At the Auckland headquarters of real estate firm Barfoot Thompson, the offices of the Board members, executive team, finance, IT and marketing are all located on two floors.
“This ensures there is a lot of face to face conversations and decision making across the leadership team,” says its CIO Simon Casey.
The IT team, for instance, is located with the marketing team.
“We do joint planning and delivery using small teams, which typically include a business owner, business analyst, user experience, developers and testers all working in agile methods. The structure is flat and staff are empowered to get on with it.”
He explains the IT programme of work is established and prioritised against strategic goals and this provides funding for a pipeline of work and continuous delivery. Separate business-cases are not required. There is a low level of bureaucracy and a healthy customer centered culture.
One example is the ongoing development of our mobile apps. These are native developments for iOS and Android. Our customers are able access properties for sales and for rent, says Casey.
“List and map views are provided with sophisticated search options, access to images, videos, documents, maps, school zones and more. Staff use the same apps as the public but also have access to special features and content.
“The project was conceived and led by the internal IT team,” says Casey.
“There was significant in-house development of our API and integration of many data sources. Android and iOS development was carried out by two specialist development companies.”
The benefits are that salespeople no longer need to carry documents or a laptop while they work, as they can access and share all the necessary information from their mobile phones. Salespeople can present properties to customers from an iPad, or they can present property images on a large TV using HD via apple TV.
“We use mobile apps, Sitecore CMS and .net development to deliver most of our goals. The real value is in our data, in regards to how we manage it and then present information to staff and customers.
“New projects and infrastructure upgrades are presented and prioritised on the IT programme of work. Approximately 50 per cent of work maintains existing capability, with the other 50 per cent creating new stuff that customers want.”
The infrastructure team, service desk, dev team, DevOPs, QA team, web team, UX, CTO, CIO, BA team all work open plan in close proximity of each other, so decision and actions are made quickly, he says.
“Most are involved in support activities and new projects. This means they have excellent working knowledge of the business and can understand the impact of new initiatives that they are building.
“These teams (not the CIO) choose their own tools and technology direction, which creates a sense of ownership and responsibility to deliver great work. This approach has created a positive culture that delivers high value low cost IT activities,” he says.
Casey reports to Kiri Barfoot, a company director and is a member of the executive team.
“I am proactive with the Board by publishing an annual programme of work and budget for approval while new ideas, additional funds and increased head count, can be presented at any time during the year. Progress is reported to the Board every six weeks,” he states.
The executive team meets every month, with a sole focus on new initiatives that will create long-term value, says Casey.
Every Tuesday morning, Casey presents for 30 minutes at a Barfoot Thompson branch meeting attended by salespeople. With 68 branches it takes 20 months to complete them all before repeating the cycle.
Some of his recent topics were: How technology is changing marketing and sales activities; customer expectations and brand experience; why video is such a powerful way to build your profile; how their mobile app can be used effectively in customer conversations; and why there is a power shift to the customer.
“This gives me a good profile within the company and people frequently contact me directly with suggestions or advice.”
IT messages are included in a weekly all staff email sent by the marketing team. As well, a customer monitor email tool is used to measure the impact of these emails. This email can include the notification of new system features or a new tech training video.
“Every February, we send an annual IT survey to more than 2000 staff. In 2016, there were 784 responses. We have excellent results in many areas,” he says. “Ninety five per cent of respondents rate the IT service desk as good or excellent, and 80 per cent of respondents rate systems changes made as good or excellent.”
Barfoot Thompson has a team of 22 permanent IT staff and 10 onsite contract staff. It’s a culturally diverse team with several members from Russia, China, India and New Zealand. There are four females in the team; two developers, one business analyst and one QA.
“I enjoy coaching team members to help with performance and career development. Over the years, some team members have progressed from entry level positions to senior roles in my team while others have been successful with specialisation. This has strengthened our team through retention of intellectual property, improved staff satisfaction and relatively low staff turnover.”