by Edward Qualtrough

JLL’s EMEA CIO Chris Zissis and CTO Andy Crow interview – Skills, data science, and ensuring IT is a value generator

Nov 20, 2018
IT LeadershipProfessional Services

JLL CIO Chris Zissis is bringing together IT and data capabilities in the EMEA region with a group of regional CIOs, Chief Technology Officers and data scientists to help facilitate innovation at scale and generate value for the real estate investment management company.

Zissis told CIO UK in 2017how innovation was the responsibility of every member of the organisation, but more recently was joined by CTO for Development and Delivery, Andy Crow, to discuss the delineation between the CIO and CTO roles, developing an in-house digital capability, the workplace of the future, data science, attracting and retaining skilled technologists, embedding security in its products and processes – and how shifting IT costs into LOB budgets has helped cement the concept of technology as a value generator.

“The last time we spoke, I said that we don’t compartmentalise innovation at JLL,” Zissis said. “Innovation is part and parcel of everything we do. Our next change, or evolution, has been, we don’t compartmentalise IT or technology, and data. They’re one and the same thing.

“As more and more technology power is put into people’s pockets, they’re after data, and technology is the enabling force that give them that data, that information, that insight. So we’ve brought the teams together.”

CIO-CTO delineation

CIO at the commercial property and management services organisation since April 2013, Zissis described a structure under the EMEA CIO of strategy-focused regional CIOs, and with CTOs charged to enable and deliver for those CIOs. Zissis also outlined instances of the CTO tail wagging the CIO dog.

“We created very clearly defined roles, and responsibilities, that gel, and interrelate together,” Zissis said. “We have the role of the CIO; and the CIO is responsible for the full value chain of technology and data – which is everything from defining the strategy, operationalising the strategy, putting in the capabilities to build, partner, buy technologies that support the business processes, and the digitisation of those.

“We have a CIO, responsible for everything. Under the CIO we have a number of geographically-aligned CIOs. And we ensure that those CIOs have, on a geographic basis, across all business and client services, responsibility for technology and data. And those CIOs are fully supported, and enabled, and in many cases led, by CTOs and data experts.”

CTO for Development & Delivery, Crow, added that it was his role to bring together the needs of the country-level CIOs who understand exactly what the business requires, and enable those business units with new technology capabilities. With the caveat however that solutions should roll out across different geographies.

“My team is very much focused on being the core engine that supports those CIOs as we go out across the region,” Crow said.

“If we are going to do something in one country, let’s make sure that what we do is immediately applicable in five other countries at the same time without us having to do any more work.

“Making sure that all the things we do scale has been the key foundational piece.”

The structure at JLL includes a CTO on the infrastructure and operations side, which has an engineering focus on run and support, whereas Crow’s team encompasses architecture and software delivery. While they have two distinct portfolios, Zissis said there were no real ‘Bimodal’ differences between the functions and their competencies.

“In JLL being a CIO and CTO doesn’t really differentiate you from a skills and capability perspective, but we differentiate the roles from an accountability perspective,” Zissis said. “Our CIOs and CTOs have got the same skill set, but the way they execute that in our organisation is different.

“Our CIOs are focused on delivering the strategy to the geographic clusters and markets. And our CTOs are the co-enabler either through applications or infrastructure and operations that make sure we can take those deliverables, scale them across geographies, and constantly apply best practice as we do so.”

Data science and the Chief Data Officer

Zissis said that he believes the role of the Chief Data Officer, however it is defined, will eventually be folded into the CIO remit. Eventually expertise in digital and data will become embedded parts of everyone’s role, although Crow and Zissis believe in the necessity of some kind of data science or advanced analytics capability to supercharge an organisation’s business.

Zissis said: “I think I predicted two years ago, that the CDO, the CTO, and the CIO would merge one day to be one capability. I was wrong about the CMO, but the CIO and the CDO definitely are merging. And underneath him or her will be different skill sets. And many of those skill sets will be embedded in the business.”

However, CTO Crow and CIO Zissis joked about the differences on their approach to data science. For Crow the ideal situation was to have data scientists in every business line, and outlined also the benefits of having a centralised capability which different functions could tap into.

