by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2017 # 26-50: Jason Blackman,

Nov 21, 2017
Technology Industry

Jason Blackman has been a key leader in driving the globalisation of Australian company’s retail platform and associated services. Blackman, the organisation’s former CTO who was appointed CIO in March, created a global services team in Melbourne and stipulated a micro services architecture that has enabled Carsales’ subsidiaries to share innovations while allowing for customisation to meet their needs of local markets.

Carsales now operates in 10 countries with key presences in the Central and South American markets. Blackman says his strategy means that Carsales only needs to employ around 200 technology staff to handle a similar level of complexity as an organisation like Seek, which also operates in 10 countries, employs more than 100 staff per country and has over 1,000 people in its technology team.

Structurally, having a team in Melbourne that services the globe has been a challenge due to time zone and cultural differences across borders. Blackman overcame the time zone issue by setting up a global support team that has been expanded to include local staff.

To foster a unified culture, Blackman has made several visits to international businesses and has set up a culture of collaboration and inclusion where teams across borders celebrate each other’s successes, failures and festivities.

“Several team members have also been encouraged to travel overseas during and outside our hack events and we are about to start our international conferences. It has taken some time but the teams now feel united by purpose regardless of function,” says Blackman.

Innovations at the heart

Carsales has introduced several innovations over the past few years during and outside its hackathon events, says Blackman. Cyclops is a piece of artificial intelligence software that automatically recognises and classifies car images and, as a consequence, makes car identification a frictionless process.

“This makes it easier for us to personalise the user experience for our customers. For example, if the customer is selling an SUV, Cyclops can automatically recognise [the shape of vehicle] from an image and detect that SUVs sell faster when you include an image of a boot,” he says.

“It can then check if you have included an image that looks like the boot of an SUV or not and accordingly alert the seller to increase their chances of selling faster.”

Combating fraud is also a key differentiator for Carsales, he says. The organisation has created self-learning fraud detection software that has a much better chance than humans of keeping up with changing fraud trends.

In addition, an in-house developed smart keyword search – a first in the global automotive industry – was also launched.

“Eighty per cent of what happens on Carsales is search,” says Blackman. “Making it easier for a consumer to search for cars ensures that we remain the destination of choice for our consumers. Our testing has shown the new software and user experience design gets users to the correct results between 10 per cent to 20 per cent faster when drop downs need to be filled.”

It’s about the business, stupid!

Carsales is a technology organisation at its core but it’s not about technology, it’s about the people and the business, Blackman says.

“The greatest asset that Carsales (and any other business for that matter) has is its people,” he says. “Focusing on the technology can lead to immediate outcomes but does not build long-term capability within the team. The effort put into development of the team is a long-term strategy that pay dividends.”

Moving from having a technical orientation to people-centric position is challenging for a technologist, says Blackman.

“A key to overcoming this is in employing a team of people who are smarter than you – this opens up the opportunity to transition,” he says. “At a personal level, developing commercial and business acumen – through study and other options – has been key. Being able to talk the same language as board members, the CEO, CFO and other commercial managers ensures an easier transition to executive level,” he says.

Byron Connolly