The race to digital transformation in real estate business and operations is well under way, resulting in CRE organizations integrating and elevating the roles of key members of their leadership team - namely the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO). These executives have experienced an accelerated evolution in their roles over the past few years. They’re now responsible not only for the strategic technical direction of their companies but also for playing a crucial role in achieving the company’s overall business goals.
Technology is moving from the fringe to the center of real estate
Ten years ago, CIOs and CTOs spent the majority of their time implementing and managing phone systems, hardware and ERP financial systems. These same executives now focus on reducing costs through automation, moving their data processes into the cloud and assembling a custom tech stack that will enable their teams to make the best business decisions.
According to Realcomm, the events company at the intersection of technology, innovation and real estate operations, “IT will potentially touch every operation inside of a real estate organization. The level of strategic planning and careful thought required to accomplish this will also need unprecedented executive and cross departmental collaboration.”
Top CRE companies are leveraging technology thought leaders
Already, several large CRE firms have in-house CIOs as an integral part of their leadership teams, including Equity Office Properties, Boston Properties, Blackstone, Brookfield, CB Richard Ellis, Vornado.
Jim Whalen, SVP and CIO of Boston Properties, stays on the lookout for new technology-driven solutions at all times. “We want to see anything that enhances visibility and transparency from an operating perspective,” he said during the 2016 Honest Buildings Innovation Summit.
Prominent CIOs like Art McCann at Highwoods Properties demonstrate how IT departments can deliver meaningful value to a CRE organization by enabling real time access to NOI and other important data points. In an interview for Realcomm, McCann explains: “IT understands the bits and bytes, but to deliver real value to an organization, the technology organization must truly partner with the business. IT needs to walk in the shoes of their coworkers to approach issues from their perspective. That's what we try to do at all times at Highwoods,” McCann said.
Using technology as a strategic lever to drive value is something Robert Entin, EVP and CIO of Vornado, has been leading for more than 25 years. He is an advocate for modern CRE technology that drives innovation, and, ultimately, revenue. “The role of the CIO in implementing these technologies is key,” he told the Honest Buildings team during an exclusive fireside chat in March 2017. “It’s crucial to integrate the newer products that are on the rise today into the existing tech stack in a way that is rational, with clean connection points between the functions. Those connection points create the most compelling opportunities for workflow and data today.”
“Smarter data leads to better decision making. The evolution of manual, high touch and error prone activities into workflow based automated tasks creates new efficiencies that can change the game, especially for growing real estate companies.”
- RealComm Edge magazine, May 2016
The evolution of the CIO/CTO role won’t slow down anytime soon
“The CTO and CIO have become a more integral part of the C suite,” says Dean Hook, CIO at TIER REIT, who has 30 years of experience integrating real estate business operations and technology. “We now see CEOs and CFOs relying on them to provide alternative solutions as far as revenue and growth opportunities using technology.”
“The other piece that we’re starting to see is the role of CIO transforming to the point where now a CIO may hold an operational role in the company,” adds Hook, who speaks firsthand on this topic. He was named Senior Vice President of Property Management after being recognized by TIER REIT as an expert building operations decision maker. “CIOs are becoming COOs and CMOs because they understand how to use technology and so they are starting to flow into these non-traditional technology roles because of the increasing importance of technology in business based roles.”