The strategic view of Zissis was that it was important to democratise data science across the organisation, but that there was still a need for specialists. Furthermore, as the CIO Zissis also needs to take a pragmatic approach.

“My view is every person in the business, irrespective of whether they are client-facing or not, has to have data knowledge and expertise on how best to leverage insights, information, asset intelligence, and all of the other things we bring to bear to our business,” Zissis said.

“That all sounds very easy. There are however needs for real specialists who can model, who can create predictive opportunities around data, who can create new data sets by amalgamating external data sources, and internal data sources. And we would define those people as data scientists. And I think there’s definitely a need for that expertise in the business, because they’re the ones who bring together, not so much the providers of the data, and the recipients of the data, but they bring together the ability for us to create new things.”

A head of data science and analytics on the same level as the CTOs and CIOs with a “very specialised team” reports to Zissis to bridge the gap between technology, clients and the business, and “create new products, new services, new insights, new intelligence”.

Zissis acknowledged the pragmatic reality that data scientists do not come cheaply, and that while good data scientists who understand business needs “create maximum value and a good return for what you pay them, data science without a reason to exist is just a very high price point”.


Crow and Zissis noted the challenges of attracting and retaining technology talent in a buoyant market, which they attributed more to being a growing business than they did to any kind of skills shortage or crisis.

“We have been a growing business, and continue to be a growing business,” Zissis said. “You will always have a shortfall of skills, because we have business leaders who are very hungry to support their clients and their people.

“I wouldn’t be able to say we had a skills shortage in a particular area; we’re constantly looking for good people, all the time.”

Zissis described the team as “geographically agnostic”, while Crow echoed that being able to hire from the talent pool of the whole of Europe was a boon to JLL.

“In EMEA we operate in roughly 30 countries,” Crow said. “We’re able to physically place people in around half of them. And that allows us to look at where you get the best people from.

“You’re not always looking in one single pool of people. You’re looking from a pool of people that, for us in the EMEA team, is literally Europe.”

In-house capability

Developing an in-house capability had been a significant differentiator for Zissis, and marked a shift in the new ways of operating away from the long outsourcing contracts of the past.

Crow discussed moving JLL from a traditional industry and organisation into more of an Agile delivery function.

“We’ve taken more of a product focus, and we’ve changed the way we interact with the people that are asking us to do things,” Crow said of the team’s use of white boards and focusing on user needs in its product development.

This included baking security into products by design from the outset as an integral part rather than tagged on at the end as an afterthought.

“Every solution has got a very focused outcome. And the outcome is the client journey, the people journey, the growth journey. But that focused outcome has got security in the centre of it’s design from the outset,” Zissis said.

By having different people in the room, building security into the culture of the organisation, working with the organisation’s CISO, and including the run CTO who will eventually be responsible for maintaining a product, Zissis and Crow said that there was a healthy tension which was helping create better products.

“It drives the good solutions, and ultimately that’s what we need,” Crow said. “When one person believes one thing and another person believes the other, once you get the two of them in a room with a white board, you normally end up with a third solution. And the third solution is where you want to go.

“When we get friction, that’s how we get to the third solutions. And for the benefits we’ve seen, it’s been healthy, because the solution that comes out is better,” Crow said, with Zissis quipping that fifth and sixth iterations were just as valuable.

Digital virtual room

Zissis outlined JLL’s award-winning digital virtual room as an example of interdisciplinary teams coming together, working with partners large and small in different locations. Based at its Soho offices in London, rather than trekking around the city for weeks on end viewing different buildings, clients are given an interactive digital showcase of assets they may be interested in.

“To deliver this product, which was spearheaded by one of our board members, we not only had a combination of internal and external capabilities, vendors and people – we also had them geographically dispersed,” Zissis said.

“The user journey was defined by our French team, we had a boutique front-end vendor which created the application and virtual experience in France. One of the big five professional services firms defined what the experience needs to look like from a hardware and a room perspective.

