Australia’s corporate giants recruit digitally-minded outsiders to drive transformation

By David Braue for The

Big Australian businesses are turning to digital professionals from outside rather than promoting from within

A surging appetite for digital-led transformation has seen Australia’s industrial giants poaching talent from digital businesses rather than promoting from within, underlining the importance of online business to companies.

The trend was highlighted by this week’s decision by the ANZ Banking Group to appoint Maile Carnegie, Google’s head of Australian operations since 2013, as the bank’s head of digital.

In recent years, fierce competition between Australia’s big four banks has centred on their ability to embrace new transaction models, such as mobile payments, as well as the strength of their online and retail offerings.

For example, ANZ’s  rival, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, recently overhauled its point-of-sale payment strategy with a programmable POS terminal called Albert, while Westpac Banking Group was an early leader in allowing users of many Android-based phones to use their devices to pay with Westpac credit cards.

Carnegie’s brief as ANZ’s head of digital will be focused on ensuring the bank keeps up with its rivals, including the National Australia Bank, whose new group executive for enterprise services and transformation, Renee Roberts, is putting the finishing touches to a complex seven-year transformation called NextGen.

Carnegie must also take account of nimbler tier-two banks such as ME Bank, which are joining the market unencumbered by the legacy infrastructure and procedures of the big four.

ANZ only recently launched its mobile wallet technology after five years of development that first included a mobile-phone sleeve with contactless payment capabilities, and by 2015 had shifted to a strategy built on Android’s NFC capabilities. The final version, ANZ’s Mobile Pay wallet, was launched last month.

But mobile wallets are just one piece of the digital transformation puzzle, and Carnegie is keen to identify the others and help the bank embrace them quickly.

“If you aren’t a tech company or you’re not on the way to becoming one, you’re in big trouble,” she said in a video interview with ANZ’s internal BlueNotes publication. “While [digital] strategies can’t be shoehorned in [to a bank], you can absolutely look at the principles of how you create an innovation engine, one that’s going to run hard enough and fast enough to win in the 21st century.”

Similar rhetoric is emanating from Australia’s corporate boardrooms as executives embrace global trends that emphasise the importance of digital transformation. No less an organisation than the US Department of Defense was recruiting digital leaders this month, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to its new Defense Innovation Advisory Board.

Last year, the Australian Taxation Office appointed Ramez Katf, Accenture ANZ’s managing director of products, as its new CIO. And Australia Post, the country’s rapidly changing postal service, has been pondering new strategies after it more than doubled postage rates this year to help stem losses as customers abandon conventional mail for digital interactions.

Australia Post took an unconventional turn years ago when transformation-minded managing director and group CEO Ahmed Fahour hired high-profile telecommunications executive Maha Krishnapillai and Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific president, Tracey Fellows, to kickstart its digital strategy. Since then it has both expanded its role as an e-commerce fulfilment agency and positioned itself as an intermediary in all manner of digital transactions.

This month, Australia Post agreed a two-year partnership with Data61 – the data-focused arm of national government science and innovation organisation CSIRO – to digitally enable a range of new services through its nationwide branch network, to identify new opportunities for streamlining digital government services, and to apply data-based optimisation techniques to the company’s logistics operations.

“This business-driven approach will bring short-term teams together to understand what does and does not work for our customers,” Fahour said in a statement. “As a major e-commerce business, innovation is part of our future. We need to continue to respond quickly to the ongoing shift in consumer behaviour towards digital channels.”

Australia Post recently set up a AUD $20m innovation fund that will see it directly invest in e-commerce businesses with customer-focused ideas.

Innovation has become a buzzword for Australian industry and government alike since prime minister Malcolm Turnbull launched the AUD $1.1bnNational Innovation and Science Agenda to promote entrepreneurial thinking within industry and government.