Technology, simplicity and culture: Behind the scenes of Sensis’ digital transformation

Australian directory and marketing services business talks through its digital strategy and reveals a two-year technology transformation program to achieve it

John Allan, CEO, Sensis
John Allan, CEO, Sensis

Cultural transformation

The Sensis Digital Foundation program is not, however, purely an IT transformation initiative. It’s a business transformation and simplification program.

“It’s an opportunity to simplify, improve processes, take out inefficiencies and optimise at the same time,” Allan said. “There has been a big push in the lead in to the technology deployment on that.” Simplification was one of the core values presented in the brand relaunch in August.

“As Sensis grows up digitally, we have learnt a lot about what to do and not do. We need to ensure complexity doesn’t get carried for too far, and for too long,” Allan said. “The critical factor is engagement – the whole organisation, from the CEO to the receptionist, has to be on this simplification journey, otherwise we risk not achieving the levels of success we want.”

To help get there, all employees were put through a one-day training program to explain the new digital strategy and brand values. Importantly, half that time was spent explaining how Sensis planned to execute these.

“It was an incredible investment to get people aligned,” Allan continued. “That was a pivotal point in our transition, and the energy that’s come out of that is amazing.

“When I joined two years ago, the print business was going through challenges and the business was shocked at its status and what had occurred in a relatively short period of time. Getting the team reignited took a lot of work. And naturally, we need to bring in additional skills to the business, attracting top talent digitally.”

In addition, Sensis is working hard to keep innovation at the forefront of business. Allan said this was especially critical given the crowd of digital-first startups and competitors disrupting the directories and marketing services space.

In the last two years, the company has invested in new innovation skills and brought in design consultancy, IDEO, 18 months ago to kickstart a design thinking capability for some of its products. Today, Sensis is using design thinking in other areas of product development, drawing on both internal skills as well as external help as required. Allan said the ‘Skip’ product came out of that early work.

“The White Pages started in 1880 and has continued to innovate over its history,” Allan claimed. “We were the first online directory globally in 1994 with White Pages and Yellow Pages, and there’s always been that focus on innovation. We need to keep doing that, and having the right people join us is critical.”

A recent decision to decentralise marketing and give product managers in each division end-to-end responsibility, from product development through to deployment and marketing, has furthered this approach, according to Allan.

“Since we have made that change, we’ve seen terrific alignment and a cross-skilling of marketing people really understanding the product side, and product people understanding the marketing side,” he said.

“It is the right model for us, but it means you have to have very good and capable marketers. “

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