by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2017 #26-50: Mark Cohen, Domain

Nov 21, 2017
Technology Industry

You can talk to a hundred people in a room about something exciting you need to do,” says Domain’s chief technology officer, Mark Cohen.

“You can explain it to them and point out all the information you need to do it. When they leave the room maybe five to 10 people will look into it any further without prodding. You need to recognise and nurture those ten people because they will be your agents for change and they will be the pillars that hold up your high performing team,” says Cohen.

“You can’t teach this behaviour to people – it’s a trait to treasure.”

It’s a useful lesson Cohen brings to his role as chief technology officer at Domain Group. Cohen and his team have engaged with groups of people at startups and through hackathon events for years. But there was a gap that was impacting the creation of innovative services from these engagements: a lack of a solid platform strategy on Domain meant that integration and data sharing was always harder than it should be, says Cohen.

“We had established a platform strategy and had been working to move to a microservice architecture. The key missing piece we spotted was that we needed a public API – we set about building this and over the past year, we have finalised the build and are about to launch it,” he says.

The public API is allowing Domain to open up access to its data and will also allow the company’s partners to use it to create new and interesting businesses, says Cohen. Around 400 parties have so far signed up to use the API.

This new capability enables people to access home price guide valuations (rental and sales history). The real estate industry’s CRM providers also have access to the API for free as a value add to their business, Cohen says.

“Our data costs more to collate, process and create various derivate products that most startups could afford. We’re opening that up to see what they can do with it and as far as we are aware, we’re the only real estate platform in Australia that will be doing this. We want to see startups with ‘moonshot’ ideas building on top of our data and APIs,” he says.

Today, more than 30 per cent of listings on Domain arrive through the public API, he says.

Opening up a public API involved a massive education exercise and the technology team has made the broader business awareness of this new platform strategy, says Cohen.

“It’s a fundamental paradigm shift – we’ve also had to convince the business that it was worth the investment and the resource and time commitments that were involved. I was lucky that we received total support from the CEO and from our product directors,” he says.

A true data warehouse

Cohen and his team have also implemented what Cohen describes as a true agile data warehouse using AWS Redshift and Tableau as its primary tools.

“This has enabled democratisation and self-service access to data across our group. In any given week, a third of the organisation accesses our data warehouse. For our data strategy, we have built out a dedicated data team, and we have freed up budget for the requisite software licenses. By building on AWS, we removed all the hardware capex and used a variable opex cost based that we scaled out as we grew data stores.”

Cohen has also created a ‘group platforms’ team who built out the shared platforms.

“They, in turn, have had to develop the consulting skills to grow engagement with the front end teams and then later with our partners and customers,” says Cohen.

“We save money when new products leverage existing platforms, and when we reduce the amount of code in each product. We also benefit when old batch-style partner integrations adopt our web services and move to real time integrations.”

Moving to a platform architecture means it’s easier for the company to integrate with its partners and also means it can ship products faster.

“We also have the added bonus of creating centres of excellence around key functionality instead of having to upskill everyone.”

Byron Connolly