Translating a Sense of Belonging into a Digital Experience

An Interview with HIA's General Manager, Digital, Ben Brooker

Switch's Managing Director, Andrew Davenport and General Manager, Jon Holcombe sit down with Housing Industry Association's General Manager, Digital, Ben Brooker to discuss the opportunity in, and the reality of, HIA's own digital transformation journey with Switch and Sitecore.


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Andrew Davenport

We're here today to talk to Housing Industry Association's, General Manager of Digital Ben Brooker. I'm Andrew Davenport, Managing Director of Switch.


Ben Brooker

I'm Ben Brooker, the General Manager of digital for the Housing Industry Association and I've been leading the digital transformation for the last two years.


Jon Holcombe

I'm Jon Holcombe, General Manager at Switch and was the strategic lead on the HIA project.


Andrew Davenport

Great, welcome gentlemen, so today what we're going to do is talk about the work that we've done together, but we're going to try and weave in for our listeners, the opportunity, and then the reality of transformation.

I'd really like to know the one thing that you guys think that you can't do without when you're embarking on a journey like this and I'm quite interested in the pain points, what you would say to avoid tears. And I'd also like to get to the point of where you think the most fun is.

But let's start with, Ben, tell us about the scope of the work.


Ben Brooker

So the scope of work for HIA started off simply internally, as we need to redevelop the website, let's take advantage of Sitecore, we need to do more with what we've got. The scope quickly and rapidly changed into a full-fledged, digital strategy and a digital transformation program of work that involved every part of the business at HIA.


Andrew Davenport

Great. Well, that's a good segue into the thinking. And so Jon, you were the strategic lead on the project. I'm a big fan personally of strategic direction as a guiding principle, but tell us what was great about the HIA strategy and tell us what you think the benefits of the organisation and the importance of starting with some serious thinking was.


Jon Holcombe

So the strategy piece, when we came in, the brief was centred around the website and what could be done with that. We took a step back and looked at how customers viewed HIA and how HIA viewed itself and was presenting itself out there, and how the membership model was potentially evolving and what role digital needed to play within that. I think what that allowed us to do was set some clear direction for the program of work.


Andrew Davenport

So Ben, how bold do you think the organisation was with its strategic direction?


Ben Brooker

We took a huge step with this strategy and we needed to, it was welcomed. The strategy for us was something, as I said earlier, we stepped into... not knowing we needed such a transformational strategy, but that strategy is something we've embraced and we're definitely on the journey. We've still got a long way to go, in terms of being bold.

Yeah, we took a big step with this one and we're very excited about it.


Andrew Davenport

Would you also say to others in similar roles to you that a strategy piece also is a critical comms piece for the most senior executives in the business?


Ben Brooker

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. This strategy, if you'd asked our senior executives, the purpose of this was to bring the board on the journey. This strategy has been pivotal, not only from the board and the senior executive level, but also driving change from the business unit level and the way our business service models operate. So, absolutely vital.


Andrew Davenport

Would it be the one thing you wouldn't do without?


Ben Brooker

Absolutely not, if we started this journey without having a north star, we would have fallen off track a long time ago. We wouldn't have gone forward in the way that we have or partnered with Switch for the foreseeable future without that strategy in place.


Andrew Davenport

And I think for us as your agency partner with Jon as your strategic lead, I think that the strategic piece for me is the difference between us being a service partner and a strategic business partner and I would encourage everybody who was going on a road like this, to think about board engagement, and also to think about the difference between just being a service partner and a strategic business partner.

We're super delighted that we're in the strategic business partner seat with the HIA and looking forward to next year and the year after.

So I'd like to move now to talk about how digitally mature HIA was when you started this.


Ben Brooker

Well, this reminds me of a comment that was made just this week in one of our Steerco meetings from one of our senior executives, which was, "If we were going to start something, we wouldn't start from where we were".

We were not very mature as a business, we absolutely thought we knew everything we needed to know digitally coming into HIA. I knew from a digital point of view, we're very much low maturity and had a long way to go. As an organisation, as Jon said of SMEs and very technical, very professional, very senior people in the industry space we weren't necessarily customer-centric.

We weren't necessarily focused on the right things from a customer's point of view.


