CASE STUDY

The worst day of a CIO’s life

Simon Sharwood

When Ben White decided to develop some software, things didn’t go well.

“We sat out IT for ten years,” said White, Director of IT and Property Management at real estate company Ray White, told a Google press event yesterday. Each of the company’s

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1000-plus offices operated its own IT infrastructure.

But eventually he recognised a need for innovation and decided bespoke software could be the answer.

“We came to the view that we did not want to sit out the next round of innovation,” and decided to think about providing “a platform that 1000 entrepreneurs can use to build businesses, and 10,000 people can use to further their careers.”

“We started with Microsoft.net and one year later we had 15 servers, but no [working] applications.” Frustrated, White asked himself “How was it we became an IT shop, not an ideas shop?”

But things got worse.

Having decided that continuing to develop on the .net platform was futile, he then dumped all the unimplemented code because it could not be re-used on his chosen platform, Google’s App Engine.

“I sat with the chief architect on the day App Engine was launched and we realised there was a different way. Since then we’ve been working with App Engine.”

But sadly the code the company had already developed was not usable on the new platform.

“It was one of the worst days of my life when we deleted all the .net code,” White said. “Philosophically I was a good experience but we did not keep any code,” save for a copy on a USB drive he can’t bear to let go of.

Today, Ray White runs a suite of applications in Google’s cloud, and is relying on them to create competitive advantage.

“One in seven Australians are landlords and property managers collect over $30billion in rent each year and manage $700 billion in assets.”

“Property management,” he adds, “has not evolved in a generation” and no real estate agency delivers an excellent customer experience.

Ray White’s new platform, dubbed Portfolio, “connects landlords to tenants to trades-people and with everyone in the ecosystem.” The application’s residence in the cloud means it is available on any internet-connected device, a boon for highly-mobile real estate workers and tradies. Different interfaces for different stakeholders means each sees the information they care about most.

While White is pleased with his new application, for some time he was not sure just how to build it.

“We did not think we could contact Google,” he said. “Then someone on the team said we should, we did and we realised there are actual people there.”

“I made a false assumption: there’s no phone number on google.com.”

The company’s relationship with Google provide decisive, because as the project progressed “I felt comfort around the experience we had and the fundamental alignment of culture between Google and Ray White.” But that comfort did not extend to asking for custom service levels or security.

“I get the feeling the SLA is something that is not open for negotiation,” White said. Nor did he ask for custom security, as he “did not think it would be entertained.”

Data domiciling was another issue, as the company has decided to store its credit card and personal data in Australia, for legislative and PCI DSS reasons.

The upside is that tools in the cloud offered the services White wanted, with two-factor authentication especially valuable.

Unlike many companies that adopt cloud services, White cannot point to immediate savings as his company had no comparable infrastructure against which to calculate financial benefits.

“ROI will be in the new services,” he said.

Ray White also considered salesforce.com, but White judged it “too expensive” to implement at the company’s 1000-strong chain of offices.

Google also created some initial objections.

“The real estate industry fears Google because of disintermediation. We fear they will get between us and the buyer. But Google is about getting towards the consumer and so are we.

We are leveraging all the investment Google has made to get closer to our customers.”