May Issue

Tech plays matchmaker in the corporate housing market

IT is key to matching clients with corporate housing, says Ric Villarreal, president of Oakwood Worldwide

How is technology affecting your business? The corporate housing industry is becoming much more social. The marketplace is so networked that our competitors are now also our suppliers, and we are using technology to connect with them.

Our EPIC sourcing platform allows us to distribute our clients' corporate housing needs to our provider network. A link directs suppliers to a system where they can see specific requirements--for example, a one-bedroom apartment, on the first floor, in a certain location and within a certain price range. We then receive responses from multiple suppliers that allow us to propose options that best fit the client's needs.

We also have a platform called Xora that automates the coordination of apartment inspection and cleaning. The service crew inputs before and after images of the unit into Xora, which integrates with our timekeeping system and allows us to track how long the cleaning took, the crew's location and who serviced the apartment.

You used to be Oakwood Worldwide's CIO; now you're the president, with a CIO reporting to you. Does your CIO experience affect how you manage that function? When I started as CIO, I asked our business leaders to talk to me about business strategy and goals, not about buttons and applications. When our new CIO, Marina Lubinksy, joined us, I asked her to take on responsibilities outside of IT. Twice now, she has led our human resources function, where she was asked to solve problems that she wasn't used to solving. That experience has made her a stronger CIO and member of our executive committee. Marina is also responsible for our scholarship program. These roles have given Marina the experience to contribute in areas where IT isn't typically involved. My role is to help Marina maximize her influence on our business.

Has technology changed how you lead? I have much better tools for decision-making. I can access information at a very high level or get down into the weeds. I would say that 80 percent of my actions are based on key performance indicators, compared with less than 50 percent in the past. I used to spend much more time digging into the actual data, and because the data was not reviewed and analyzed, it wasn't very conclusive.

What do you find especially exciting in technology today? I am excited to see all the possibilities that a more sophisticated user interface can have on our business. We are getting much better at understanding who our customers are and what they need. The next horizon is to develop a user interface that is intuitive, using what we know about the user to give our guests a better experience. If the guest is relocating and has children and is concerned about location and the quality of schools, or is a consultant "road warrior" who wants to be closer to their work location, the user interface should adjust accordingly. If the guest is a government worker restricted by a per diem or a consultant who needs a special billing structure, the system should guide them through the process.

The vision is to drive toward a reservation process for corporate housing that is more like Zappos, where you log in and the system knows you love Uggs.

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