CIO50 2019: #19 Julie Wright, Porter Davis

julie wright cio50 1
Julie Wright

A technology executive's role is not about technology itself but about leading people to understand how technology can enable goals and objectives.

This's how Julie Wright, general manager for business and digital transformation at construction company Porter Davis, sees her role.

"You don’t start with tech, you rather articulate how technology can help the business objectives, and then you work with the business stakeholders to understand what they are doing and work backwards towards how technology can achieve this and their goals," she says.

Wright joined Porter Davis in 2016 as the operational excellence manager, and was promoted to her current role one year later.

After 18 years in business, Porter Davies recognised the need for a digital strategy to help it understand its internal pain points and build a proof plan to tackle those challenges. This is when the digital strategy focused on customer and employee experience.

Wright wanted to transform the somewhat stressful process of buying or building a home, which was a big challenge as the industry has been historically show to adopt change and embrace technology.

Wright and her team have since then implemented several industry leading, as well as innovative technology, across the business.

They implemented a business rule engine, or variable configurator, which allows Porter Davis to configure a particular house and its associated components in real time. Previously, this process would often take weeks to apply changes. The process now takes only hours.

A new Salesforce CRM was implemented as well as a product recommendation system and virtual assistant (chatbot) that allows customers to match their preferences to help them find homes in seconds.

Porter Davis is also able to offer a virtual reality experience that helps customers see what their home could look like. With hundreds of designs and product packages, having a display home cover all the different products was not feasible.

Wright's team also implemented augmented reality to allow customers to use their smartphones to virtually place a house from Porter Davis' portfolio on their plot of land. Customers can then enlarge the design and walk through their house. A new customer portal has also been designed and customers can track the progress of their build using an app.

Changes to traditional industries can pose challenges and this was no easy task for Wright and her team. She says this is an industry where knowledge was previously kept in the minds of long serving employees. Therefore, she had to come up with unique approaches in order to help the business get where it wanted to be.

She faced a significant amount of caution and disbelief that the new technology could actually do what it claimed it could do, especially around AI, bots and RPA.

Wright then took the approach of prototyping each technology and demonstrating a real operational business case. She realised many employees needed to see how a new technology worked in order to understand it.

Leadership, training and diversity

As a female IT executive, which has in the past been a male dominated industry in construction, Wright's ambition was to make a difference and bring value to the team.

Her last three hires were all female and Wright is working to have a gender-balanced team.

"With diversity comes new thinking, new challenges; it gets the creative juices flowing," she says.

As a member of the leadership team, Wright worked with each business unit to ensure they work seamlessly together. This included weekly sessions where the team went through the transformation process looking at the projects at a high level so the entire business works together on a common goal.

She also implemented monthly digital awareness sessions with the leadership team to keep everyone informed.

She doesn’t consider herself IT but more like a "business conduit". She focuses on building relationships as her primary tool to implement and embed change, and building advocacy with the right people who can articulate and influence at multiple levels of the organisation.

Her team also have their primary mandate, not as technologists, but as business resources that understand the business, process, people and build solutions with that mindset.

Samira Sarraf

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