As Australia Post enters a brave new world where the company's monopoly on traditional mail delivery becomes untenable, with mail volumes dwindling and the rise of competitive postal alternatives, the organisation had to learn to understand what customers want, and that needs to be driven from the IT department, according to CTO Tien-Ti Mak.
Speaking at Forrester's Summit for CIOs in Sydney yesterday, the CTO, who was appointed to Australia Post just 12 months ago after years of working at Accenture and later Telstra and the Customer Experience Company as an IT consultant, said that when he arrived at the organisation, it was in a state of flux.
Although the government-owned company still looms large, with 40,000 employees and close to 4,500 outlets, it is facing increasing competition on a global scale and found itself needing to adapt to the new world, competing against the likes of FedEx, DHL, and Toll.
"To be brutally honest with you, we had absolutely no idea how to do that, because we've been a monopoly industry for 200 years, so it's not like our people really know how to use sales or marketing, or customer retention or anything like that," he said.
"Our notion is that in order for us to be successful in a world that is more competitive, that is global, as you go into digital, we have to figure out what our customers want, and we have to deliver to them what they need," he said.
For the IT department, that meant shifting the focus from meeting the needs of the business units that made requests for products or services to the end customer who uses those services.
"When we talk about customers in the IT department in Australia Post, we're very clear that it means the end user or purchaser of our products or services," Mak said.
But the problem from the outset, he said, is finding IT staff who understand human behaviour and customer experience, but can also code.
"You kind of need to have people who have this wonderful human understanding of customer behaviour, and what's important to customers and what drives customer behaviour, and yet they have to be able to talk bits and bytes and be able to translate that to the programming specifications and functional specs," he said.
"It's almost next to impossible. They do not grow on trees, you cannot hire them. You can't even bring in expensive consultants and expect them to do it."
Australia Post has started to overcome this by implementing training programs in the IT department to train staff to understand customer satisfaction tools like net promoter score, and to understand the customer experience more generally.
"In our IT shop, like I suspect many other IT shops, we have very, very strong methodology, we have very strong process engineering capabilities," he said. "[But] it's not just about the tools and methods. Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Mak said that staff members would be encouraged to spend time with customers, like Catch of the Day, and see how they operate within Australia Post's systems and where there is a chance to improve. The company also created a customer champion network, and said customer focus is now the core of all new projects.
Mak said that the rest of Australia Post is now paying attention to how the IT department is working.
"Technology can actually make a difference. In the last six to 12 months, the IT team within Australian Post have made customer right at the core and right at the heart," he said.
"Putting the customer in the middle is still a long journey that we're still on. We're kind of six to 12 months in, and there's a lot of this that is still inbuilt."
Mak admitted that most of its IT in Australia is still not being outsourced, because it is easier for the company to insource for the time being.
"To be honest, not much of our IT shop is outsourced. We have most of our IT and our core capabilities insourced right now, which is making life easier for us," he said.
Mak said that the vendors Australia Post does work with do need to have that shared focus on customers.
"We're finding ourselves more and more making decisions on who we choose to work with, based on the way they articulate the value that they can bring to customers."