Bupa prescribes cloud and data as foundations for healthy transformation

Bupa prescribes cloud and data as foundations for healthy transformation

Forget digital transformation, it’s customer transformation that really counts for Bupa A&NZ – the local arm of the international health and care business that provides services for 4.7 million Australian and New Zealanders.

While the organisation has overhauled its digital and data strategies, has embraced hybrid cloud, business analytics and artificial intelligence, it’s important to view all that transformation through a customer focused lens according to Chief Information Officer Sami Yalavac.

He says that the phrase digital transformation can trap business into thinking transformation is a technology project. In fact; “We are not doing anything for the sake of digital or technology itself, but to meet our customers’ needs,” says Yalavac.

And those customer needs are diverse and complex. The information systems currently service 230 Bupa-owned dental clinics, 38 optical stores, more than 118 aged care homes, and underpin the company’s health, travel, pet, home and life insurance business.

Yalavac says that to craft the right transformation strategy his team has been steered by the business and its understanding of customer needs, and that has shaped the information systems; digital transformation is in reality by-product of customer transformation.

“From this perspective, our CRM platform through Microsoft Dynamics on the Azure platform was the heart of the whole program, tracking every single interaction with our customer. Other systems or capabilities sit around this core CRM capability,” he notes.

The single source of truth and rich data collection has allowed Bupa to conceive new customer services – for example an online self-service platform that allows insurance customers to find for themselves how much Bupa support they can expect for a treatment based on their coverage and remaining limits which has in the past been a notoriously tricky task. Not any longer.

Having a modern hybrid cloud foundation and rich data sources allows Bupa to rapidly adjust to shifting customer expectations. Yalavac offers the example of a new tool being developed for millennial customers who are keen on mobile applications to help them stay healthy, rather than tools to analyse their insurance cover.

At the heart of everything that Bupa tackles is data. It’s rich, highly personal data and Yalavac works hard to keep it secured and protected. It also holds the nuggets of value that help shape Bupa strategy, services and products to ensure customer needs continue to be met.

Chief Information Officer Sami Yalavac
Sami Yalavac, Chief Information Officer, Bupa ANZ

Central nervous system

Data, in its way, is Bupa’s central nervous system. Which makes Scott Barber, Chief Data Officer, Bupa’s de facto neuroscientist.

In the two years since he joined Bupa, Barber has sculpted a data strategy for the business and nurtured a more data-centric culture. This helps Bupa meet its regulatory requirements (the insurance business is overseen by APRA – the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority) – and also provides the insights to allow the business to make better decisions, that reflect customer expectations.

Barber notes that; “Through the transformation program and investments with Microsoft, we have the hardware, the software and the data to do everything we want. It can all exists within the ecosystem.

“But the organisation was spending so much time preparing data and transforming data for basic reporting, there was no time left to do the value-add insights.

Barber set about leveraging Azure services to automate and streamline data management and reporting. The goal is to free up analysts’ time to focus on more value-add analytics and embrace AI and machine learning. It’s not just a smarter way to operate today – it sets Bupa up for the future.

Barber expects that the Consumer Data Right which has been legislated for the banking sector – with financial institutions obliged to share customer data with one another at the customer’s request – will extend to insurance in the future.

“We’ll need to be able to provision our data the same way the banks do,” he predicts, which has led him to focus on simplifying Bupa’s data landscape and developing strong data governance capabilities. By having a scalable, flexible data platform like azure we can consolidate our data and have a clear view of our data; what it means, what’s the quality of it, how it moves. This changes what could potentially be an expensive activity of trying to provide open access to data into a pretty simple one.”

“Our strategy supports a world where eventually we’ve got things like open banking and the GDPR (Europe’s general data protection regulation) coming to Australia and New Zealand.”

Barber adds that the approach would also support any future integration of health related data from both internal and external sources. Barber says; “There’s this massive benefit of being able to take health data and health outcome data along with other data, and not looking at just cost of services, but looking at what are optimal care pathways. Can we identify preventative activities? Can we see patterns that allow us to provide information to customer and/or clinician to help them make better decision around care plans?”

In the future it may be that analysing the data reveals patterns associated with improved surgical and rehabilitation outcomes and armed with these insights Bupa may be able to provide information to customers to ensure they are aware of the importance of prehab/rehab and the correlation with quicker recovery times and lower likelihood of complications. The opportunities Bupa is exploring to positivity impact customer health outcomes bring the possibility of exciting developments.

And, because Sami Yalavac’s approach has been to make customer transformation an all-of-business enterprise, rather than secret-technology-business – Bupa employees are empowered with access to Microsoft Dynamics and Power BI to be able to access the data, create reports and glean insights to support their work and their customers.

“So, what Power BI has allowed us to do from a central team is create a common way for user to access and analyse the data. You don’t have to switch tools whether you want a report or to do some self-serve or to do some exploration. You can do it all within the same tool,” says Barber.

“We get streaming data coming out of MS Dynamics which allows us to do real time reporting. We have built our data feeds so they are metadata driven. The instant things change in an upstream system the change will flow through. If a column is added or taken away, it’s not a $100,000 activity and weeks of effort to update the data layer. The system just automatically updates. And you end up with that data available for you to start building reports immediately.”

Scott Barber, Chief Data Officer, Bupa
Scott Barber, Chief Data Officer, Bupa

Bupa’s beating heart

If data drives Bupa’s nervous system, then its beating heart is its hybrid Azure based cloud and Yalavac’s the cardio-guy.

