We’ve published several articles about Digital Transformation award finalists. Here is the collection.


Uber, sharing economy

City of Toronto enters era of the ‘sharing economy’ with award-winning digital solutions

Brian Jackson Brian Jackson Published: 06/14/2017

In winning the Large Public category at IT World Canada’s Digital Transformation Awards, The City of Toronto also learned a few lessons along the way about regulating the sharing economy, laying the groundwork for the plans for AirBnB it announced on Tuesday.

When AirBnB hosts start registering with the City to rent out their homes on a short-term basis, they’ll be doing so with an online system, says Tracey Cook, executive director of municipal licencing and standards at the City of Toronto. “The City needs to know where AirBnB is happening and how it’s being used,” she says.

How the sharing economy service that’s been riding a digital wave of success around the world hasn’t been without controversy. But Cook and the City of Toronto staff at least had the benefit of experience this time around, thanks to facing regulation of Uber’s rogue entry to the market in the Spring of 2016 (Uber first launched its app in Toronto in 2012). The private transportation company is well-known as the app that connects drivers with people looking for a ride, but is also known for operating outside of existing regulations and has been banned from some cities.

“Uber upended and completely disrupted the established taxi industry, Cook says. “It’s what’s been happening around the world.”

Mayor John Tory came out favouring regulation of Uber rather than a ban, a path taken in other municipalities. City council agreed and voted to bring “ride sharing” firm under the city’s regulatory framework. Then they passed the ball to Cook.

“We were under a lot of pressure from all sides of the house to get this done and get moving,” she says. “Failure wasn’t an option.”

Meeting the expectations of Uber drivers that getting on the road is just a few clicks away was a priority. Cook says that a close partnership with CIO Rob Meikle and the City’s IT department was critical.

“If we hadn’t solved the electronics side of this, the digital regime would have failed,” she says. “And that’s just the way the sharing economy operates. You have to be more nimble.”

Meikle and his team was able to develop a digital ‘Vehicle for Hire’ licencing system for private transportation companies that is now seeing $500,000 in monthly revenue. Today, the licences are issued automatically and directly to drivers smartphones. Thanks to the first e-licence in the country, Uber drivers can simply use a mobile app to display their licence to police.

One reason Meikle says he’s proud of his team for the project – they were able to develop the solution with the City’s existing tools. Toronto uses a standalone tool for licencing called Progress.

“We didn’t have to create net new code and we were able to do the changes in the timeframe required,” he says. “It wasn’t overly complicated in terms of using new hardware or software, but changing the footprint we had to meet the new requirements in a collaborative and timely manner.”

Meikle’s team was also able to harness the City’s SAP Business Intelligence solution to collect data about the Uber driver trips, which plays a role in determining the cost of a licence.

“This is an example of where we get to maximize the benefits of digital transformation,” he says. “This is truly transformational and that’s what the city is really going for. It’s a fully automated digital solution to foster better relationships.”

Not only did the city find a way to allow Uber drivers to legally operate, but it took a few pages from the business model to improve the experience for licenced taxi drivers as well. For example, Uber drivers don’t have to complete a training course, but simply watch an operating instruction video and then receive constant feedback and ratings from their customers. They can also have their vehicles inspected by certified mechanics instead of a government source.

Based on recommendations from a MaRS report, the City updated its requirements for licenced taxi drivers to be more in line with that standard.

Among the savings for the city are the reduced manual processing of licences, elimination of city-run vehicle inspections, as well as taxi and limo training. The city estimates 22,500 staff hours were saved.

Cook says that is a result of the automation that was put in place, helping to issue licences at a much higher volume without the need to hire more staff. Also, city staff were freed up from vehicle inspections. Those costs were returned to the industry through lower licence fees.

But the best part of winning the Digital Transformation Award for Cook is feeling like her team is getting recognition for being agile and doing things differently.

“We often get affiliated with red tape and bureaucracy and that’s not necessarily wrong in some cases, but in this case we got it right,” she says.

Now they’ll try to get it right with AirBnB too.

Check out ITWC’s Digital Transformation Award winner video for the city of Toronto below.

Inside CIBC’s award-winning digital transformation strategy

Danny Bradbury Danny Bradbury Published: 06/15/2017
Courtesy Allen International

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) undertook a long journey to become the winner of the Large Private Sector category of the IT World Canada Digital Transformation Awards announced on Wednesday.

Three years ago, when the company made the decision to reposition itself as a digital transformation leader, sales from digital channels made up just two per cent of its revenues. Since then, it has appointed a digital transformation leader, and grown its digital team from 50 to 250.

“Three years ago when I joined the organization, digital channels were small, and seen predominantly as a service channel – an alternate way for our clients to carry out their day-to-day banking,” says Aayaz Pira, senior vice president for digital retail and business banking at CIBC.

