People, process and technology. The three pillars of transformation

As part of Michael Page’s ongoing series on Digital Transformation, I sat down with Pete Marsden, CIO Digital of Aviva, at their Aviva Garage site on Hoxton Square. We met amongst a hive of activity: the energy in their creative digital hub was infectious. This Hoxton hub is indicative of the journey and evolution Pete and Aviva have embarked upon. The world is changing. The consumer internet has transformed the way customers interact with businesses and this is clearly apparent with insurers like Aviva. 
The advent of wearables, smart devices, connected technologies and behavioural apps like Aviva Drive have increased the number of touch points insurers have with their customers. As innovation is often being driven from entrepreneurs and SMEs, major corporates have to work hard to identify scalable technical opportunities, and this is where Aviva Ventures – the insurance giant’s venture capitalist arm (launched in 2015) which aims to invest in the best new technology and digital businesses around – comes into play. An intriguing example of this is Cocoon, a single security device that uses advanced sub-sound technology to monitor and secure your home effectively from anywhere in the world.
I was keen to understand Pete’s views and learns from the digital transformation he has facilitated throughout his career at industry leading businesses such as Egg, Orange, ASOS, and now Aviva. 
“To excel in digital transformation, you must be truly agile; be prepared to fail fast, as scope will change continuously; your integrated teams need momentum to innovate and deliver. 
“The speed of change is key. Where once business cases were based on five-year horizons – and legacy technologies creaked on up towards twenty – businesses must now focus on one-to-two-year plans, and accept that new technologies will evolve and change. You need a great relationship with your CFO as traditional models for ROI aren’t applicable for fast-paced digital change.
“Business sponsors must also be willing and able to integrate into agile teams, evolve scope, accept failure and learning are going to happen, and wait to judge the ROI on the business outcomes.  At Aviva, we have c60 Features (agile teams); each of these has a business sponsor embedded and they are accountable for the outcomes. Ultimately, they run as mini-businesses.
To enable this rate of change, the technology must meet the challenge. Pete is huge fan of the new services coming out of the cloud providers such as Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure. His view – that technology needs to be low cost, scalable and secure – is held by many CIOs I speak to, but it is clear that the innovation, pace and investment that these providers offer is a true enabler for the impressive digital transformation at Aviva.
“The power and innovation of leading cloud technologies allow businesses to invest in customer journeys and adapt to the market. Some of the technology just blows me away – who would have predicted that Amazon’s Alexa would have been a key product last Christmas?”
However, despite effective agile processes and bleeding edge cloud technologies, Pete genuinely champions the people angle of the transformation trinity.
“Key to achieving this is people: technology needs humans. The synergy of top talent and top technology is crucial for this model to work.”
Pete’s success can be attributed to the winning work environment he’s created at Aviva, which includes top talent from a host of disparate sectors and industries, including top retailers, the world of box-office gaming and even from the seekers of the Higgs Boson at CERN (the European Council for Nuclear Research).
When asked what keeps him awake at night, Marsden responded: “Losing great people and how to engage better with those people who still just don’t get digital yet.”
But despite the assortment of backgrounds at Aviva, it is their behaviours and values which set them apart:
“Top talent is defined by having excellent communication skills, being self-learning and being able to deliver at pace, but, ultimately, having the right attitude.”
Pete clearly cares about his people and cares about Aviva’s customers. The most poignant message I took from our conversation captured this perfectly:
“If you think about how you, as a customer, interacted with your insurer in the analogue era – you were cost-focused. At best you had a transactional interaction every 12 months; if you had to interact in the interim, it was likely to be a painful and costly for one, if not both sides.
“Now, with the technology and talent available, the number of potential interfaces are increased through a variety of technologies – Fitbits, Aviva drive, Cocoon – and these positive interventions mean we help or customers prevent bad things from happening in the first place and defy uncertainty.”
Pete Marsden was speaking with James Barrett, Managing Director at Michael Page Technology.