadership group and giving his leaders the skills to coach their teams through change. In November 2017, he also launched the Tech-A-Gender program to attract, inspire and develop female talent into technology roles at Bupa and the team have a vibrant program to celebrate and support cultural diversity. Indeed, this focus has yielded significant results: since Yalavac began transforming the department the employee NPS in the IT team has grown from +2 to +48, the highest in the organisation which averages at +16.
Overall operational efficiency has seen exponential benefits from technology transformation done the right way and in turn serves to motivate staff toward the wider Bupa mission. “We’re using RPA to make processes and transactions much quicker, cheaper and higher quality so we can utilise out people for more advanced, knowledge-based activities rather than just repeating boring tasks. We’re redefining our workplace strategy with technology as a key enabler.” For example, Bupa has implemented collaboration tools like Office 365, cloud-based solutions, video conferencing and webcasting. “It’s really a digital space where it’s easy to collaborate and gives you flexibility and agility.”
Implementing so many new digital solutions cannot be done alone, and as such Bupa must work to maintain partnerships with key vendors as part of its transformation journey, with global names ranging from Microsoft, Fujitsu, Oracle and Infosys to ServiceNow. Yalavac is clear on how this must take place: “Our approach is to try and create long-term strategic partnerships rather than just buying services from these organisations. We keep sharing our changes, inviting them to meetings and when we organise innovation days we include our vendors so they can understand our problems and join in.”
For example, customer experience technology giant Genesys has been involved in transforming Bupa’s contact centres through artificial intelligence. “We share the challenges we have with them and develop solutions for our contact centres, such as speech-to-text, or using AI to try and understand a customer’s emotions and what they need.” Another such collaborative partner is software giant Adobe, whose marketing platforms and tools are utilised by Bupa. “The platform allows you to understand your customer and manage campaigns, but also has a decision hub based on the information you log,” Yalavac outlines. “These solutions all form an ecosystem supporting one another and the only way to achieve this is through long-term relationships with organisations. Everyone can access these companies but now every organisation can utilise them well.”
These vendors will be part of Bupa’s ecosystem as the company continues to grow, and Yalavac outlines that Bupa will also look to startups to find new solutions across a changing landscape. “We keep working with startups, technology organisations, government, hospitals, even competitors, to address customer problems, government budgeting or funding challenges. We’re seeing affordability issues in the market: customers are less and less able to buy insurance products, or simple dental check-ups for example. We have a responsibility to address and reduce the cost of health and improve access and quality of health provisions.”