“All the stitching together of the technologies, including the security, was done by our team; a combination of Andy’s team in the UK, and France, and globally. And more importantly, all the data required to be digitised, and brought together from source systems was done by a combination of the data team in France and the UK.

“So a boutique vendor, a big SI partner, geographically-dispersed technology teams, both internal and external, coming together to create an award-winning product.”

Of course this is now going to be scaled and replicated in Germany using different vendors and people, but with the same strategy delivering the same experience, Zissis explained.

Crow added that from a customer perspective, viewing the nine giant screens over a coffee a client can go through 20 buildings in an hour to cut down a process that would previously take four weeks.

Workplace of the Future

In July 2018 Zissis was a guest keynote speaker at CIO UK’s Hyperconnectivity and securing the Future Workplace event, and elaborated when he sat down with Crow to discuss how a combination of culture and technology were coming together to define the workplace of the future.

A critical part of success was attracting and retaining people to work for your organisation, giving them meaningful work, and a set of tools to be able to work from anywhere. The employee experience Zissis described is already impacting the sorts of areas and spaces JLL’s clients are searching for.

“Your workforce is very much geared to having an experience of where they work,” Zissis said. “That experience includes how I get there, what do I find when I arrive, how amenable is the environment for me to have a balanced working experience, and also get things done.

“Secondly, the ability to execute many things, including one’s role, remotely, in a connected way, is not forcing people to come into the office all the time, every time.”

From a technological standpoint, aside from the video-conferencing and collaboration tools, Zissis said that smart buildings and the Internet of Things would define the future workplace – with security underpinning the hyperconnected environment whether the collaboration is taking place within walls or outside of them.

He asked: “How do you secure, and make sure all of this works together, without it falling apart, and people not being able to do their job?

“The workplace is becoming a very, very flexible experience that meets our daily needs. And it meets the daily needs of many people whether they are permanently employed, people who are contractors, people who are transitional, are contingent labour, people who are actually clients and are working in our offices.”

No IT and no ownership

Zissis concluded that technology and the JLL firm had been evolving for more than a century, and one of his biggest achievements has been to move what might have previously been called IT costs into other lines of business.

Such a methodology fits with the structure that Zissis has created at JLL, where CTO Crow’s team passes projects over to another function.

“The team quickly move on to the next thing,” Crow said. “We don’t get stuck. We have the capability to build something and pass it over to a different team while we move on to keep that innovation cycle going.”

Zissis added that with technology, data and digital now embedded as part of the JLL’s strategy, there wasn’t a belief that all of those things were required to sit within the CIO’s team.

“There is a very clear acknowledgement, and understanding, that we are senior leaders and experts in our field,” he said.

“But there isn’t a belief – and that’s the right belief – that everything technology, and everything data, sits with our team. Because it shouldn’t.

“There are certain things that sit purely within our domain. But a long time ago we moved away from everything needing to be controlled and managed through a single stovepipe.

“We’re no longer a department focused business. The concept of departments, or the concept of the IT team, is something that has petered away.”

This has helped cement the concept of technology as a value-add and revenue generator rather than a back-office cost. Not only do the costs of what might have previously been called IT projects often sit in the budget somewhere else, but it has moved the onus outside of the traditional IT function to make sure new products and services realise their value. Zissis believes this is one of his and his function’s crowning achievements.

“The idea here is, whatever we do has to generate value,” Zissis said. “It’s also changed the culture of our organisation. A lot of the costs of our investments now are business costs, and the accountability sits with the business. Which has been my one of the achievements I feel strongly about.

“That has changed the way we are perceived; we’re not just people who implement stuff for the sake of implementing stuff. We do things to drive value. And we are accountable for ensuring that that value is generated, but we’re not accountable for making sure that that value is adopted and implemented across our markets, and our clients – that sits with our business.”

As such this is perhaps a small step for IT and a giant leap in making sure the often repeated statements about IT being a value-generator are more than trite platitudes.

“I firmly believe, every CIO, every CTO, every data technology leader, when they achieve that, when that’s the perception of the technology and data teams will change,” Zissis said. “Because then you have a very clear role to play in enabling value, but not necessarily be solely accountable for how that value will be leveraged in the organisation.”