Transforming the digital capability in a leading organisation like AXA Health is no small feat. From projects to teams and all that's in between, there's plenty of work involved. So, what is it like to be spearheading the movement into an even more innovative future? We sat down with Alan Ansell, Head of Digital Excellence at AXA Health to get an insight into the digital transformation journey so far, how his team impacts the wider business and how AXA Health supports their employees to innovate and grow.
What does your role as Head of Digital Excellence entail and how does it impact the business?
Being Head of Digital Excellence is certainly not your typical role, but it’s got a lot of exciting scope to make it really impactful. My role sits in Digital and Data at AXA Health, so from an organisational perspective I work within the Chief Operating office. We’re tasked with delivering value by designing, building, scaling and running the digital products, platforms and services AXA Health sells. Although originally, we were a traditional IT business, we’ve been undergoing a large-scale digital transformation for some time now. I lead the team responsible for establishing Digital excellence within this.
If you’re wondering ‘what does digital excellence mean?’ and ‘how can you measure that?’, I’ll try and explain. It means excellence within our workforce, operating model and delivery model. Whether defining or redefining the roles that deliver value, we’re keen to establish an agile and lightweight governance to empower high-performing teams. To do this, we have to identify and nurture digital talent, and this is evident whenever you speak to those on our teams. We listen, we learn, and we continue to grow in all respects.
Continuous improvement sounds easy, but it’s proving incredibly hard especially as you switch from a non-digital business to a digital one so it's crucial for us to evaluate and test. At its core, digital excellence means a fundamental shift away from projects and a shift towards products as well as a focus on delivering incremental value rather than ‘Big Bang’ value through discrete output. What digital excellence isn't about is the explicit use of digital technology, although that's often expected. It's more about a broader and deeper digital transformation of our internal business capability.
How have you contributed to AXA Health’s digital strategy? What has this involved and what have been the outcomes?
I’ll be honest, to claim any strategic victory would be a bit premature as this division is still new, however, I can delve into what I hope we will see from a strategic perspective in the future and what we’ve worked on so far. In 2022, AXA Health had a major recruitment drive for our technical teams. By the end of the year, we had up to 140 on the team in digital and data roles. This was us recruiting new talent and new skills from that market across a broad range of capability areas. Think architects, software engineers, data engineers, scrum masters, testers, all of different varieties, as well as subject matter experts.
We’re also recruiting at all levels, so as well as leadership roles, we also successfully recruited our first-ever cohort of apprentices into software development. Strategically, this will shift the dial in terms of the longer-term impact on our digital strategy. This year, we’re looking to recruit another cohort, this time across Data and Digital and establish a significant footprint for an early career pathway.
At AXA Health, we really invest in our employees, no matter your level. For example, with the apprentices, we had the option to recruit them on an apprenticeship or as permanent members of staff and we decided on the latter to make a firm commitment and signal our intent to build their careers.
Having the right teams is essential to any transformation journey; what has the journey been like so far and how people who join your engineering teams will help with this?
We’re now a 160-person team, so we have plenty of squads and teams working in a number of areas. From feature development teams to data governance teams, data quality teams, or architecture teams. We really do have it all and we’re looking forward to more people joining our journey. We follow industry-recognised methods and practices including adopting scrum and agile within our engineering teams.
Additionally, we’ve put a lot of effort into updating our onboarding process so that when you join, you receive a great welcome experience. We operate a very flat structure within the organisation and we’re working hard to make sure that autonomous empowerment is very visible in all our structures. Meaning that people feel they can make decisions and get on with their working day, without having to check in and check out.
As we currently practice a combination of waterfall and agile, we still have some traditional delivery components at our core. This digital transformation is going to take some years to play through, this is a multi-year journey we're on and we’re excited at the scope of progression available for all. When you join the team, it’s evident that it’s not just about writing code, it's about developing a feature that drives an outcome that delivers value to the customer. Looking forward to the future, it’s all very exciting.
What about working at AXA Health which stands out for you and how do you look after your well-being and support your team to do the same?
As a health and wellbeing company, it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that this is something that we have a vested interest in. In a practical sense, we have objectives for well-being that cascade all the way through the organisation. This is hugely important to us, so we listen to our people’s feedback through regular surveys. Additionally, we encourage regular and quality conversation around this, and AXA Health invests heavily in providing information, knowledge, expertise and opportunities to everyone. For example, we have a well-being hub where all employees have wider access to incredible resources.
In 2022 AXA Health launched its Health App which has a health age calculator that tells you your health age based on things such as height, weight, and blood glucose. Locally, within my team, we decided that we'd use the app to track our health ages over the course of a year with the aim of reducing it by a certain percentage by the end of the year. So, alongside looking after ourselves physically, we're also able to prioritise supporting each other with our well-being through the year.
There are other great initiatives across AXA Health. In March we had the 100-mile competition which was to raise money for WWF. The idea was to walk 100 miles in March (hence the name), to improve health and promote well-being. Alongside volunteering, we have flexible working arrangements in place to support requests from our people and our candidates.
How does AXA Health enable its people to grow, innovate and develop?
We’ve got a central Learning and Development function within AXA Health. That may seem fairly standard in any major enterprise, but they also partner with us as a business unit to help develop any bespoke training, for example, digital mindset training. We’re also looking to establish a Digital and Data Academy, with the idea being that we build a capability much like a one-stop shop for anybody within AXA UK. It may be specific to a coding language or something to do with data literacy or even the events and conferences taking place that are relevant to a person’s role. The idea is to make an academy that is comprehensive, and we need great engineers to help build this into a world-class product.
We're developing learning pathways for every role type at every level within Digital and Data. Because we’re undergoing this huge transformation, as you can imagine, there are a lot of on-the-job opportunities as well, not just from a day-to-day work perspective, but also from an opportunity to engage with internal customers and key stakeholders. It's a very fast-moving environment, but one where failing fast is encouraged and taking risks is equally encouraged. I genuinely enjoy working at AXA Health and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work here. I’m looking forward to the journey ahead and welcoming more people to our team.
Ready to transform your career?
If you’d like to join the team at AXA Health, then create a profile on the hackajob platform, where they’re currently hiring for a variety of roles or log in to your profile here. You can also keep updated with AXA Health on LinkedIn and AXA Jobs.
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