Suncorp's Pancino keeps cloud expectations in check

Suncorp Group's CEO of business services, Matt Pancino, speaking at the Optus Vision 2014 conference in Sydney, stressed the importance of talent, learning, and culture as the means to take advantage of disruptive technologies like digital, mobility, cloud, and data.
Written by Angus Macaskill, Contributor

While recognising the contribution of two previous technology transformation programs at the financial services group – which produced "half a billion dollars" of benefits – Pancino is now more focused on the question of how Suncorp can look ahead, innovate faster, and keep ahead of competitors. "What do businesses need to be leaders?" he asked.

His answer is that talent, culture and learning lets you innovate, stating that at Suncorp "culture is our secret sauce."

Sharing a video of an innovation day at Suncorp, Pancino reflected on a 24-hour creative frenzy that produced a raft of ideas ready for production that made him proud of his colleagues.

With just 4 weeks preparation time, Suncorp engaged 550 staff in 72 teams across four countries and eight locations to tackle real business problems and deliver working software in a 24-hour period.

The winning idea from that innovation day two weeks ago is ready to go into production, and three more ideas will be in production in the next two months.  Pancino believes the top 16 ideas will eventually go into production.

Pancino lists digital, mobility, cloud, and data as the disruptive technologies of today.  Since 2011, traffic to Suncorp's digital properties grew 8-fold, and mobile logins to those properties keep jumping. Pancino explains that the delivery of a range of engagement channels gives customers the ability to choose how they interact with the business

At the same time as saying cloud is one of today's disruptive technologies, Pancino went on to say he was not a fan of it.

"I don't like cloud," he said. "In its most simplest form it's just ... the automation of the infrastructure layer … it ain't rocket science"

"Organisations of tomorrow will be able to consume infrastructure without the need for large scale datacentres." 

However, Pancino isn't entirely dismissive of cloud, but he does want to point out its limits as merely an underlying delivery technology.  Suncorp aims to use cloud as a key enabler to help innovate faster, and sees three common patterns of cloud usage. 

Firstly, in delivering cost benefits, which Suncorp's internal private cloud, Suncloud, has produced, although Pancino says eventually the cost benefits run out of steam.  Compared to specialist cloud provider organisations that put cloud front and centre, Suncorp can't innovate as quickly — so by itself cloud is not strategic in delivering competitive advantage.

Secondly, cloud automation helps Suncorp reduce risk.  Pancino's example is the imperative for the insurance business to sufficiently scale up at a time of high customer demand in the event of a potential natural disaster.  Prior to cloud, Pancino said, the only way to gear up for such an eventuality was by over-provisioning of IT infrastructure, and sort of hope you never have to use it, because you don't know how big the disaster could be.  Cloud reduces the risk by providing the means to scale up at the time of need without ongoing and costly over-provisioning.

Third, and most important is the potential for cloud as an automated integration layer that's intrinsic to enablement of new developments. 

"What if we could use this automation layer and we could actually insert it into the way in which we build products and services?" Pancino asks.  "What if ... product and delivery teams could build solutions very, very quickly? They could deploy them on an as-needs basis and just consume the infrastructure that they need, much like a start-up."      

This is a cloud benefit Pancino can get excited about, but he stresses it will only be realised if the organisation has the talent, skills and culture that understands lean, agile methodologies and can use that to out-perform competitors.  

This is where Suncorp feels it has a strong advantage due to its seven-year long investment to develop best practices, develop and refresh talent, and by doing so "going up the agile maturity curve."  It's not something that can be created overnight, and Suncorp believes these capabilities will help it to innovate faster at lower risk and cost to forge ahead of the market.

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