Toll Group is shifting its internal thinking on future IT transformation, looking for smaller, lower-cost ways to deliver results than multi-year programs that cost tens of millions to implement.
Head of IT business partnering for the customer and digital domains Stuart Robertson told the Digital Disruption 2021 conference that Toll had emerged from the past three years with a heavily transformed environment, courtesy of a “massive $450 million investment”.
He said that IT had also managed to secure additional funds to keep the upgraded systems “contemporary, up-to-date and secure”.
“We’ve gone in and fought quite hard for the investment to maintain what we’ve put in,” Robertson said.
But with that transformation work completed and the systems now business-as-usual, Toll is shifting its thinking around future technology transformation, with that approach reflected in several new initiatives.
“We’ve taken a different lens on the transformation component,” Robertson said.
"It doesn’t all have to be $50m or $100m investment; some of the stuff that I’m doing around intelligent automation can actually drive significant business value at a relatively low cost.
“We’re trying to balance the business outcome and value that’s going to be achieved, and how can we deliver that a little bit differently from a traditional transformation perspective.”
This mindset shift builds on efforts to evolve the operating model of the group’s IT function over the past few years.
Robertson likened the new approach to “second-speed IT”, one that could still pull off the big projects but that could also shorten time-to-value and “deliver quickly, effectively, efficiently and at a low cost.”
Two-speed or bimodal IT is an operating model championed by consultancies like Gartner and McKinsey.
Toll has been setting up this model since Robertson joined back in June 2017; he initially established and ran Toll’s digital and e-commerce centre of excellence, which used DevOps methodologies to deliver a multi-million dollar e-commerce platform at pace.
Centres of excellence would continue to act as vehicles to execute certain programs of work more quickly using non-waterfall approaches.
Additionally, IT’s handling of systems needed by staff during the Covid-19 pandemic had also contributed to the shift of perceptions of IT internally.
“We’ve come from a very large legacy and aged estate, but moving to the latest Microsoft suite with tools like Teams and SharePoint Online [were] really accelerated [through Covid],” Robertson said.
“[The rollout program] was running [already, but] when we got into lockdown the need to accelerate that just happened overnight and so it was a great catalyst. We’d probably still be doing it if that hadn’t happened.
“But from an IT function view of the world, it showed to the business we can move faster, we can get things done, and we can give you capability quite quickly.”
One new initiative to benefit from a faster moving and agile approach is the adoption of intelligent automation (IA).
Intelligent automation refers to the combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning with more traditional process automation techniques.
Toll Group is starting to deploy intelligent automation on some of its internal processes, quickly establishing a pipeline of candidates despite its efforts to date remaining small and relatively low-key.
The fact that intelligent automation had “been around for a while” helped Toll get the work off the ground, Robertson said.
“I’ve deliberately tried to stay away from [describing] this as ‘innovative and exciting’ because senior managers just see that as a risk or unknown,” Robertson said.
“[IA] is a known entity and product. We can see the use cases, we can see our competitors and other companies out there leveraging it.
“That just paints a very different picture to us [than] trying to ... drive an innovation agenda.”
Robertson said the company sought out and found some “likeminded stakeholders” with business problems they wanted to solve” and a desire “to drive operational and process efficiencies”.
“We actually started with a very small proof-of-concept,” he said.
“We got [in] a couple of vendors, we stood up the technology, we documented what we wanted to do, we showed the business the technology works and what it can do for them.
“Just by taking them through that process has really helped them not only understand and be open to the adoption but they’ve also become advocates for [IA].”
While Robertson did not describe the specific use cases that Toll has used IA for, he noted that enough value had been derived from the initial deployments to spark a large amount of internal interest and additional use cases.
“The moment people see the value, it just grows,” Robertson said.
“We now have quite a large backlog of automations and we’ve not really pushed it hard. A lot of the work has been coming to us.”
Robertson believed this would not necessarily have occurred if Toll had approached the technology under the guise of a larger-scale transformation.
“If we went in and said we want a massive program to automate 1000 processes, we would probably still be looking at a business case or still trying to document things,” he said.
“We’re starting very small, very focused. Showing our CIO and global leadership team what the value behind it is helped us get the foothold.”