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The good oil

Tim Mendham | May 3, 2013
“Giving the business the freedom to be the business” is what Peter Powell sees as his main task.

"Giving the business the freedom to be the business" is what Peter Powell sees as his main task.

Powell is information services director, ANZ, with health insurance, aged care and health services firm Bupa. The organisation is a branch of the UK-based global healthcare organisation (formerly named the British United Provident Association), that was established in 1947 when 17 British provident associations joined together to provide healthcare for the general public.

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Bupa has only recently entered the Australian market under its own brand, following the acquisition of health funds HBA (Victoria) and Mutual Community (SA) in 2002, and MBF in NSW and QLD in 2008.

The combined might of these funds, with benefits paid out of about $4.1 billion, puts Bupa marginally behind the market leader Medibank, which paid out $4.3 billion in benefits last year.

But the size of the organisation and the acquisitions over the last decade are not all that he has had to face. Powell says Bupa is more than health insurance, also covering care homes, health services and analytical services, and it has only recently reorganised its Australian and New Zealand operations, under the ANZ Market Unit banner, into a cross-discipline organisation covering all of those activities under one roof, one managing director, and one IT department.

Whereas there were no specific differences between the Australian and New Zealand operations, it's the different cultures that exist between health insurance and health care which mean that it is the executive level's job to bring the formerly separate units to understand the role of each other and exploit the white space in between.

They should work together to a single purpose, which he says is to help customers live longer, happier lives. To this end, Bupa does not have shareholders, and any profit made is ploughed back into the organisation and its service range.

"IT needs to think about the customer," Powell says. "We help to shape the technology, and understand that it's a tool for the business. One size does not fit all, so we have to make sure it is put to an appropriate use for the circumstances.

"IT is a business within a business; my team understands that, and it's the leadership responsibility, in whatever capacity, to look across the whole unit you're leading."

Reaching that understanding has been a journey for Powell.

From his school days, he always knew he wanted to work in IT, and at that point he planned to be an IT director by the time he reached 40. He admits that that age might be seen as a bit late in life these days but, leaving school and going straight into IT, it seemed like a reasonable long-term ambition.


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