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A super advantage: How AustralianSuper is enhancing member outcomes by boosting productivity and cybersecurity with AI

AustralianSuper is helping to revolutionise the retirement saving sector in Australia by embracing the latest technologies and redesigning business processes. As the country’s largest – and fastest growing – superannuation fund, managing around $325 billion in assets for over 3.3 million members, it has undergone a significant technological transformation under the leadership of Chief Technology Officer Mike Backeberg.

This evolution has seen the fund transition to a new technology operating model known as ‘engage, enable, deliver’ that is designed to enhance the organisation’s global service delivery capabilities and member engagement. This strategy has meant a decisive shift from using on-premises data centres towards scalable, cloud-based solutions on platforms such as Microsoft Azure.

We see technology as a differentiating capability that enables us to deliver superior member outcomes.

Mike Backeberg, CTO, AustralianSuper

Backeberg says AI will play a pivotal role in the fund’s quest for operational excellence, offering unparalleled opportunities to enhance efficiency, create better member experiences and drive better-informed decision-making.

Adopting an AI-centric view

AustralianSuper’s adoption of AI is not a new endeavour. Since 2016, it has actively used AI technologies in its decision support and straight-through processing systems. But with the arrival of generative AI through ChatGPT, Microsoft Copilots and other solutions, the fund has sharpened its focus on using the technology to improve member outcomes.

While navigating complexities such as regulatory oversight and building trust around data privacy and data leakage risks around the use of AI, AustralianSuper has been quick to adopt generative AI across core areas of the business.

“We aim to be thought leaders in the generative AI space,” says Backeberg. “Our core priority is to use it to improve member outcomes, both through the way we provide services and how we are using it to free up our people to focus more on higher-value tasks.”

The fund has marked this strategic pivot by establishing a dedicated AI engineering team and being invited as one of only 600 organisations globally to participate in the Copilot for Microsoft 365 Early Access Program (EAP).

“Our AI maturity is only at level one on the five-point scale that we’re using, so we’ll be undertaking a program to get ourselves up the maturity scale and increase the use of AI,” says Backeberg.

“We believe it will take about 18 months for all our people to properly adopt generative AI because we have to think carefully about how we embed it into our processes. For example, new employees will require it as part of their toolset, so we need to provide the right onboarding, education and training to ensure they get value out of technologies like Copilot for Microsoft 365.”

AustralianSuper has set a goal of increasing productivity by 5 per cent across its organisation using AI within the next 12 months. While Backeberg admits the goal is conservative, he believes the return on investment (ROI) will be substantial.

Increasing productivity by 5 per cent will pay for the actual technology multiple times over. With that kind of ROI, we don’t have to be too aggressive. Over the next few years, it’s probably going to be more like a 20 to 30 per cent increase in productivity, depending on the evolution and availability of AI technology.

Unlocking significant time savings

AustralianSuper’s participation in the Copilot for Microsoft 365 EAP reflected the fund’s desire to test generative AI technology that was ready to use, instead of building its own interfaces for ChatGPT. It also reinforced the fund’s strategic partnership with Microsoft.

“Aligning with a major partner who has a clear vision and wants to take a leadership role in AI positions us well, especially where it’s a natural fit with our existing technology footprint,” says Backeberg.

Initially, 100 employees were set to participate in AustralianSuper’s Copilot for Microsoft 365 trial, which began in late 2023. But due to overwhelming interest, the trial expanded to around 260 active users.

EAP users have seen great benefit using Copilot Microsoft Teams meetings, and drafting and summarising documents in Microsoft Word.

“For example, there was a meeting about one of our strategic programs that I’m actively involved in, and I needed to refresh myself beforehand,” says Backeberg.

I used Copilot for Microsoft 365 to summarise the documents for me and did that refresh in about five minutes. Typically, that would have taken me about an hour and a half to do.

Backeberg says that AustralianSuper has only scratched the surface of Copilot for Microsoft 365’s potential. The fund has encouraged its entire workforce to use the service and has started monitoring usage via Microsoft Viva Insights to gain insight into usage and impact. They want to take every employee along on the journey to a new way of working with AI, so the rollout has focused on driving high adoption and not leaving anyone behind. This includes building a community of AI champions to foster a culture of innovation and continuous learning around Copilot for Microsoft 365 and other AI tools.

“We want employees to embrace generative AI, learn from each other and really think about how it translates to achieving better outcomes for our members, whether that’s by delivering services faster, providing deeper insights, making better investment decisions or managing risk better,” says Backeberg.

Combatting cyber threats at machine speed

AustralianSuper’s exploration of generative AI extends into cybersecurity, underscored by its participation in Microsoft’s Security Copilot EAP.

Operating with a small cyber defence team in a hybrid model alongside managed service partners, the fund is challenged by analysing an ever-increasing volume of data.

“We are looking at Security Copilot to help take some of the more menial tasks away so our team can focus on high-value activities,” says Backeberg. “We see it as a fundamental tool for us to enhance our information security.”

One example is its ability to facilitate the generation of Kusto Query Language scripts, used within Microsoft Sentinel for log analysis and identifying core vulnerabilities. According to Backeberg, this has significantly accelerated the fund’s vulnerability assessment processes.

He also notes the critical role of this technology in addressing the global cybersecurity skills shortage.

For every four members of our cyber defence team who use Security Copilot, we believe the technology effectively adds a fifth colleague to their ranks.

Furthermore, AustralianSuper is using GitHub Copilot to enhance the efficiency and creativity of its software development team by streamlining code creation and review. It has also built an internal chatbot to help employees quickly analyse the fund’s large number of policies and standards.

Taking responsibility and ensuring AI readiness

AustralianSuper’s commitment to the ethical and responsible use of AI is foundational to its strategy. The fund has established an AI Governance Forum to guide the fund’s approach to using AI, ensuring that it aligns with the fund’s values and member interests.

Backeberg recommends that other organisations embarking on their own AI journeys consider the role of the technology within their operations, how it will be deployed and how to measure success.

He also challenges the view that AI can only be effective with a healthy dataset, suggesting that AI’s capability to analyse unstructured data can already bring significant value.

“The landscape of data is evolving so rapidly that waiting for perfect data hygiene might leave you lagging behind,” he says. “AI tools will evolve to address data complexities on their own.”

The key takeaway for organisations is readiness and adaptability. “Prepare now, start on a small scale and be ready to grow,” Backeberg urges. “By the time AI becomes a necessity, you’ll be thankful for the groundwork laid today.”

Steven Worrall and Mike Backeberg standing together
Pictured (left to right): Mike Backeberg, Chief Technology Officer, AustralianSuper and Steven Worrall, Managing Director of Microsoft A/NZ