How can we rapidly understand the impact of future events on our business?
That was the question posed to employees at Charter Hall Group, one of Australia’s leading property groups, which owns and manages 329 commercial properties around Australia, including office buildings, supermarket anchored retail centres, and a rapidly growing stable of industrial assets.
Described as akin to a ‘crystal ball’, the company’s Forecasting Analytics program was launched in early 2016.
Delivered through Charter Hall’s EnterpRISE business technology transformation program, the project – dubbed MRI – was a group-wide effort involving 50 plus staff across all sectors and job functions.
Whilst still early days, it’s effect has been huge, providing true visibility into the performance of the business, in real-time, company-wide, and a valuable enabler of efficiency and scalability.
“Our goal was to create an unprecedented level of insight and an ability to be able to perform scenario analysis at every level of our business – property, fund and group,” explains Charter Hall chief technology officer Aidan Coleman.
We’ve also significantly improved our risk profile by moving our key inputs, calculations and outputs and analytics into a centralised and controlled environment,” Coleman, who joined the company in 2014, adds.
It has also paved the way for Charter Hall’s employee and customers to self-serve analytics and by eliminating manual processes has contributed to the strong growth and scalability of the business.
“One of the biggest challenges was to deliver a harmonised solution that overcame the different ways of working that had existed across the business for many years. We recognised that in order to achieve the true benefits of scalability, efficiency and deeper group-wide insights it would be crucial to break down perceived siloes and went about doing so at multiple levels,” Coleman says.
Charter Hall’s CEO was a vocal advocate for change, using company events and town halls to reinforce the message around why the project was so important to the longer term prosperity of the business.
Short punchy videos with talking heads and illustrations were used to sell the solution to staff.
“Finally, the culture change we needed to make was to transition to a business that treated data as a true asset and one which was actively focused on the quality of the systems and processes involved in generating data,” Coleman says.
Innovation is now “part of the DNA” at Charter Hall.
It has long partnered with external start-ups and recently collaborated with accelerator, Collective Campus, to launch an Australian first real-estate technology accelerator program.
Coleman and his peers are currently working on a shortlist of property tech potentials, four of which will commence a 13-week bootcamp in January.
“From a strategic perspective we are keen on understanding more deeply how technology is changing and disrupting not only our own business but also how it is or may impact our customers’ lives into the future. With our keen strategic focus on customer experience enablement, we see this program as a key input into our customer strategy,” Coleman says.
“We could never reach the 900 plus technology businesses operating in our sector by not extending our reach through this program. It’s also about bolstering diversity of thought into what has been a fairly traditional and conservative industry.”
Internal staff enjoy programs on Design Thinking and Human Centric Design ran in partnership with Crazy Might Work, a group-wide Innovation through Diversity and Inclusion program in partnership with Symmetra.
There’s also an internal innovation fund, the winners of which will later join the Collective Campus accelerator: “we hope to multiply these ideas by applying the rigor of the program and collaborating with other start-up enterprises,” Coleman adds.
Charter Hall also worked with Prop-Tech start-up Comfy to launch an app that delivers ‘climate control on demand’ to occupants of the company’s office workspaces, “so they can now use their smartphone to provide real-time feedback on their preferred temperature preferences to make their space more comfortable,” Coleman explains.
As well as helping make office occupants more comfortable, Charter Hall hopes to achieve significant energy savings.
There are also plans to collaborate with Wilson Parking, a key customer, on new and innovative urban parking solutions.
Courage of conversations
The secret of his success? Don’t be afraid to have “courageous conversations” with business colleagues, even if they are C-level executives, Coleman says.
“I have learned to not be afraid to challenge the established thinking, particularly the executive, with an honest and authentic opinion, to tell it as I see it and maintain a commercial lens to my analysis at all times,” he says.
“I have consciously tried to seek out the courageous conversations that were required, and as such I believe I’ve cleared the way for both business and tech teams to get on with the business of delivery.”