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CIO Awards: delivering transformation projects in the shadow of Covid

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 26 November 2020, 9:07 am

The Inland Revenue department this week picked up one of the flagship prizes at the CIO Awards held in Auckland for the latest phase of a business transformation project that took on a whole new element as the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

IRD won the Business Transformation through Digital and IT section of the CIO Awards, beating out strong projects from finalists Countdown and PlaceMakers. Common to all three however was a need to leverage technology to respond to the challenges thrown up by Covid.

For IRD, which was preparing to roll out Phase 4 of its $1.8 billion, six-year business transformation programme, it involved sending nearly 4,000 staff home to work remotely running the country's tax systems, and enabling the Government to dispense wage subsidies and business loans.

"When it came to small business loans, we made $600 million available in the first week the scheme was live," Gary Baird, Inland Revenue's Deputy Commissioner, Enterprise Services and Chief Technology Officer, told me earlier this week.

Enabling policy agility

"It was literally six weeks from the minister raising the question of whether it was possible, to literally turning the system on."

The new integration tax system IRD has implemented as part of one of the biggest IT upgrades in our government's history allowed the team to move at a pace that wouldn't have been possible if the old infrastructure was still in place.

"We made significant child support changes back in about 2012," says Baird.

"But implementing those changes took around three years, with a couple of hundred people on the project, and well north of $100 million in investment."

A move to Microsoft 365 and upgrade of core admin functions to cloud services had allowed a fairly seamless move to working from home too.

Baird says the Covid response proved the ability of the tax system to deliver the "policy agility" the Government was seeking as an outcome of the project, which will enter its final phase next year.

Also transforming at speed as a result of the pandemic was supermarket retailer Countdown, which had to reconfigure how its stores operate to accommodate social distancing measures and accommodate a surge in online shopping.

A key priority, says Sally Copland, General Manager, Brand and Countdown-X and acting Managing Director, Countdown, was adapting the online shopping system to prioritise the elderly and immuno-compromised

"We had to play our role, to feed those most vulnerable in New Zealand. That was the most important thing," says Copland.

To meet the online demand, Countdown made the decision to convert some of its supermarkets into "dark stores" that would fulfil online orders only.

"We would actually shut supermarkets," Copland told me.

"That decision was made in one meeting. In the second meeting, we determined which store locations we would go for first."

Screen Shot 2020-11-26 at 8.53.28 AM.png

Countdown's Sally Copland

Going dark

Major changes to Countdown's supply chain and distribution were needed to keep the groceries moving and there was even time for new innovations to be rolled out with the supermarket chain piloting a contactless shopping system at its Ponsonby store which allows shoppers to bypass the checkout and scan and pay for everything on a smartphone app.

Copland, who this week picked up the CIO of the Year Award, credits the team and culture at Countdown-X, the supermarket chain's technology and innovation division, with allowing the company to move at speed to handle the crisis.

Also adapting to the new normal was building supplies retailer PlaceMakers, which was in the midst of revamping its customer experience when the virus struck. After several years of upgrading and digitising its core systems, PlaceMakers accelerated development of its PlaceMakers Trade. It lets builders order, track and collect their orders from PlaceMakers outlets with the use of QR codes using the Skip the Counter service. 

It's a stark difference with the traditional way of doing business in the PlaceMakers supplies and timber yard.

"People were handing bits of paper to each other," says Wayne Armstrong, Head of Digital Channels at PlaceMakers.

Skip the counter

"Jobs were priced separately and with a lot of specialised products, there was a lot of scope for mistakes to be made."

PlaceMakers used to print off 22 million pages of paper a year. The digitisation of processes and use of handheld computers and barcode scanners has reduced that by more than half. That initial work allowed 800,000 manual transactions to be automated too.

With nearly a quarter of PlaceMakers' key accounts now using the Trade app after just a few months, digital channels are now integral to doing business with customers in an industry considered to be one of the last still to experience significant digital disruption.

Congratulations to all winners and finalists in the CIO Awards 2020.

Check out my case studies on the business transformation programmes at Inland Revenue Department, Countdown and PlaceMakers.

 


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