Andrew Davenport

Is that from a digital experience point of view, Ben? I'm imagining the organisation was very customer focused in terms of how it understood its marketplace and how it interacted. But when you say customer centricity, we're talking about the digital experience point there?


Ben Brooker

Yeah, absolutely. I'd even go so far as to say from a customer experience perspective, not just digital experience.


Andrew Davenport

Okay. What themes would you say started to appear as you look to the sort of current maturity state and started to plan for this?


Ben Brooker

The big things for us were definitely around capability but also around people's, I guess, attitude towards digital.


Andrew Davenport

Tell us more about the attitude.


Ben Brooker

So in terms of attitude - digital and what was poured out into the market was definitely seen as something that anyone could do. Anyone in the business should be able to publish, anyone in the business should be able to promote, anyone should be able to do a campaign.

There's definitely a lot of thinking that needs to go through that as we all know. But when it comes to attitude, it was about reframing people's attitude that it's not about you as a service line or as, you know, a business unit. It's about what the ultimate customer's going to get.

So from an attitude perspective, we've worked through that internally. We've done lots of internal training and sessions and bringing people along the journey and that's something we've definitely evolved on.


Andrew Davenport

And Jon, from your point of view, you're obviously an experienced industry leader, from a digital maturity point of view where we're really starting from a low base or was this just a very typical view of a partially transformed organisation with a long way to go.


Jon Holcombe

I definitely think HIA wasn't something I hadn't seen before. I've been in multiple organisations that were in similar kinds of stages of their progression. I think, you know, as a kind of external consultant going in, you often see that the attitude of "what I do could never be digital because it's so specialised and so specific etc." and that was a common theme that came up.

But also digital, not being recognised as its own as an SME type area of the business in its own right as well is something that we've seen a lot. I think however like HIA had to go on a real change because not only was the organisation in a position where it needed to change the membership industry as a whole is evolving and is evolving from, you know, those typical face-to-face meetups where you potentially once a month go for a beer with a few people and the membership would kind of host start to something entirely different and that kind of forced the agenda as well, which just created a bit sense of e pace and impetus in what we were doing that maybe in other organisations that, that hasn't been there.


Andrew Davenport

Yeah. And you just, you touched on something that I'd like to ask Ben about actually Jon. And so you've made reference to the digital team and how digital was seen.

Tell us more about that for HIA, what does HIA think of its digital team perhaps at the beginning and maybe now?


Ben Brooker

It's very, very different, very different from the beginning to now. So I've been at HIA for four years and my experience going into the organisation was that digital was just the team in the corner that just puts stuff on the website.

That might not be how their view actually was, but that was definitely the behaviour and operations and how the team interacted with day to day but through this journey..going back to an earlier point around the strategy piece and working through with the board and senior executive it's definitely not seen like that anymore, there's much more of an SME view.

Maybe not to the point where I think it should be. But it's definitely more of an SME view of the digital team, being able to add value and more of a consultancy rather than being at the end of a process to just stick this on the website over here for me, please.

The team's much more involved in the planning and the thinking and the strategy and the UX and the experience design to be able to get it to a point that is beneficial for the business, not just for a particular initiative or task, what's the big picture, what's the overall purpose of this initiative and how does it, how does it play into having a positive ROI at the end of it...


Andrew Davenport

Let's talk about the pain points.

Let's talk about the points of which you maybe regretted, or maybe never regretted it, but tell us about your experience and also about the technology and the partnership. Tell us about how important that was.

Were there points that you wanted to cry, or did you test this out all the way through?


Ben Brooker

Look, in any major transformation piece, there are always points that you want to cry.

For us, it was actually, before we met Switch. Switch were really great in this process. But for us it was about making the decision upfront.

We had Sitecore, we've been using Sitecore as an organisation for many, many years and it was the decision around, we know we need to move forward, we know we need to transform, we know we need to put some effort and some serious dollars behind our digital experience and our digital storefront, essentially.

And we went through a rigorous process before that, around "is it Sitecore?" or is it another platform and is it something else or is it something we could build in-house and that for us was the hardest part.

