Talent Talk with Sami Yalavac

Welcome to another Talent Talk. This time, we’re joined by Sami Yalavac, Chief Information Officer at Bupa, who talks us through daily habits, digital acceleration, and his biggest challenges. Let’s dive in.

1. What does a day in the life look like for you?

My life is split between work, physical and mental wellbeing activities, spiritual activities, family and the community. Obviously, during workdays, most of the time in the day is spent on work, but that is without compromising my overall wellbeing.

After work or on weekends, I devote my time firmly to my family, community work, and to myself so I can completely shut down and recharge. Even though a key part of my role at work is managing the technology team, most of my time I am busy working with people either internal or external to Bupa. Other than being part of committees or external activities, leading, developing, and inspiring people is still key to successfully delivering outcomes in a sustainable way. Either at work or in my personal life, interacting with people and socialising is the most enjoyable part of my life.

2. It has been said that Covid enabled 10 years of technology in less than one. Do you agree, and how have you seen this play out at Bupa?

Yes, I completely agree.

Last year when the pandemic hit, suddenly our team in technology all had a shared mission.
That was, to ensure business continuity in a remote environment so that our customers could continue to be supported by Bupa, and so our people felt supported and able to effectively work from home.

I was so proud to see that our team was able to shift more than 4,000 office-bound employees to remote working environments while remobilising our contact centres to operate from home settings within just 2 weeks.

Previously, if we had said we wanted to commence a project that allowed all our people to work from home, this would have taken years, a larger number of resources, and a lot of challenges along the way.

Now, that pace of working is something we want to bring into the future. The way we now work has completely changed and does rely heavily on technology. It’s certainly accelerated our digital transformation within Bupa and beyond.

3. How have you used technology to enable and support your employees and customers?

Technology is at the heart of supporting both our people and our customers.

Over the past year, our focus in technology at Bupa has been to develop technologies that deliver better health outcomes for our customers across our health insurance, health services and aged care businesses.

In an Australian-first, we enabled our optical customers to access innovative Artificial Intelligence enabled eye tests and tailored reports that break new ground in the early detection of eye and general health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Across aged care, we are the first aged care provider in the Southern Hemisphere to introduce sensory gaming systems designed for people with cognitive challenges (including dementia).

We also developed a backend solution enabling Bupa customers to access their health insurance membership cards in Apple Wallet, allowing them to claim by holding their Apple device near a HICAPS terminal. This solution was received positively as both good for customers and good for the planet.

For our people, we have and continue to find ways we can optimise their remote working experience through collaboration tools and supporting the launch of a new intranet.

4. What are you most excited about as you look forward to the next five years?

The way technology can support people’s health is a really exciting area for growth. I believe Bupa as a global health and care organisation can play a significant role in this by tackling some really tough challenges in the health system.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) and data being more available and shared, we can more deeply understand how people are living their lives and offer relevant advice, so health and care services will become preventative rather than curing sickness.

5. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

To me, increasing business literacy and commercial acumen in the technology team is crucial, as is collaborating with stakeholders to achieve business and customer outcomes. To truly show advocacy for a priority, and to get the best value to customers by influencing the outcome, I have learnt that my role is to be the core of the project in an influencing role.

This means being across the critical elements of a project and ensuring the right mechanisms are in place to enable those elements and people to be successful. I believe you need to be close enough to a project to be able to identify gaps and delegate successfully, and then, with the right enablement to do so, trust your people to deliver. That learning has come about through mistakes in my career.

In my time at Bupa, that learning was felt throughout our data journey. Currently, an enabling pillar of our strategy is enhanced data driven decision making, but the road to get there has been a challenging one.

Previously data wasn’t on the priority list for the company. Data was very fragmented and was used tactically rather than strategically to make decisions.

Unfortunately, the lack of prioritisation of the data program and the inability to deliver what was promised at the time led to a lack of trust from our business stakeholders.

Our people in technology are talented and want to deliver, and I believe this meant they hoped they could create the outcome despite lacking the mechanisms and resourcing to do so. I can see this in retrospect, as we now have a dedicated, focussed team with a strategic mandate and resourcing to deliver, and they have already been delivering results.

My perspective changed over the past two and a half years where we have led a major uplift in security practices and behaviour in Bupa.

Without a Chief Information Security Officer in place at the time, I was almost forced into the role alongside mine. This meant I was fully immersed, and at the core of understanding the program, supporting making decisions, setting up the mechanisms for our people to deliver and trusting them to do so, and most importantly, critical to influencing business conversations. The program was a highly successful feat.

Now, my leadership and approach to delivering business outcomes is highly influenced by this learning.

As an example, whenever you have a game plan you often consider your strategy, your opponents, and the people you’re collaborating with (your team). You can’t deliver a game plan by yourself.
Through our change to a product-based delivery model, and in my own personal leadership, I have enabled our people to be part of setting the game plan with a team of cross-functional players, so our people are enabled to win ‘the match.’

Rather than being service providers waiting to be told what to deliver, our new product-based delivery model brings technology closer with the business so our people can be at the forefront of decision making and share accountability for business outcomes with our colleagues. We’re now well equipped to fully immerse ourselves in business projects and offer our technology thought leadership to influence outcomes.

Learning to fully immerse myself in business problems to influence change and drive outcomes has reframed the way I lead and the way I think about my role as the CIO – the Chief Influence Officer.

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