“As we stepped back and started to look at the opportunity of digital in financial services, we realized that digital could act as a catalyst to transform more than just day-to-day banking services,” he says. The bank began looking at how digital could transform distinctive client experience. It planned to simplify processes and drive cost reduction, and drive profitable revenues.

Live Labs

A landmark development for the bank was its creation of CIBC Live Labs in June 2016, located at the MaRS corporate innovation district, known as the C Suite. This is a digital innovation hub, designed to operate like a tech startup, with its own development team. It has created a range of digital products and services that have become a commercial success within CIBC.

One project of which Pira is especially proud solves one of the biggest problems facing customers applying for a mortgage: visiting the branch to fill out mounds of paperwork. The Hello Home mortgage app uses in-app chat features to help gather information from applicants.

“There are so many fields of information to fill out, so we enable image capture,” he says. “We grab all that information and fill out your mortgage document. That covers around 70% of what we require, and the other 30 per cent you can thumb in.”

This is an example of a prevailing trend in digital transformation: using technology to reduce the friction in previously cumbersome processes. Another example is the bank’s Digital Cart service, which allows customers to open a deposit account entirely on their mobile phone. It scans a driver’s license and prepopulates a form. It will also take a picture of a cheque, grab the customer’s signature from it, and use the amount that the customer wrote to fund and open the account.

“We can use that on campus to help university student to open accounts,” Pira says.

To help with entirely in-house developments like these, CIBC created its Mobile Quick Release team, which focuses on quick, incremental feature releases on digital products, typically turning them around in 60 days.

To help with that process, the bank also had to update key legacy systems, migrating them to a service-oriented architecture that delivered IT functions as services via APIs.

External partnerships

While it uses in-house resources to innovate in key areas, CIBC doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It occasionally reaches out to the fintech community where it makes sense.

“We believe that fintechs are a strong part of the ecosystem. They force banks off the status quo, and force us to change,” says Pira.

One example of such a partnership is its venture with online lending fintech company Borrowell in October 2016. “We launched one-click lending for existing CIBC clients through online banking, so that you can get a loan powered by Borrowell, and money into your account in less than 24 hours.”

This month, the company also launched a free credit scoring service powered by Borrowell.

Transforming an organization from the inside out to embrace digital channels is not without its challenges, though. Pira and his team had to raise awareness of digital transformation and win executive support for it in a bank that hadn’t done it before. It was like sprinting from a standing start.

“We spent time articulating the benefits,” he says, recalling that the best thing the team did was take time to plan what the bank would look like after digital transformation kicked in. “Once we figured out what we wanted to be, we built enough flexibility into the model to let us pivot as required.”

“Moving with speed in any large organization is going to be a huge challenge, just because of the nature and size of the bank, and the partners that you have to work with to get things to market,” he says.

These developments have paid off, and it shows up in CIBC’s figures. Pira says that sales from digital channels now account for almost an eighth of its revenues, and it is shooting for 20% by 2020. Customers dealing with the company primarily via digital channels have the highest net promoter score (which gauges the loyalty of a customer, and how likely they are to promote CIBC’s services to others).  The next few years will see CIBC innovate even more when transforming customer experiences.

Check out ITWC’s Digital Transformation Award winner video for CIBC below.

Small but mighty insurance company beats the competition at the 2017 Digital Transformation Awards

Mandy Kovacs Mandy Kovacs Published: 06/14/2017

It may be small, but Humania Assurance should not be overlooked.

The Saint Hyacinthe, Que.-based insurance company is this year’s small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME) private winner of ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards, which recognizes companies of various sizes for their digital transformation efforts.

When asked what this win means to the company, Eric Levac, vice president of IT and digital strategy, explains that it is recognition that Humania is doing the right thing in digitizing its business.

“We’re getting great feedback from the market, and having this formal recognition is really satisfying and encouraging for us. We started on this path in 2013 and this just confirms that we’re making the right decisions,” he tells ITBusiness.ca.

Humania created a business rule engine (BRE) to automate the complex decision-making process of assessing risk and processing applications for life insurance coverage.

And the client-centric component of this process is an online life insurance purchasing platform known as HuGO. HuGO, which took 22 months to develop and came to life in 2016, is a web application written in Java, using a Liferay portal, that receives customer information and immediately inputs it into Humania’s BRE.

While it once took 20-30 days to issue a life insurance policy, the company can now do it in a matter of minutes. In fact, HuGO can issue decisions for approximately 65 per cent of applications submitted in just 15 to 45 minutes.

But one of the key successful, and unexpected, results of HuGO was that it fostered more teamwork within the company, Levac says.

“It enhanced communication between different departments and let them learn about what was being done in other areas. Because we were working in collaborative manner, it allowed us to surface and deal with regulatory, compliance, legal, and other potential issues much faster, which led to faster solutions that could be incorporated into the next iteration,” he explains.

Digitally transforming as a small business

Humania has 142 employees, and as a small company, knows the pain of trying to transform a business with limited resources.