Really just like most Sitecore customers say, it's the Sitecore roadmap, it's the Sitecore support, it's the Sitecore partners you have access to that really helps make the right decision. So you're making the decision internally that it's going to be Sitecore then finding a partner, like Switch.

Switch, they've been fantastic. They've held our hand the entire time and they've helped get the organisation to understand the importance of what this means. Not just for sales and revenue and things like that but for the overall experience for the acquisition paths of our members, for the sense of belonging and bringing our community of builders together in a digital world and so far the experience has been fantastic.

And look from a technology point of view to answer that question, we know Sitecore is a great platform. Our challenge, I think moving forward is how do we actually use it all and what's the roadmap we need to put in place now that we're about to launch this new experience, how do we start to then move through the maturity model and start to leverage more and more of those services and take advantage of things like Content Hub and personalisation and A/B testing and the things that were very early on, uh, as an organisation to, to utilise those tools.


Andrew Davenport

So Ben, if you were to tell everybody what you think the most challenging aspect of getting something like this is like, what people, what would you tell people to avoid or what would you tell people is inevitable when it comes to the pain of something like transforming an organisation?


Ben Brooker

Yeah. Okay. So for us, definitely, uh, one of the most challenging things, and to be honest, it's probably been the most challenging thing I've faced in every project I've ever been involved in or particularly large scale transformation initiatives like this one.

It's, it's the change.

It's the people and the people in that change... generally the most challenging, not because they're against it or because they don't understand it, but generally because people are comfortable where they are at and change is uncomfortable and change is something they... well for our organisation, especially a lot of people said they want change, as long as that change didn't impact them.

So as soon as the change impacted someone it became a challenge and that was at every aspect of the business, you know, right from the executive level, right down to operations, through to working with the IT team... change has just been a challenge.


Andrew Davenport

And so that's interesting because we've talked about the digital team, we've talked about the board and the importance of strategy and communication. What does that building block that you've put in around change at HIA then what's the key to doing that in terms of doing that, because organisational change as you've identified is difficult... the fact that digital or a digital team is, is 4g, that organisational change can make it doubly difficult for some. So how has HIA actually tackled that?


Ben Brooker

So for us, we don't have a change team, we don't have people that are leading change. We don't have dedicated people, for us change has been absorbed into the project team and we've managed that in a few different ways. Um, you know, from the very top it's having a very involved and very hands-on Steer Co, so we've got the right heads of divisions in our Steer Co. That then filters down to having a good cascade of information to a middle management level, which then feeds down to operations.

For us, it's about communication and it's about keeping people, you know, to say that term again on the journey but to ensure that they know where we're at and they might not play a huge role in what's happening, but making sure that everyone in the business is across it and feels a part of what we're doing and that this project isn't a digital change, it's an organisational change and we're all in this together and it's for the betterment of the organisation.

And again, leading back to strategy, you know, we have the strategy that's taking us to a point and using that as the main purpose for change and driving all of our communications back to why we're changing. Has been, has been absolutely vital for, for us and in managing that internally.


Andrew Davenport

That's interesting, what I'm hearing from you is like keeping it very simple, having a strategic direction, taking people on the journey, communicating well and keeping moving and talking of keeping, moving on, going to move on to ask where next for HIA as an organisation

Jon, where does the strategy take us?


Jon Holcombe

So for me, the two things we're kind of focusing on within the strategy are firstly getting the most out of what we've done, optimising - really pushing forward and bringing the digital experience to life. So we've built a lot of functionality and features and we've built a framework that can now support a great customer experience.

We know and we've started to populate that with content and everything else and now we really want to go in and tweak and utilise all of the tools that Sitecore has to offer to really optimise that experience and make sure that the end to end experience for customers is seamless and smooth and consistent.

Then the second component is really about enablement. HIA are on a journey and we're going on that journey with them and part of that journey and we're both, we're being transparent with each other and open and collaborative about this is that they need to, as an organisation to adopt and be able to push forward, in-house moving forward and we were really focusing on what can Switch do to help enable the HIA on that journey...

How can we start to build capability and services in-house so that their continued evolution can keep going rather than being constantly dependent on a third-party provider for stuff that truly you should be able to build capability in-house.


