by Martha Heller

CBRE’s CIO discusses the new IT operating model

Sep 22, 2015
Business IT AlignmentCIOIT Leadership

Mandy Edwards, CIO of CBRE, on how data can turn IT on its head.

As CIO of CBRE, Mandy Edwards works to identify technology initiatives that support the company’s most significant global priorities. Edwards has more than 25 years of progressive experience in IT and senior operational roles, and has served as CIO for several leading global companies. She and I had a chance to discuss future of the CIO role recently.

mandy use this one CBRE

Mandy Edwards, CIO of CBRE

Martha Heller: How has the CIO role changed in the last 5 years?

Mandy Edwards: The consumerization of technology has set a whole new bar for what people expect from IT. We’ve also seen dramatic change in the options available for how to deliver IT services. With software and infrastructure as a service, we do not always have to make a major capital investment to advance our technology.

With all of this demand and all of these options, CIOs need to be even better at looking into the future and anticipating how technology will change. In the past, we could just talk to a few large, top-tier providers. But today, with a much greater breadth of providers, it is more challenging for CIOs to chart their path forward.

How have you changed your operating model to manage these challenges?

In the old days, IT would collect requirements, and then translate them into a business requirements document and issue an RFP to source the solution. That process doesn’t work anymore. We still have to understand requirements, but now we can break them down into bite-sized pieces and deliver solutions iteratively. This means we can move forward delivering value without having to use multiple business cycles to develop a longterm technology system. Longterm visions for systems these days get very outdated, very quickly.

It is all about iterative learning and deployment. We do small projects that are continuous in nature and that build on each other and provide value at every stage. Each iteration stands on its own relative to the benefits that it is bringing to the business. The combination of several of those iterative cycles over time produces even greater value. It’s a compounded way of delivering outcomes.

How do you share accountability for the outcomes of IT investments with other business leaders?

It is critical to have cross-functional ownership of the process that governs how the company invests in technology. Once you have an agreed-upon set of investments, then as CIO, you need to ensure everyone is comfortable with the metrics that will define a successful outcome.

If we agree that a technology investment will increase the net operating income of a managed space, for example, then we need to put that metric down on paper and have all major executives look at it every month. It is crucial to get executive buy-in on that metric, and start using it the moment the investment is made.

It is pointless to have metrics without consequences. At CBRE, we report on our user-adoption and other business benefit metrics monthly. If we see that we are not meeting our adoption milestones, we discuss the issue at the executive level and make recommendations for how to improve performance.

It could be as simple as missing something in training or being overly zealous about our deployment plan. If a cross-functional team galvanizes around those metrics on a monthly basis, we can course-correct as appropriate.

What are the competencies you look for in your senior team?

I’ve boiled those competencies down to four areas:

1) Business acumen: Understanding our business and how it works is key, but it is also being able to bring other industry perspectives that can be leveraged is an advantage.

2) Risk management: Risk in the IT organization comes in many different flavors; I rely on my team’s ability to balance risk when they make decisions.

3) Decision making: There are great engineers who become immobilized by too many technology choices. I value the skill of being able to make a decision and move forward.

4) Navigating the technology landscape: How do my senior leaders stay informed about new technologies? Do they participate in industry associations? Have they built a vast network of really good technology people over the years? Whatever it is, I want them to have an effective approach to navigating new technologies.

How do you make your senior team better decision makers?

I find that it is best to use a very simple and effective organizational structure with great clarity and definition of roles and responsibilities. Once I select my senior leadership team, we all work very hard to develop a close working relationship with each other. Each tower of IT cannot be successful without the others. Once we’ve made a few major decisions collectively and learned from the process, my team can make decisions without me. That’s the goal.

What does the future hold for the CIO?

As companies recognize the value of data in transforming their businesses, the IT operating model will turn on its head. When you start putting data first, then applications become just a way of visualizing or transacting that data. The challenge for CIOs will be to define what the data structure of the company looks like. This means they must step up and become key drivers in extracting value from data. They just can’t wait to be told what to do.

About CBRE

CBRE Group, Inc., a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company headquartered in Los Angeles, provides globally integrated commercial real estate and investment services that transform real estate into real advantage. The company has more than 70,000 employees (excluding affiliates), and serves real estate owners, investors and occupiers through more than 400 offices (excluding affiliates) worldwide. Revenue for 2014 was more than US$9 billion.