by Jennifer O'Brien

REA Group adopts cloud-first IT model in its digital transformation push

Aug 24, 2016
Cloud Computing

REA Group has “grown up quickly,” embarking on a digital transformation journey over the last five years to adopt a cloud-based model, which has already transitioned 90 per cent of staff and workplace systems.

The ASX-listed company, which operates residential and commercial property websites in 12 countries across four continents, has grown from 400 staff in 2010 to 1,500 people today, including 600 employees based overseas. REA Group’s revenue has increased 20 per cent in the 2015 financial year to $522.9 million.

“The company has been on a cloud-first journey over the last five years internally at REA, which has been about shutting down legacy business systems for staff and community and moving to more scalable cloud-based applications that are highly configurable and globally scalable,” REA Group head of enterprise technology, Damian Fasciani, told CIO Australia.

But Fasciani said adopting cloud-based for everything didn’t make sense given the company has silos of software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps.

“We identified there were some unique use cases in the organisation where giving a team a cloud-based platform actually wouldn’t solve certain challenges – so we needed to be able to think outside of the box and have a couple of different systems, or a customised solution that actually fulfilled some unique use cases in the company,” he said.

As such, the company beefed up its integration capabilities and adopted the MuleSoft Anypoint platform in a bid to drive HR transformation and productivity across teams. By implementing MuleSoft, REA Group is planning to scale and more quickly deploy new cloud based applications to support the business’ rapid growth across the company’s entire Australian operations.

One of the key areas the company will focus on is accelerating how both its people and culture and enterprise technology teams bring on new people. With MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform, the organisation plans to automate critical processes, including user access management, security verification and credential identification.

“As REA Group continues to grow rapidly, our IT team needs to scale with the increasing demands across the business. We have had to deploy new systems and applications that over time have resulted in layers of complex point-to-point integration among legacy and cloud technologies, leading to significant inefficiencies,” he said.

“We selected MuleSoft to serve as our central platform for connectivity. We’ve embraced an API-led approach to integration to build a dynamic application network of business cloud applications that can easily grow with our business over time. Through this approach, we have unlocked data that was previously accessible only through IT, enabling other areas of the business to self-serve and become increasingly productive.”

He said the company’s new cloud-based HR system – the cloud-based management and customer support system – automates the process in which the company hires staff and deals with employee exits.

“It connects staff profiles and staff information that sits in that new HR system to talk to Jive, which is our cloud-based social collaboration platform, a new age intranet where people socialise and build their content and collaborate with each other – so MuleSoft very much sits at the centre of all of those systems and either pushes data to different systems or automates what information is seen within different applications.”

With MuleSoft, REA Group is now able to implement a hybrid environment, allowing the enterprise technology team to secure data and applications, while easily adopting cloud applications without having to manage complex integration.

He said this approach allows the team to drive productivity by enabling lines-of-business and functional teams to access the applications they need to move forward with projects.

Looking back over the digital transformation project, he said some of the main challenges have been around educating staff and having the responsibility of acting as business analysts and technology brokers.

“We repurposed what we do as a technology team within REA. We had to build a consulting arm internally and act like cloud brokers, going out and having conversations with the business, asking ‘what are your business challenges? And how can we fix those with technology?’

“It is a mindset shift for organisations, even for digital companies like REA because you aren’t dealing with a service desk or a help desk. We shut all of that down four years ago and we have this new age way of doing things.”

Instead, it involved asking the internal customers (the staff) to bring their technology problems to the IT team so they could map out a way to solve the issues, and present two or three technology options – a different work approach to how IT teams traditionally serve companies in the past.

Sifting through the multiple product functionality – and vendor hullabaloo – was also a challenge.

“A big challenge you have when you are cloud-first, and you try to be bleeding edge, is that a lot of cloud vendors now do so many different things. Almost everyone is doing collaboration, almost everyone wants to do chat, so you get this cross over in functionality with different applications. What happens within an organisation is it can be a bit of white noise. And staff may turn around and say, ‘what do i use for what?’”

In a bid to alleviate the confusion, he said the company created a greenfields role around technology adoption.

“We brought someone into a new role to actually focus on customer success internally within the organisation, and building out personas and use cases to be able to make sure that different areas of the business can use the same technology, but in different ways. And we will carry that forward with MuleSoft. We will get that technology adoption person to be able to talk with different parts of the business, identify those use cases and those personas.”

Next steps

Looking ahead, he said the company wants to “continue to scale and drive the best property experience for consumers and keep real estate agents close.”

His core focus for the next 12 months will be to digitise the operations within some core areas of REA. “First and foremost people and culture, Our people and culture team will be getting a new cloud-based REA system and new cloud-based payroll system.

“With that will be some work with MuleSoft to integrate those products and some other surrounding applications. . . The other area is working with our legal team and general counsel to automate process workflows and contract approvals, which is all manually done now. We want to make sure that we partner with them.”

He also plans to work on the customer contact centre, the face of the organisation that consumers and real estate agents interact with.

“We are looking to embedding some cloud-based platforms that we already have in different parts of REA – so to uplift those people and how they work. How they take calls from real estate agents. How they share knowledge within the contact centre.”

Lastly, he said the IT team is working with its procurement and facilities team to digitise how the company processes travel requests to travel internationally. “For us that is really important. For a global company we have a lot of people that are mobile and travel a lot, so if we can automate a lot of the process, it further enables people.”

The Sydney office will also get a refurbishment, he added.

“We are embedding some state-of-the-art technology within our workplace in Sydney and potentially looking at the Internet of Things (IoT) and putting in some sensors to actually build an interactive workplace for staff. So that’s another exciting project we will be doing as well.”

New age technologies – including augmented reality and VR – are very much on the company’s radar.

“Looking at new age technologies and how we can come up with some practical use cases in the future around turning our workspaces around the country – and hopefully globally in the future – into the connected workplace. We really want to push the envelope in the next couple of years to build out a really productive workplace for people.”