Andrew Davenport

I see... an interesting point. So Ben, are you of the viewpoint that the best way to transform the organisation is by doing, because the more people you have involved in the technology, the more you will, you will move the organisation forward.


Ben Brooker

I absolutely agree. What we don't want to happen is this to be another technology project, that's one and done, and we turn it on and move on to the next thing and don't evolve it and leverage it.

For me and HIA as a whole, it's not about the technology, it's about the opportunity.

To Jon's point, it's about the enablement of the business to become slicker, smarter, smoother and be able to do things much more efficiently and partnering with Switch on that for us is a key part of our internal strategy for change.


Andrew Davenport

That's great and I wanted to move on now to ask about what does success look like very HIA? Like what about your KPIs and your ROI? How commercially tolerant is the business and the transformation strategy, are your business that's got sort of sprint planning and horizon planning like tightly managed in terms of deliverables. How do you, how does the organisation view that?


Ben Brooker

It's not that tight. We obviously are very commercially focused, we're an association, we're a non-profit organisation. We don't have a lot of excess investment dollars to throw around. So every dollar we spend is spent wisely. So when it comes to metrics and KPIs and measurement, everything we do from this point on will be tracked, measured, enhanced, modified, and optimised.

And from that point of view, again, to support you guys in this journey as well, Switch has been instrumental in making sure that we have dashboards for reporting, we have key metrics across all of our service lines, everything's measured back in executive dashboards to the point where we report up to the board on a semi-regular basis around what exactly our ROI is looking like on this project and this initiative and where we're going moving forward.

But to answer the question more broadly, what does success look like for us?

It's a little bit about metrics and dollars in ROI but it's definitely about making sure that we evolve as an organisation.

Our sense of belonging.

We want people to become part of HIA. We're a membership organisation, and we want to evolve that digitally.

So it's a lot about the soft side of things and making sure we have a community hub for people to come and interact with but absolutely about ensuring that it has a commercial outcome at the end of the day as well.


Andrew Davenport

And what I was hearing there is possibly the second, most important thing after the strategy is KPIs and dashboards are also what the board likes to sit on a project like this, correct?


Ben Brooker

Oh yeah. Yeah, absolutely. As I said, we're an association, so we're very much about making our dollars work for us. So being able to articulate to the right people, senior leaders of the business and the board, that we're not flippant with this. We absolutely understand the responsibility we have with this kind of investment and it's going to be spent wisely.


Andrew Davenport

Great. Okay. So I'm going to wrap by asking you, just in terms of, we've talked about, I guess, how large transformation can be, we've talked about challenges, we've talked about pitfalls and the points you would avoid...what's been the most fun for both of you on this?


Jon Holcombe

There was a moment on this strategy journey that we came up with, a diagram that explained HIA role well within the industry and how we were understanding what we were being told and we sat down and had a talk through that with some senior stakeholders at HIA and for me personally, that was a great moment because there was a real sense of clarity there and A real sense of 'wow, you're seeing and reflecting back to us', something that they'd never seen in that way and that was, that was really fun.

Then when we were in the workshops, there was with some of the business units, say, the opening gambit of saying 'This will never be digital, we can never do this etc' and then by the end with the workshop that was 'oh, wait, I got this now'. That was a real sense of personal achievement and just a real sense of getting over some of those change barriers in the moment, I guess. So that would be the two...


Ben Brooker

Then for me, it was one of our very senior executives who had said to me early on in the piece, 'Ben, what's the difference between IT and digital?', he's asked that question of a few people. He's asked that question, all of us on this call.

Um, and for me the most, the most fun part is you know, obviously I've got a viewpoint and have explained that internally and in workshops and things like that, but to see it come to life and to be able to show where we're going because we knew where we were going, the strategy was solid, the work Switch was great, the design thinking, experience design and the development, all that's come out and as it's incrementally grown, and to be able to show that internally like to Jon's point, people start to get it, that they start to see it come to life and for me bringing the business on this journey and bringing them up a few notches of maturity, understanding around digital has been a thrill.


Andrew Davenport

Great. Well on that note, I'll say thank you very much, Ben Brooker and thank you, Jon Holcombe. It's been a pleasure talking.

Want to know more? Read HIA's Case Study here.

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