Businesses that understand how technology can become a strategic advantage can stay ahead of the pack, especially in a competitive sector such as the property market in New Zealand.\n Barfoot and Thompson\n\nSimon Casey, CIO, Barfoot and Thompson\n\n\nReal estate company Barfoot and Thompson only operates in Auckland and Northland, but it has about 3,000 properties on sale at any one time. Or, as CIO Simon Casey puts it \u201cwe are selling two houses an hour this year.\u201d\nMore on agile project management: Agile project management: A comprehensive guide. \u2022 Agile project management: 16 tips for a smooth switch to agile. \u2022 Scrum vs. Lean vs. Kanban: Comparing agile project management frameworks.\nAgile approach supports self-managing IT teams\nAll 75 branches are owned by the Barfoot and Thompson, so there are no franchisees, but even so management is highly devolved throughout the company. To refer to the central office, where Casey and his team of 40 in the IT department are based, as the \u2018head office\u2019 is considered incorrect. \u201c\u2018Head office\u2019 is definitely a no-no term; our focus is to support those branches, and most of the branches have salespeople and property management,\u201d he says.\nCasey runs an agile team with just two managers\u2014himself and an IT manager. Everyone else is divided into teams for API, identity management, analytics, infrastructure, and IT service desk. In addition, there are three senior business analysts and one UX designer.\nEach team is self-managing, and chief among their responsibilities is to choose their own tools. This has the advantage of ensuring that the technology remains current, and it helps attract curious and smart people to join the team. \u201cWhen I\u2019m in the job market, a good number of people I interview want to the leave the company they are in because they are stuck with old tech. So, I can assure them that when it comes to Barfoot and Thompson, they won\u2019t be stuck working with old tech because the self-managed teams choose their tools, technologies, and architectures,\u201d he says.\nIntegration over in-house IT development favoured\nThe trend over the past five years has been towards integration, rather than in-house development, although the latter remains in some areas. \u201cOur strategy has been \u2018don\u2019t build it if you can buy it\u2019. So for virtually every project that is going to require an IT product, we spend time looking around the world to see what systems are available and assess if they are a good fit,\u201d Casey says. \u201cAnd if they meet our needs then the project will be one of integration, especially around automation for identity and access management, and also API integration to drive marketing activity and our analytics platform.\u201d\nA recent example of this approach is live streaming for all property auctions. This means anyone, anywhere in the world, can log onto the website and view an auction live and, if they register, place a bid. It is enabled by the software-as-a-service product AuctionLive from Australia and was deployed in just two weeks during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. \u201cWe were able to integrate it and start running auctions at Level 3 lockdown. Then we made the commitment to continue, so we didn\u2019t use it as a temporary measure,\u201d Casey says. \u201cIt\u2019s actually a great use case of accelerating a technology. It\u2019s something we were planning to do and then we accelerated it because of the urgency.\u201d\nThe technology is enabled for all auctions, whether in the auction rooms or at the property being sold. Auctions are streamed via an iPhone or a tablet and there is a screen in front of the auctioneer so viewers can see the bidding. Beside the livestream on the website is a tally of bids and first, second, and third call in real time, so online bidders are not disadvantaged.\nWhile there is an \u201cecosystem of technology\u201d used to enable the live streaming, it does not require an additional technical person be present at the auction. To date at least 8,000 auctions have been streamed online, with around 1.1 million views. \u201cIt\u2019s fantastic because of the transparency it creates for buyers and sellers. Anyone can watch any of our auctions worldwide, and our competitors cannot say that,\u201d Casey says.\nCasey says another differentiator is the company\u2019s mobile app, which is used by buyers and salespeople alike and is constantly being upgraded. \u201cThe vision is for everything they need around a property is in their pocket. We are constantly adding significant functionality, including external data sources, Casey says. \u201cWhen I talk about integration for analytics, our architecture means that once we integrate data it\u2019s relatively easy to view it through dashboards or access it through our mobile app because of our architecture using APIs.\u201d\nAI projects conducted in-house\nHe points out that although systems are important, the strategic asset for the business is the data. And for that reason, the IT team is looking into developing its AI capability. \u201cPredictive modelling, and insights, is the use case. I do have some people in the early stages looking at those opportunities. For my team, it makes sense that we do that in house. But for a lot of capability, it is delivered by SaaS, and a lot of global suppliers are claiming they use AI in certain functions,\u201d Casey says.\nThere have been three in-house AI feasibility projects, mainly around the IT service desk. Although they yielded interesting results, the team decided against putting any into production. \u201cYou really felt like you got onto step one of the ladder, but you had to get to step five to have something mature and working,\u201d he says.\nWhile keen to explore new technologies such as AI, Casey says it has to be in the context of offering solutions to business problems. \u201cI definitely do not go about setting up an AI project because I can. We\u2019re very focussed on business performance, business growth, and business opportunity,\u201d he says.\nCareer move from telco to tech\nCasey has been with Barfoot and Thompson for 13 years and reports to CEO Chris Dobbie. Before that, he reported to co-owners Peter Thompson and then Kiri Barfoot, whom he continues to work alongside every day. \u201cIt\u2019s nice having direct contact with the owners, and the fact that the owners work in the business is quite unique.\u201d\nBefore joining, Casey worked primarily in telecommunications, including for Telecom, when the company\u2019s assets included the Yellow Pages. It was at Yellow Pages, where he did a five-year stint, that Casey was able to broaden his knowledge and skill set, enabling him to eventually run an agile IT team. \u201cI feel so fortunate to have grown up with a technology career and move into management and lead the ship. I\u2019m very thankful for that,\u201d he says.