The CIO role has shifted. It’s now about more than just ‘keeping the lights on’. But as Head of IT at JLL, Andrew Clowes, jokes: “There’s no point in having a seat at the boardroom table if it’s dark”.
Nevertheless, Clowes and his team have lead a significant technology transformation at the commercial real estate giant, which has seen the introduction a digital mapping and data analytics platform, a ‘Worksmart’ environment that allows employees to work flexibly and with greater collaboration, and forays into 360 degree photography and machine learning.
Maintaining the essentials as well as innovating has been possible thanks to Clowes’ “fight or float” way of working.
Having served in the Royal Australian Navy for more than 30 years as a submariner and intelligence analyst, Clowes bring to his role a maxim he learnt there.
“In every situation the brief that the captain will give is: priority is to fight or priority is to float,” Clowes, who continues to serve as a reserve commander running the Navy’s geospatial intelligence library. “I use that in business all the time. The float part is the engines have got to work, I’ve got to be able to move through the water, I’m not sinking, all the holes are plugged, and the fires are out. And there’s many times in business when that’s your priority: I’ve just got to float.
“But then there’s other times, when that’s all good, when it’s fight. Now I’m going to load up the weapons, get the missile on the rails and I’m going to go aggressively into this thing. In IT that’s doing the innovation and the technology and the AI and the locational intelligence and the machine learning. That’s the fight.”
JLL has had a lot of fight in it lately, spurred on by two key strategies: Redefine the way its staff work, and rethink the way it looks at data.
The company’s Australian offices are changing under a programme it calls ‘Worksmart’. “The business strategy was to enable flexible, collaborative work spaces and the technology strategy was all about giving people the freedom to work anywhere and at any time,” explains Clowes.
“At a technology level this has involved major changes to our supporting infrastructure, end user computing environment, telephony, collaboration tools as well as the physical environment. It means that staff can now work seamlessly from any of our corporate offices and our mobility strategy means that all of our core business applications can be accessed across the internet – meaning that working from home, client offices and wherever makes sense is now a reality.”
In the data space, Clowes’ naval background has also lead to the introduction of a tool that is causing disruption both within the business and externally.
JLL’s Locational Intelligence Program is a server and web based digital mapping tool for agents to solve complex real estate problems and present the data to clients.
“I had long held the belief that Locational Intelligence should form the basis for comprehensive real estate decision making,” says Clowes. “I was able to work with a colleague in the US who had a similar view and a highly technical background in data science and mount a case for building the capability into the Australian business.”
“Over the past 9 months, we have continued to build this capability adding more expertise into the team and developing more applications based on the core ESRI platform.”
Working with partners, data sets are being continuously added to the platform – including traffic analysis, imagery and logistics data – and areas like animation and virtual reality are being explored too.
“Real estate agents don’t typically live in the data world,” says Clowes. “My line to people is that if you don’t get comfortable with data, you’re not going to have a job. This is a brave new world, you don’t need to understand how we manipulate data and how we build algorithms, but you need to understand that is what is going to answer questions.
“This is why we are building a whole data science capability across the organisation. It will help agents make a really good real estate decision based on that data.”
Clowes and his teams work is by no means complete. The company has set an ambitious goal to digitise all JLL data, workflows and business applications by 2020.
There will be choppy seas ahead no doubt, but keeping them on course is Clowes straight-talking approach, another influence from the military.
“I call it as i see it,” he says. “That’s always been the catchcry in the military. Don’t bullshit because someone’s going to get killed here if you’re not telling the truth. If you’re off course be up front. In business there are plenty of people who won’t say that, they’ll keep blindly going and everyone around them knows they’re off course but they’ll keep doing it.
Ultimately, Clowes says, it’s about taking the lead and making decisions:
“Just make a decision. It’s pretty simple. Just decide. Sitting still won’t get you anywhere.”