Jennifer Sepull - Part 1

Chief Digital Officer at Air New Zealand

With extensive experience as a digital transformation leader for companies such as Honda Motor Co. and Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Jennifer Sepull joined Air New Zealand as Chief Digital Officer last May. As part of our Digital Transformation Conversations, Deloitte Digital lead Grant Frear took the opportunity to ask her about her work so far and her plans for digital transformation on a national scale…

There's been a wide range of definitions for the term ‘digital transformation’ over the years. How have you seen transformation evolve in your roles?  

Over the course of my career, I have been asked to lead digital transformations. That applied in my time at Honda Motor, Kimberly-Clark, USAA, and now here at Air New Zealand – I think I’ve become known as a ‘transformation CDO’! So I'm always up for a good digital transformation.

The question is, what is a digital transformation? Back when I first started doing them around 2005, it was very much about cost reduction by trying to automate. Now, the most effective digital transformations start at the top, with a CEO and executive team that is invested in digital and willing to set a mandate. One of the reasons I'm here at Air New Zealand is because one of our strategic business pillars is ‘digital revolution’ – not just a transformation, a revolution. I wanted to work at a place that was doing a digital revolution to make a difference to a company’s business, culture, as well as drive revenue for a country.

It's interesting to me because the perception around Air New Zealand is that it's a company that has been chipping away at digital in various forms for quite a long time, so it seems like there's a high potential to really take big steps. Is that what you've found?

Air New Zealand has already laid some great groundwork to get to where we are today, and there’s still a distance to go. What we're really focused on right now is making sure that we are always working on innovating and supporting our ‘core’ technology and doing the simple things efficiently. That way, we can spend the majority of our time, energy and money on real game-changing innovation.

We’ve had a discussion with Roxanne Salton about transformation at an organisational level, a conversation with Mark Denvir at a city level and you’re looking at the potential impact of digital transformation at a national level. Can you describe what that might look like?

First of all, Air New Zealand is a significant organisation in New Zealand and there's huge trust in us from the public. It’s a big responsibility that we don’t take lightly and want to create an experience that makes people want to fly with us, and to have great experiences while traveling to their next destination.

That means we’re looking at how we can take the customer experience forward. Our job is to leverage technology to make the day of travel and in-flight experience exceptional. From how we interact with mobility, set up the plane, to how we treat our customers during their journey. How do we create this experience on a flight that is so relaxing and peaceful for people and sets us apart from everyone else?

So how we leverage technology and go into the future is going to be key. We’re always looking at new innovative technology and ways of enhancing business processes with AI, drones and looking at new flight experiences for the future. Even when we're talking about sustainability, it's really about how we can make tangible efforts to drive social, environmental and economic benefit. It again comes down to that responsibility we feel to our customers across and beyond New Zealand.

This applies to a digital transformation as well but culturally Air New Zealand comes across as an organisation that sees the barriers and has a strong sense of belief that it can overcome those barriers. I think it's a great trait to have, particularly in the digital world, whose barriers are a little more malleable than other physical barriers. You can progress at a scale and pace that others can't.

Yes. Our digital team is viewed as a true partner and thought leader to our business. Part of a good digital transformation is realising that digital is not just something that sits off to the side but is essentially at the core of every part of the business. We're involved in the technology of every step of our customer’s journey, so there's a respect for that and an investment in digital as a company asset. 

In part two of our interview with Jennifer Sepull, she talks to Grant Frear about New Zealand’s creative landscape, innovating in a regulated industry and the future of purpose-led organisations. Read it here.