good partnership

Six themes underpinning aware super’s digital transformation

  1. Data Governance — updating the governance framework, data dictionary and approach to central data storage.
  2. Roles and Responsibilities — tackling issues such as controls, sign-offs, handoffs, and periodic reviews.
  3. Auditability — ensuring clarity on who did what, when, and who signed off.
  4. Reporting capability and accessibility — investing in centralised data storage, platform architecture aligned to technology strategy, and developing user profiles.
  5. Security — establishing robust security protocols for handling member data and investment return scenarios.
  6. Customised solution — building a customisable, flexible tool designed to support ongoing change.

Podcast: Episode three

Collaboration is core to value creation. In this episode of Directors on Digital, Alan Kohler AM speaks with Josephine Sukkar AM FAICD and Deanne Stewart GAICD about how boards can reposition their business as part of the broader ecosystem, and transform engagements among internal and external stakeholders

The process of transformation almost inevitably requires leveraging the skills and expertise of others, and drawing in entire teams. Forward-thinking boards know that it is the collective rather than the individual that drives deliberate, innovative change.

Over the past 18 months, Aware Super has undergone a breadth and scale of change that would challenge the most seasoned director. It completed two mergers, changed its name and launched a number of new initiatives around responsible investing, climate change and affordable housing. On top of that, it underwent a digital transformation through a partnership with Microsoft to replace its legacy tools — all the while managing $130b of client funds.

Pairing up to succeed

Aware Super CEO Deanne Stewart GAICD says forging genuine partnerships was a critical component of its transformational success. For example, Aware knew it needed a modern data platform to keep pace with its growth as Australia’s second-largest superannuation fund, and acknowledged early on that this need could only be met through collaboration.

“We know our customers, how to serve them and how to responsibly invest money, but we are not a technology shop,” says Stewart. “As we were looking to completely re-plumb our administration, there was a recognition we needed to collaborate with other organisations with a real partnership mindset, for whom [technology] was their daily bread and butter.”

Lessons learned

During periods of great change, it is all too easy for board members to get lost in granular details. Stewart says adopting a broadly strategic approach prevented this from occurring.

“When you’re going through that degree of transformation, you have such an opportunity to take a step back — and particularly to look at whether you’ve got the processes right,” she says. “Have you got the resources and capability right? Have you got the business model right?”

Aware Super’s digital transformation was completed within nine months and has delivered significant benefits. These include reducing reporting time, increasing enterprise transparency and heightening the focus on governance and security. This, in turn, delivers a better customer experience and reduces risk.

During the journey, the board and executive team found being aligned behind the overarching strategy and purpose was critical. The same questions were posed of each moving part — what problem are we solving and why is the transformation needed?

Look past the star performers

When it comes to building teams that thrive in an environment of transformation, Josephine Sukkar AM AAICD seeks out those who live and breathe a collaborative outlook. As principal of commercial construction company Buildcorp and chair of the Australian Sports Commission, she understands the value of outlook on output.

“When I’m recruiting, the number-one thing I look for is: are they we-focused or are they I-focused?” she tells Directors on Digital. “If they’re I-focused, even if they have every bit of capability and experience, I’ll never hire them. Ultimately, I know that they are the star performer, they’re not team performers, and you’ll therefore never get what you need done in an organisation.”

“You have such an opportunity to...particularly look at whether you’ve got the processes right.”

Permission to grow

A board has a critical role to play in using the transformation agenda as an opportunity to be bold, says Stewart. It can foster a business environment of psychological safety rather than anxiety around the potential for mistakes; or “the feeling there’s fear there — that you better not get anything wrong”.

Stewart points to extensive research linking psychological safety with innovation and high-performing teams. “If you don’t feel safe, you won’t take the risks. And if your teams don’t feel safe, they will always go to what the minimum is,” she says.

Sukkar contends that when all layers of an organisation’s culture espouse psychological safety, the gains are more transformative than when it comes from the leadership team alone. “Psychological safety... is where all of us are moving,” she says. “How do you create in your culture a psychologically safe workplace for innovation to come along? It’s one thing for a board and executive to impose change transformation upon their people. But as we all know, totally different when it comes from the bottom up.”