Adaptable Culture Energizes Digital Transformation

Cristiano Barbieri

Third of three blogs about SulAmérica and part of the “Digital CIO” series

Many companies view digital transformation as a cliché, an endless struggle that never really delivers. Change that goes against the grain of long-accepted work habits and management practices is usually met with tremendous resistance at all organizational levels. Technologies designed to allow people to access and share information with ease are dismissed as just another thing to learn before the next one comes along.

Such experiences are all symptoms of something that has gone awry – and everyone seems to have an opinion on what’s happening. Technologies, IT skills, consulting partners, asset management capabilities, data, and business networks – these are just a few of the variety of answers. However, each of these elements of a digital strategy relies on an adaptable business culture to energize a wave a change that not only opens up new opportunities but also helps the company cut through an already crowded marketplace.

The real backbone of digital transformation: culture

In my first blog, I described how my team and I started planning for SulAmérica’s transition towards connecting with our 8 million customers, 30,000 brokers, and 5,000 internal employees in ways that feel natural and convenient for them. And increasingly, that experience is digital by nature. But even as much as our lives as consumers have changed over the last six years, we found that our methods, habits, and mindsets at work have yet to keep up.

My team and I learned this valuable lesson when we designed our innovation garage, a dedicated space for experimenting and testing the viability of innovations. What we thought was a widely recognized approach wasn’t as evident to the rest of the business. The executive team didn’t see any value in it. Neither did the non-IT workforce. Even after two years of digitally transforming our operations, most of the IT department wasn’t sure either.

It became painfully apparent that SulAmérica’s culture was going to challenge our ability to develop innovations that resonate with a customer base that is heavily reliant on the digital connections. As much as we like to concentrate on the technologies driving digital transformation, the real success factor is how people respond to change, which is primarily dictated by their current situations, histories, and training.

If the culture is not willing to adapt, nothing will change, no matter how groundbreaking our implementations may be. Yet quitting isn’t an option when the future of SulAmérica depends on its ability to capture the hearts and minds of existing customers and solidify our leadership position in the Brazilian insurance market.

Breaking down the wall with immersive experiences

To move past this impasse, we needed to prove that the business could perform better while putting the customer experience at the center of everything we do. Achieving this goal required us to focus on the experience of change and to put the people affected at the center of our plans. For my team, this meant changing our own view of SulAmérica’s internal and external business network, considering them our customers, to facilitate opening up the culture to the continuous change that digital transformation requires.

We first corroborated this mindset by giving the IT team an opportunity to use our innovation garage for a couple of their projects. After some back-and-forth discussions about what works well and what doesn’t, we convinced the IT team that the new environment was a better way to get things done. The IT team was working faster, cheaper, and more strategically than ever before.

But what emerged from our collaborative experience was perhaps the most important part of inspiring a new cultural energy across the business. One of the IT projects that leveraged the innovation garage was a mobile app that allowed our health insurance division to accelerate the out-of-network patient reimbursement process. After using this environment to experiment with mobile technology and artificial intelligence, the IT team delivered a technology that accelerated the repayment process from 10 days to 24 hours.

A fine challenge to have: scaling up quickly

This level of success turned the IT team into our earliest business advocate, which willingly evangelized the value of the innovation garage. After half of our 3 million healthcare insurance customers downloaded and used the app, we received tremendous attention from the rest of the business. SulAmérica gained a new competitive advantage that is strengthening customer satisfaction, freeing agents from shuffling paperwork, and lowering operational costs.

Six years later, I can safely say that every business function has experienced the innovation garage with great enthusiasm. However, now that everyone understands the value of this environment, I am facing a new problem: scaling up. And speaking as a CIO, this is an excellent challenge to have when an already successful program is positioned to be a powerful force in my company’s future.

Read more from the “Digital CIO” series.

Cristiano Barbieri

About Cristiano Barbieri

Cristiano Barbieri is chief information officer and head of customer relationships at SulAmerica Seguros. He has been leading the digital transformation of the company, spearheading important initiatives including "Transforming the Customer Experience," which created a 360-degree view of the customer, and "A New Customer Platform," totally cloud based. "A New Digital Customer Journey" recently launched where more than 2 million calls a year were transformed into digital interactions. He has also created an experimentation lab within the company named "Innovation Garage," another important initiative where culture transformation is the main goal and drives many innovative projects.