“Being a small company with limited resources forces innovation I think, because you need to think differently and do things in a different manner because the standard route is often more expensive or less accessible,” Levac says.

Finances are not the only challenge SMEs must overcome, however, as he points to personnel issues and time management constraints.

“We didn’t have dedicated experts for our digital projects, so directors and managers were doing their regular jobs while also working on these projects, giving less than a couple hours a day or a couple days a month to our digital transformation journey,” Levac explains. “It was a challenging and difficult thing that I think is less present in bigger corporations where they have the ability to dedicate a subject matter expert to the project full time.”

He says it was difficult for the managers involved to switch their attention from one project or task to another that was completely different every few hours, or even minutes. But being an SME also means companies are more agile.

“It can be easier for smaller businesses to make internal culture changes to foster innovation because they’re more nimble and close-knit, which is a force that the bigger players don’t necessarily have. SMEs also usually have less investment or dependencies on bigger systems, so they’re more willing to try different solutions until one works really well,” he highlights.

But in the end, the effort was worth it and Levac urges other small businesses to take the digital leap as well. So far, the commercial success this digital transformation has brought about has been “impressive,” Levac points out. Since November 2016, close to 1000 independent brokers across Canada have opted to use HuGO, and as of June 15, 2017, more than 3,500 transactions had been performed. Humania reached $1 billion of face amount coverage by mid-April, he adds.

“For us, being innovative is the only way to survive, and if you’re not doing embracing technology, you’re going to disappear eventually,” he concludes.

Check out ITWC’s Digital Transformation Award winner video for Humania Assurance below.

Education program bringing indigenous schools together nabs top honor at 2017 Digital Transformation Awards

Alex Radu Alex Radu Published: 06/14/2017

The ambitious vision of connecting every indigenous school in Canada to an HD video telepresence network seems to be bearing fruit.

Connected North is this year’s public sector small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME) winner of ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards, which recognizes companies of various sizes for their digital transformation efforts.

The Connected North program was founded three years ago by Cisco Systems Inc. to realize this vision, and is currently managed by the charity, TakingITGlobal (TIG). As of the 2017 Digital Transformation Awards, Connected North is involved with 30 schools across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Saskatchewan, and Northern Ontario.

“We are really appreciative of the recognition and of the power of this moment,” Michael Furdyk, co-founder and director of technology at TIG, tells IT World Canada about receiving this award. “Especially, as we reflect on Canada’s 150 year anniversary and on the importance of education and in particular, this idea of reconciliation with our indigenous peers across the country.”

Its mission to provide 21st-century digital learning to under-served communities and ensure there’s enough support that the connected video networks become viable as a long-term approach to student engagement and learning has had real effect in indigenous communities all across Canada. In an age where keeping students engaged is of high importance, Connected North has found success where others have failed.

“Everyone [within the Canadian education system] is struggling to keep students engaged,” said Furdyk. “And you can imagine the challenges being faced in more remote communities when they have access to only a fraction of the community support, relationships, technology, and experiences that are available.”

And by all means, this idea to focus on providing a high quality video learning experience is working. A York University study in 2013-2014 stated that about nine in 10 students said that with Connected North’s remote learning experience they “learned more in the virtual sessions” than they would in a regular classroom.

A University of Toronto study from 2014-2015 corroborated that Connected North is working, reporting that 86 per cent of students were actively participating during a Connected North virtual session, and that the highest levels of engagement occured when there was a cultural sharing opportunity.

“Digital transformation is at the heart of what is necessary for our education systems to keep up with how students are living and how they are expecting to be engaged,” said Furdyk. “I think that it is also the key to the development of our future economy, because we want students to have economic opportunities and fulfilling, sustainable livelihoods and jobs.”

To accomplish this enormous task, TIG has collaborated with important partnerships of managed server providers, corporate sponsors, academic institutions, and government. Cisco handed over the reins to TIG, but remains an active partner by helping to create these partnerships.

Connected North is working with service providers to boost the bandwidth available to schools across Canada’s rural northern regions, and has also been actively collaborating with indigenous local councils, boards, and governments as communities adopt the program.

“It’s such a complicated kind of program to execute on, and it is only possible because of collaboration across all these sectors, and of course partnerships within the community. The ecosystem and the co-design philosophy of this program make it possible, successful, and compelling,” said Furdyk.

And this is just the beginning for TIG and Connected North. The organization’s plan is to eventually migrate ownership and accountability for the program to local communities. The charity is mindful of how it can share its success with communities all across the country.

“We are looking at not just our own growth, but to share our models and what is working with individuals and communities so that we can create positive change and create a solution that helps them be independent,” Furdyk explained.

“Canada has over 600 First Nation communities, and many others who need change and support. We want to be thoughtful about how we grow, but especially how we share what we are learning, and share the model for how the program was built so that others can learn from and build on it themselves.”

Check out ITWC’s Digital Transformation Award winner video for Connected North below.

Large private, DT awards