Why this automotive club’s IT chief wants to be joined at the hip with marketing

Royal Automobile Association of South Australia embarks on digital transformation program that has ramifications not just for members, but for marketing and IT teams

IT and marketing teams that aren’t working cohesively together in the face of rapid digital change will struggle to keep up with consumer expectations, the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia (RAA)’s IT leader claims.

RAA has kicked off a three-year transformation program aimed at improving member and customer experiences through a digital-first, strategic approach. As a first step earlier this year, the association partnered with IT and digital integrator, Empired, on a digital roadmap exercise to identify what investment was required to deliver on its digital ambitions.

Since then, the group has selected and begun rolling out the Sitecore Experience Platform and Microsoft Azure cloud service to replatform its website and digital product and services offerings. Simultaneously, RAA has embarked on a secondary program of work aimed at understanding and better positioning internal data assets as well as external market data for better customer engagement across the organisation.

RAA group information officer, Mike Walters, told CMO digital is both a channel and capability for the association to engage with members and consumers in more personalised and optimised ways.

“All trends point towards being digital first as strategically important – the channel shift, company and product shift are all catalysts for that,” he said.

While RAA maintained a Web presence, it was highly information oriented and lacked sophisticated transactional capability as well as the ability to target and personalise.

For Walters, the first year of digital transformation is about getting the basics right, starting with RAA’s core products across motoring and roadside, insurance and security. “We’ve seen from other projects that company plans [for digital] can get overblown, and we want to be pragmatic about it,” he commented. “The ambition is to offer people something they find easy to use, and that provides them with a more contemporary experience than previously available.”

Once it has a solid base, RAA is looking to add value by providing greater context and increased personalisation, capabilities that will be enhanced by its data overhaul, Walters said. “Beyond that, we’ll have set up a platform to drive a new range of products, and we will look to partner with organisation to bring unique offers to market,” he said.

On the list of priorities is providing different types of digital payment capabilities, such as Apply Pay, banking gateways and PayPal. The second thing for Walters is integration capability, and the third piece is bringing social environments members and consumers use into its digital offering.

In July, RAA also released a new mobile app to extend its 'More for Members' program.

Uniting marketing and technology ambitions

The Sitecore platform is due to go live over the next week, and teams are currently engaged in user experience and design work. For Walters, a key part of the process has been recognising that digital and technology domain experience need to be more aligned, and that IT and marketing must work collaboratively towards the same goal.

“The chief marketing and consumer officer and myself are now joined at the hip and believe technology and our digital presence should be in tune, supporting each other,” he said. “The pace of change in the digital space is so rapid, if you don’t work cohesively, you will fail.”

Being clear about the journeys and leveraging key partners to source components required for digital success have been vital parts of making this happen, Walter said.

“The line between what technology and our marketing functions do is clear, but we need to collaborate and work closely together,” he said. “We’ve not been so good at that in the past.

“The level of complexity and pace of change now means if technology and marketing aren’t working as one team, these projects will increasingly run into problems.”

RAA has established a governance structure around pieces of work, with different components being taken up by technology and marketing functions. Running across these teams is a recently adopted Agile process, allowing small and cross-functional teams to tackle bite-sized piece of work that fit into the wider digital plan.

“The step change was to recognise that to deliver change quickly, we needed to have different work practices and organisational structures,” Walters said. “That’s not just internal either; how we engage partners and providers to get more the work done quickly is another part of this. It’s a challenge when you have legacy technology with new stuff coming in, plus changing consumer expectations. We’re now more agile, and the small teams help with that.”

Specifically, Walters is looking to leverage its relationship with Empired for a skills and knowledge transfer, and he flagged the integrator’s combination of technology legacy and digital expertise as key reasons for the partnership.

“It’s evident the pace of change will pick up, not slow down. With an organisation like ours, not partnering on a number of fronts will limit us,” he said. “We have to work out how to do that well.

“We have built into the program that we’ll spend time and effort on resources and capability. I’m also restructuring in order to encourage technology teams to get these digital and integration skills in place.”

Being truly member focused

As an organisation, RAA had always prided itself on being very member focused, Walters said. “They’re easy words to say, however, and we took a very hard look at ourselves two years ago in this space, and asked the question: Are we truly consumer and member focused? How much is being done for our members?” he asked.

“We spent time with focus groups and the segments we engage with, and that helped us to identify what is and isn’t working well. We’ve done a lot of consumer research, and we took what we learnt to heart organisationally. What stood out is that for all our platitudes, we were not as focused as we needed to be. We embraced an outside-in approach from that point.”

With executives are all aware of the importance of digital channels, and with several owners of different products and services all in a hurry to make things happen, one of the hardest things has been reining in expectations and prioritising what to bring to market first, Walters said.

“We want to put our best foot forward from a member point of view, but also what will make the biggest impact initially,” he said.

By May 2017, Walters hoped members and consumers will see a real change in RAA’s digital proposition.

“We are planning for a number of quick wins, then have a backlog of things that we want to do,” he said. “We’ve learnt from other organisations that a scattergun approach is not the way to go, and that pieces of work need hard targets and people being held to account.”

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