Data can’t talk… but stories and insights can

Technicians like technology. They like data and they have access to mountains of it. They see problems a certain - logical - way. But they often can’t express the solutions because they are not typically good story tellers. 

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They need to be. If they want to create value for the organisation, technology teams need to be heard and understood. To do that, they need to understand what the business needs and how to build it. And how to communicate it.

"A good story needs a common language to ensure technology, finance, leadership and the broader business are fully in sync.”

Earlier in my career, I moved from a technology role to a marketing role. The reason was straightforward: even though technology is essential in today’s business world, tech teams and their leaders struggle with stakeholder buy-in. Even if there is a good story to be told - or a grim one - we struggle to do it.

Messages that connect

At ANZ, stories are central to our technology transformation. And I would argue they need to be - whenever technology meets business. Which is always.

A good story needs a common language to ensure technology, finance, leadership and the broader business are fully in sync. The best stories are data-fuelled and engage and inform the rest of the business.

ANZ has been undergoing significant change since Shayne Elliott was appointed Chief Executive in 2016. Transformation is overused these days but the changes we are in the midst of cut across our business model, our geographic reach, our technology and, most importantly, our culture.

To support this, our technology department needs clear, plain English narratives that connect. We need to deliver again and again. We must evolve - but not change everything too often.

This is where stories are important. Humans respond to stories in a way they simply don’t to raw, untreated data.

Steps to change

To build this data-fueled story capability, ANZ’s technology team is taking a number of steps:

  • Building a clear vision and change story that’s closely involved with customer and business needs.
  • Building a common fact base that enables us to have constructive conversations with finance, leadership and the business.
  • Democratising data and empowering our people to use it.
  • Building roadmaps for every ANZ division. These roadmaps are designed ensure the insights and value we create align with the needs of the business.

On a page

When it comes to building a clear vision and change story, there is one element which I have found very useful. It is the “strategy on a page”, laying out our entire change story in a single narrative. Not revolutionary, I know, but such a document does help to clarify to everyone the direction we are taking and how we are contributing to ANZ’s purpose.

The one pager is key. Can everyone - leader or not - talk to the narrative of who we are, what we do and why we do it?

Another issue being tackled - and this is industry-wide – is that technology often suffers from using financial modeling that doesn’t directly connect with the finance view.

Technology businesses tend to build out financials on a project and asset basis. Finance departments need a more end-to-end view focused on the value created and the services supplied. Addressing this tension is a critical driver of quality decision making.

According to ANZ Chief Financial Officer Michelle Jablko, it’s really important there is one source of truth.

“We get to the same fact base and then we can have a discussion about the strategic drivers rather than having a big debate about, well, is this number right or not?” she says.

Understanding the canvas

ANZ also recently developed the “technology canvas”. Our board requested a view of the total technology real estate needed to enable conversations. Working with the chair of the Tech Sub Committee, we came up with the technology canvas.

It has evolved somewhat but the principle is simple: get all of the real estate on to one page so people can roughly understand how the components are inter-related. This can then be overlayed with factors like budget, spend, talent, risk etc.

The technology canvas provides clear attributions across the business and enables meaningful conversations with the board and leadership. I concede this was a real challenge but a very worthwhile one as it has become a frequently used tool.

While we have been working hard on this since 2017, I would still say it is early days. We have spent a lot of time getting the foundations in place and hope to see the real impact on the business start to manifest itself this year.

That will be a good story.

Gerard Florian is Group Executive, Technology at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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