As part of an international organisation, Yalavac was steered by a global architectural decision in favour of Microsoft and Dynamics.

Within that framework though, Bupa subsidiaries have flexibility about the mix of Azure cloud, be that infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, software as a service (such as Dynamics 365) and hybrid Azure clouds.

Bupa ANZ has embraced the Microsoft technology stack broadly, using Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure to host all of Bupa’s digital assets such as websites and mobile apps.

Azure also acts as the integration layer to broker integration between Dynamics 365 in the cloud, and Bupa’s on premises environment. Azure also hosts Bupa’s growing data platforms supporting analytics.

Yalavac explains; “We still have a significant onsite, our own private cloud.”

“Because we have good integration, there is good networking solutions, so that you can easily make your choices of what’s in your own data centre versus Azure itself versus some other tech solution. Eventually, we’ll go more and more PaaS and SaaS to take advantage of flexibility, agility, economy and security that Azure promises.”

Being Azure based also opens the door for the rapidly expanding array of Microsoft cognitive services. Yalavac says that; “As a health company, AI will play a very, very important role in our future. Even for the insurance perspective, the financial management or process management perspective, AI probably will replace lots of processes, even human beings in the process. “

In the UK, Bupa also runs an accelerator program called Blue Table, and the start ups engaged in that initiative can pitch their ideas and solutions to Bupa subsidiaries worldwide. More broadly in the health sector, AI solutions and augmented reality health applications – for example using augmented reality with burns patients to suggest they are in a cold location which may help with pain and speed healing – are being explored.

Yalavac stresses though that the technology is one component of successful enterprise transformation – culture the other.

It’s a bit like inserting a stent into a patient to improve their health – if the patient still scoffs chips and smokes the technology will have limited impact. Yalavac is promoting a far healthier transformation culture.

“I believe that without having the right culture, and also the right people, you’re never ever able to deliver your strategy.

“We have communicated to employees at all levels and in all parts of the Information Services team the kind of culture and behaviours we need here: what’s accepted here and what’s not accepted, what is rewarded versus discouraged. How to encourage people to collaborate but collaborate efficiently.

“Having healthy conflict is critical to real collaboration, where people have a growth mindset, and are open-minded to the different ideas. Ideally people almost forget which team they are from, but instead focus on the customer and the company, because we are all in the same company. It’s about creating virtual teams, mission-based teams, rather than teams focused on organisational structure or solely focused on specific tasks or projects.

“We are also encouraging the team to be business leaders, not just technology leaders. That means no longer waiting for the business to come to you, but taking the initiative to identify opportunities to drive the business growth. That’s our responsibility as the technology team. And lastly we want people to love working here: to enjoy their work and to have the opportunity to grow and develop at Bupa.”

Yalavac says that a major priority after serving the customer is creating a digital workplace where people actually want to work, are made more efficient, and supported, by technology.

“People utilise technology to do a better job. Technology can help them enjoy their work more, give them more flexibility and agility, and it can drive collaboration and innovation. These are the core pillars in our vision in IT and creating a digital workplace is a key enabler.”

Yes, there are challenges – and Yalavac is constantly mindful of the privilege and perils of looking after the private health and financial data of 4.7 million Australian and New Zealanders. The security and trust of Microsoft Azure is a key ally, and he is keenly aware that the investment made by Microsoft in properly protecting data held in Azure is beyond what he could manage alone.

Portrait image of Wallace Yim, Director Strategy and Architecture at Bupa Australia & New Zealand
Wallace Yim, head of information systems strategy and architecture, Bupa

Healthy futures

Under the stewardship of Scott Barber, Bupa’s data collection has been brought to life. Replacing a siloed and fractured data architecture with simplified data environment where information flows are automated, governed and trusted has been a priority.

“We’re thinking how do we make our data systems more robust? How do we create a platform that we can scale up and manage our data in a safe and efficient manner while ensuring analysts still have access the data and tools they need?” he says.

“There is a goal that for every customer we know what the next best conversation is across each of our different engagement channels. And we have the technology in place to do this. We have the data flowing into the system so we can build up recommendation models. We have the linkages out to all the channels. It’s now about bringing all these pieces together,” Barber says, stressing that this feature is still on the drawing board.

In fact, Bupa still has a lot of headroom when it comes to developing systems to make use of the data he says.

“We built some of the machine learning algorithms. We have got churn models, upsell models, cross-sell models in that marketing space. Because of the scale of the business, if you’re able to improve your targeting even a little, you are able to have a big impact on performance.”

“We’re also doing some playing around with things like facial recognition, things like video analysis. So we’ve got a couple of pilots in place where we’re trying to see if we can stream in video to accurately identify if someone has fallen. If you think about an age care application, if you could have an alert trigger if someone’s fallen then you can get them the appropriate care faster.”

“But where I see it being potentially really beneficial is combining the video analysis with a person’s medical history data and their medication data. we Then if we identify that someone’s gait has changed, combined with these other factors, we may be able to identify that their likelihood of fall has increased, and take preventative steps to avoid a fall in the future.”

He adds that Microsoft’s Azure cognitive services have been designed so that impactful data driven applications don’t demand PhD level AI skills. “You think about cognitive services, , it’s pretty easy for me to identify your face now. Microsoft has a prebuilt app – it’s like two lines of code and it’s done. The value really becomes in how do you use this and apply this to the business?”

These are important questions because as the Bupa team understands if you do it well both the business and the customer have a healthier future ahead.


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