Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The Royal Automobile Club in Western Australia has gone live with its mobile-first online member portal, the inaugural step in a multi-pronged digital transformation program aimed at delivering better experiences to customers.
The group’s senior manager for digital and creative services, Richard Quance, told CMO the desire to grow its membership base, reduce the cost of service, and build value for customers through personalisation were the building blocks for its digital and content experience management platform overhaul.
Quance joined RAC in late 2012 and was tasked with devising a group-wide digital strategy. His appointment came after an 18-month technology-led proposal to overhaul the motoring group’s digital platforms following a catastrophic online services failure in 2010 had itself failed to launch. The 2010 incident saw RAC’s claims form process online fell over and triggered an investigation into replacing the whole corporate website infrastructure.
Under the former proposal, RAC had selected Oracle’s Web services platform and was looking to deliver an authenticated member portal.
Quance said one of the challenges RAC faced was that each department had a separate marketing team and marketing strategy. The organisation operates four main business divisions: Motoring, insurance, finance and travel.
“There wasn’t one an all-encompassing digital strategy to set out the vision or where we needed to take the business from either a marketing or digital experience perspective,” he explained.
“What our strategy outlined was that the Web server platform was not in a fit shape to deliver. Our vision was to make it easy for us and RAC members to all engage with us on any device, to gain speed of agility around updates, and to provide personalisation. When you looked at all the capabilities of the Oracle site, which we still hadn’t gone live with, it was already falling short.”
Quance said the group wants to move from being a “laggard to fast follower” when it comes to reducing the cost to serve and growing its membership base via digital. RAC currently has 836,000 members and has a goal of getting to 1 million members by 2020. Many of these are expected to come from the younger, digitally native demographic.
“In the engagement space, however, we have an opportunity to drive new experiences and we want be a leader,” Quance said. “We have a great story to tell. As a mutual organisation, RAC ploughs profits back into making WA a better place for members, but that story is not coming enough through our brand engagement. We’re seen predominantly as an insurance company, and those members don’t see all the advocacy benefits and membership benefits we provide. That non-sales message needed to come out in the digital experience.
“When people want to carry out a purely straightforward transactional process, we want do that in a simple manner, but also we want to personalise messages we send around that experience and bring out all the other aspects and benefits of the RAC.”
Getting the first stage underway
RAC underwent a three-month evaluation process in September 2014 to investigate three core platforms for digital experience management: Adobe, Oracle and Sitecore. It chose Sitecore’s Experience Platform and kicked off the first phase of its digital project in late 2014.
The initial six-month deliverable, which went live in July this year, was a logged-in area for members, called myRAC. The any-device portal allows members to log in, view the services they hold as well as make payments, view renewal details and submit claims, access member benefits and latest offers, shop online, and track how much they have saved in the year.
Using the experience management platform, Quance said it’s also able to make basic assumptions around customers to personalise content viewed by users. The platform’s search-based capabilities allow RAC to manage search facets and content tagging.
“Based on what you select as key interests once you log in, we can tailor content, present member benefits offers, events and advocacy messages based on that,” he said.
RAC is now onto horizon two of its program, which will see the non-logged in area of its website migrated onto Sitecore. By mid-2016, Quance hoped to have all assets on the new platform.
He said RAC is taking a minimum viable product approach to digital transformation. Longer-term, Quance flagged more phases of work to complete a backlog of functionality from a project and operational perspective.
“The previous project had shown that we’d tried to bite off too much in one go. We wanted to put some confidence back in with senior executives and show we could deliver a complex IT project on time and budget,” Quance said.
While it’s early days, RAC has seen steady growth of 6000 people registering per month to the new myRAC portal, and using the area to make claims. Completed claims online for logged-in users compared to non-authenticated customers is 10 to 15 per cent higher, Quance said.
“We’re starting to see the benefits of creating a good user experience and personalising to make it easy to complete a form,” he said.
Keys to project success
Vital to getting the program of work off the ground was gaining cross-company buy-in. Quance’s role is to lead the digital and creative services team of digital and non-digital designers to manage user experience through all digital platforms, and he’s a key supporter of strategy, working closely with the program management to ensure the digital project delivers. But leadership is coming right from the top and RAC’s COO is the key digital sponsor.
Quance admitted there are also always challenging in uniting the governance-driven requirements of IT with less tangible business objectives.
“When you’re talking about softer experience challenges, such as user experience design and functional needs, they’re often less tangible things to get across when you’re dealing with senior executives,” he commented.
“There were some big discussions, and the proof of concept process was longer than I’ve experienced previously, but it proved the difference in capability between what we had and what an experience management platform in 2015 really is all about. We had heavy engagement with IT, and brought them along that journey, but what the project team always focused on was making sure it’s a business-led discussion, as these are business tools.”
Long-term operational and cultural impact
While the operational impact of the first phase of work has largely only impacted marketing and membership services, horizon two and the wider service delivery changes it presents will trigger more significant cross-functional and operational changes, Quance said.
Getting to RAC’s business objective of lowering the cost and ease of service will require agility, and Quance said one option it is investigating to make that happen is two-speed IT.
“We’re working out how best to meet the needs of a business that needs to be agile and flexible in delivering and changing user experiences,” he said. “For example, there might be some front-end coding changes needed in the Sitecore layer, so we’re looking at what’s the best way to support that to allow the business to execute quickly.
“Most traditional IT processes follow different speeds – we need to be thinking in hours and days, not weeks and months. So there are ongoing discussions about the operating model, and we will need some new .NET skills too.”
Then there’s the marketing challenges to be addressed, such as how much the capabilities of teams need to change.
“There’s this ability to now be much more closely aligned with managing user experience changes,” Quance said. “Currently, marketing has to put in requests to my team for fairly simple content changes to the platform. It’s too complex for business users to use and as a result, text changes can take a week.
“With Sitecore, that capability will exist within the marketing teams, so they’re looking at how to resource themselves to get the most out of the platform.”
Personalisation governance and consistency of message to customers are other operational challenges that need to be addressed, Quance said.
“The first [challenge] is the operational support model technically we need for agility, but it’s also about how we govern what we give to members at what stage,” he said. “Sitecore has already warned us about setting up very complex rules on any particular pages that can led to a complete failure in managing any personalisation.”
Personalisation also inevitably means more content creation and management. To help, Quance said RAC is in the process of creating a group content strategy.
“It comes back to one of our key pillars of engagement, which is to be driven by quality, non-product-based content,” he said. “It’s about working out how to create a content stream of relevant content to members based on behavioural and personalisation rules. We realise we need to get there as well, as there’s no point in just presenting 20 per cent offers to members when they’re logged in.”
There’s a lot of work to be done, but Quance said he was pleased to have the first platform cab off the rank and draw the line in the sand for digital delivery.
“RAC has gone from a desktop-only experience straight into a personal, any device ready solution, and a lot of change has to go with that,” he added. “We need to get the most from the platform and it’s going to require operational models changes to deliver agility and better engagement with people.”