Executive Insights – Ollie Holden, CIO at The AA

Executive Insights are a series of discussions with c-suite executives from a range of industries, to learn about their roles and the part that digital transformation plays within their large organisations.

When Ollie Holden joined the AA in 2017, he had more than 20 years’ IT and transformation experience under his belt. As the CIO of a £979m (2019) revenue business, Ollie is responsible for defining and implementing the IT strategy for the Group, shaping digital transformation and providing robust IT services to both customers and employees.

We spoke with Ollie to find out more about his role, his experience of working with scaleups and his approach to digital transformation, something that is particularly relevant during this period of global disruption and uncertainty.

For Ollie, making the AA more connected is a digital transformation priority. At the moment, their various products and services are relatively siloed, so it’s essential these are unified into an easy-to-use, digital first way to access the AA. To improve connectivity, Ollie is focused on the AA’s data, “by joining up our data across all of our different areas, you start to get some real power and insight into both customer behaviour and customer need”.

As Ollie explains, digitisation and connectivity also bring simplification. The AA is 115 years old, so it’s unsurprising that a lot of the current systems and processes are “home grown and complex”. There is a lot of legacy to overcome, so digital transformation for the AA means simplification of existing technologies, but there’s also an opportunity to partner with organisations that can deliver most of what’s needed “straight out of the box”. Finding the balance between building and buying solutions is what Ollie is responsible for.

When asked about engaging with scaleups to provide these solutions, Ollie doesn’t hide the fact that he can be inundated with requests to review them. This is one of the reasons why he engages with companies like swiftscale, to act as that filter. The sheer volume of products and services can be overwhelming and, as a consequence, the perfect solution might be missed. As Ollie says, “you’ve got to pick out the pearls”. Ollie also emphasises the importance of having a focus when driving digital transformation – “we’ve been reasonably discerning in trying to choose a particular area. So for example, focusing on natural language processing, or RPA, or chatbots.”

In regards to how COVID has affected operations at the AA, Ollie mentioned that “it has galvanised us as a company” and accelerated the AA’s digital transformation efforts. For instance, migrating from call centre dependency to web-based customer interaction. To drive up call centre flexibility and reduce pressure on inbound calls, the organisation redirected a lot of customer requests to web forms and webchat, supported with RPA. Now agents dealing with requests via web chat are able to handle several concurrent conversations, compared to one phone call, greatly improving efficiency and customer engagement.

We always had a roadmap of things we wanted to deliver. […] We just need to get it delivered faster”, Ollie explains. This period of disruption has underlined the importance of good customer service and support, hence why the AA intends on becoming “the go-to partner for pretty much anything to do with driving, your driving life and car ownership”. But in particular, for the AA, it has emphasised and accelerated the need to simplify and digitise.

All in all, this conversation with Ollie has inspired optimism. It’s great to see one of the UK’s household names rising to the pandemic challenge and recognising the imperative of digital transformation to future-proof their business. Despite a turbulent few months for the entire planet, it looks like it’s not all doom and gloom for corporate <> scaleup collaboration.