I suppose this is dating myself, but I remember a time when the main role of the chief officer in charge of applications and the technology environment of a real estate organization was to keep the applications and servers in the basement (or closet) running. I’ve been thinking lately about the demands of the role today and how those demands have evolved over the arc of my career. Spoiler alert, they’ve changed a great deal.
For those who have been in the industry for fifteen years or more, you’ll remember a time when the CIO was responsible for maintaining the black magic that kept email and the shared drive—otherwise known as the “F” drive or whatever letter designated it in the local office of your company—running. Likewise, the CIO was charged with keeping the desktop or laptop computers running, virus free and physically connected to the local area network. In a similar vein, there was a time that my grasp of advanced DOS commands and the technical underpinnings of physically connected local area networks and servers were highly valued. That time has long passed.
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We’ve (mostly) moved to the cloud, and the servers are no longer in the closet or basement. Dealing with battery backups is no longer a required skill. The mechanics of laptop maintenance and provisioning can—and mostly should—be outsourced. And certainly, the day-to-day of technical user support has long matured as a function that is done by outsourced service providers who deal with hiring, training, housing and managing resources valuable but not strategic to helping execute the strategy of your real estate enterprise.
My personal romp down memory lane made me realize how much the job of the CTO/CIO/CDO has changed and how relatively quickly that change has happened. What’s gone, or greatly diminished, are the more hardcore technical parts of the job. And what’s increased or significantly ramped up are the needs to be conversant and on top of cyber security, data hygiene, support for increasingly sophisticated analytics and operational innovation. Plus, the need to be and stay aware of a dizzying number of emerging solutions that address or resolve specific challenges.
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Granted, there is no single model that describes how all real estate companies organize their technology, application support, data and innovation teams, so the new or greatly expanded duties previously listed may fall to several different leaders. But in several companies these responsibilities roll up to the CDO.
For those CDOs whose responsibilities I just described, you have my admiration and sympathy. In the right organization, you have a seat at the management table and are able to both bring innovation to the organization and challenge orthodoxies about the ‘way things work.’ You’re able to make meaningful impact and drive your organization to ask more of its investment in technology, automation and data. You’re able to shift and continue to shift how your colleagues in the operations of the organization spend their time from often performing relatively low value-add mechanical tasks to more valuable, challenging and rewarding work, all while helping to push the company forward and differentiate from competitors.
For those who aren’t there yet or who are early in your career on the path to becoming a real estate CDO, my advice is to think about how you can be a better business partner to the CEO, CFO, COO and other leaders of the business.
You likely have skills and insight that compliment those of the other business leaders. Learning and practicing effective business communication, explaining technical matters that you understand in the terms non-technical business leaders can more easily grasp is a superpower that many never acquire. The good news is it’s a skill that can be learned and practiced and mastered. Doing so will help not only you, but your company.
John D’Angelo is a managing director with Deloitte and is the firm’s real estate solutions leader, designing solutions to address client challenges and push the industry forward. With over 33 years of experience as a management consultant to the global real estate industry, John has helped some of the biggest names in real estate leverage technology and use data to optimize and transform their operations.
Read the January 2023 issue of CPE.