Executive Member Profile: Ruth-ann Santangelo

Ruth-ann Santangelo

Associate Director of Digital, Service and Automation, Optus

From cloning human DNA to leading the Implemented Robotic Operations Centre at Optus, Ruth-ann Santangelo shares career journey, tips and why we should always back ourselves.

Tell us about your role?

I work in the Business Partner team within IT – as Associate Director of Digital, Service and Automation – where we are the conduit between our business groups and our technical IT teams. We work to understand the requirements of the business and deliver the solutions needed to make life  easier for our customers.

The scope and breadth of the role gives me visibility across several functions of the business, collaborating with Product, Sales, Customer Service, Finance, Procurement and Regulatory. Having the opportunity to deliver technical solutions that make life easier for our customers and employees, together with the opportunity to work alongside our Regulatory team to ensure customer data security and privacy, gives me a great view into how our company works cross-functionally.

I’ve had the opportunity to implement some exciting digital innovations and product initiatives in my role, but the newest – and possibly most exciting – addition is leading the Robotic Operations Centre (ROC). The ROC dev-ops team enables us to monitor, operate and support more than 150 RPA bots that make up our ‘digital workforce’. I’m thrilled to be in a role that helps pave the way for managing digital workforces with innovative technologies. Currently, there are more than 70 technical people in the team working on RPA with our business functions across the organisation, from Finance, Consumer, Supply Chain, HR and even IT.

I lead the ROC team in monitoring and maintaining the bots 24/7 to ensure they keep working even when the environment around them changes. The team also protect the stability of our production systems and customer data as well as verify all newly-developed bots are enterprise-grade, trained and ready to work in production. I enjoy working on something that enables business areas to deliver services to customers faster and more accurately, while saving costs and improving customer and employee experience.

Tell us about your career path?

I started my career cloning human DNA! While I was doing my Computer Science and Genetics degree at university, there were some big research projects happening in the scientific community such as the Human Genome Project and cloning Dolly the Sheep, which I found really interesting. So, began a job as a Research Assistant at Concord Hospital where I sliced human brains and cloned DNA taken from the brain as part of a study on Dementia and hereditary linkage.

After I completed my university degree, I moved into the computer science career path starting in a technical role within the consulting arm of a large global company. After coding, I moved into pre-sales and consulting teams where I learnt how to generate and close leads with customers as well as work closely with customers to create solutions that achieve business outcomes. From there, I moved into project management and worked my way up, taking on management positions in professional services and technology delivery. After stepping into a senior leadership position managing the PMO across Australia and New Zealand, I went on to establish and grow a consulting services business unit across the South Pacific region. I drove all aspects from business strategy and planning, to creating and selling solutions in a way that reduced the cost of sale while increasing margins. Being accountable for and measured on the P&L took me beyond creating the GTM and implementing solutions that customers need – it was an education in how to do it all, and profitably.

The latest addition to my expertise is automation, which is a very exciting area. Many teams across Optus were using bots and seeing great success. I saw an opportunity to collaborate and standardise our approach, allowing us to scale faster and optimally while mitigating risk to our organisation. And with that my vision for the ROC was born.

Your top career tips for people pursuing a career in this field?

When I was in a graduate role, I had a manager who told me to always look for gaps in an organisation and work to fill those gaps. If systems and processes aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing and you can find a way to correct them, it really adds value. This advice has stuck with me and helped me land some interesting roles throughout my career so far. If someone tells me that my suggestion has ‘been tried before’, ‘can’t be done’ or ‘never works’, it drives me to make it work – and do it faster.

The ROC is an example of following this thinking. It wasn’t originally part of my remit, but I saw a gap in the business and did something about it. Just in the procurement process for this initiative, I worked to get a tender (RFP) turned around in less than 10 weeks, which the team is calling a record. 

Ultimately, don’t let setbacks discourage you, persevere, take advantage of the opportunities you see, and try what you think you can’t do or what other people don’t do.

A piece of advice you would give your younger self?

Back yourself and be your biggest cheerleader with positive self-talk. If you have an idea, give it a go and worry less about what people think – even if you’re dealing with people with many more years of experience or who are in much more senior positions. If you have an idea you truly believe in, don’t be afraid to be judged, put yourself out there and do something about it because others don’t always know better.