Sun Life Financial Enacts Collaboration Strategy To Cut Communication Costs

A Chat With SVP/CTO Rahul Sekhon

Steven Lerner

Traditional methods of communication are no longer as effective for engaging employees. In the age of mobility, new solutions are needed to connect workers together.

Sun Life Financial adopted a new collaboration tool, and the results have been remarkable.

The Need For A Better Collaboration Tool

As Sun Life Financial was shaping its enterprise strategy around 2015 and 2016, it became clear that traditional communication modes were becoming obsolete. Gone were the days when top down communication was effective. Sun Life Financial — as with many enterprises — has employees all over the globe, and needed a solution that would connect everyone.

“There was a need to think about any ecosystem where we could get more engagement, collaboration, and get to a culture where we're more enthusiastic and open in terms of not what we know, but what we learned,” said Rahul Sekhon, senior vice president, enterprise infrastructure and chief technology officer for Sun Life Financial. “Those were the fundamental ingredients.”

Sun Life Financial’s previous collaboration tools were useful for the desktop era, but it required something new for the mobile era.”

“We used to have IBM Connections, which was a good tool, but it has a very low adoption rate,” said Sekhon. “We used to have other kinds of mechanisms of sharing and collaborating, such as SharePoint. Literally every tool had the common issue that the adoption was low. Almost every single tool that we saw looked like it was built for IT, but not built for an enterprise.”

Several of the tools examined by Sun Life Financial required a heavy learning curve, and this is one of the reasons adoptions diminished.

“IT was always instrumental as being the change leaders for these tools, but IT doesn't really have the skills in how to actually effect change,” said Sekhon. “IT is great at building stuff, but not creating awareness.”

The Decision To Go With The New Tool

When reviewing the capabilities of Workplace by Facebook, Sun Life Financial implemented a new method of testing. After creating the accounts and adding some guardrails around security, IT played an observational role in this process.

“Rather than go through the traditional cycle of technology testing, we decided to completely transform that approach,” said Sekhon.”We've created this construct of early MVP and we brought in a hundred people into what was called the MVP evaluation, and 75% of them were actual business leaders.”

Three months later, after observing how these business leaders communicated and interacted with the platform, a decision to proceed with the tool was reached.

“We had a consensus from our business leaders in terms of how they want to actually proceed with it," said Sekhon. “We had the commitment around funding, and then we got into the next stages of the process. In three months after this decision, what we had was a product which allowed us not only to execute fast, but also increase adoption and awareness at a scale which we could not see with any other product.”

The Capabilities Of The Platform

Workplace has a similar interface as Facebook, but it is built for the enterprise. It has a similar code base, but it’s in a completely secure, lockdown, isolated environment. Users cannot bring personal Facebook data or credentials into Workplace and vice versa. Facebook is individual-oriented, where the individual is the focal point and has friends. Workplace is group-oriented and users participate in groups with colleagues.

“One of the things we worked with Facebook on is making sure that there was extensive third party adaptations and validations or privacy controls, like from GDPR and audit reports from SOC 2, SOC 3 — all to ensure that we, as a regulated organization, are able to talk to a regulator and say we use this product and here's why we believe it's secure,” said Sekhon. “In literally every case, we were able to demonstrate complete data isolation and security."

There is an internal chat feature on the platform that Sun Life Financial also uses for video and screen sharing. The organization is able to conduct all of its town halls and live events on livestream through the platform. The platform also enables two enterprises to connect and cross collaborate.

“We wanted the highest level of security, we wanted multifactor authentication, and we wanted all the audit controls," said Sekhon. "All of this was done in an under three weeks."

Within six months, Sun Life Financial quickly went from zero to 30,000 employees adopting the platform.

What Is The ROI?

The speed at which users can search for data —such as searching for employees, phone numbers, and posts — is delivered at a rate of 500% to 600% faster than the traditional source systems.

“In terms of how many tools it's allowed us to replace and capabilities, I'd say we decommissioned about four tools, we're probably going to get to decommissioning two more, and centralize all of that into Workplace,” said Sekhon. “Now we believe that we're actually doing things which we had never envisioned."

Typically, it would cost Sun Life Financial $10,000 to $15,000 in order to stream to multiple locations. The entire cost is eliminated.

“There's about 600 people in my team, which are dispersed across the world, and I used to do two town halls a year,” said Sekhon. “A town hall requires massive amounts of planning, such as sending invites, getting locations, and getting all the technology. With Workplace, I've moved to a town hall every month. Every business leader across the organization is having a much higher frequency of these dialogues. We're doing product launch announcements through this. We're doing recognition for this. We'll do any kind of large scale communications for this. Information that used to typically get lost in emails is now actively being interacted on Workplace because you can have reactions. You can see how many people actually read it. You can improve the quality of your message. We've gone from long messages to sending more frequent short messages, and more timely and relevant messages.”

Advice For Other IT Leaders

Sekhon offers some advice for IT executives in other enterprises who are considering new collaboration tools.

“For any employee experience component or any aspect of the technology transformation, we're doing it because it's foundational for our enterprise strategy,” said Sekhon. “For anything that you do, don't do it because of technology, do it because it links with a strategy of what your organization is trying to do.”

Addressing the needs of the end user is an important part of this process.

“When we think and design products, we should think about experience and end users in mind,” said Sekhon. “Bring end users into your design process. Don't make them be kind of like people who are just on the consumption side of things. They give you a lot of great feedback in terms of how a tool can be used and the potential of the tool.”

Finally, Sekhon provides a recommendation about outdated technology in the enterprise.

“Don't be scared to shut down stuff, because one of the worst things you could do is you could bring in a modern platform and you do not shut down the older systems, which will create islands all over the place,” said Sekhon. “That was one of the key reasons we've been successful because we had a focused effort and a deliberate effort to shut down all the older technology.”