Big data drives big change

Big data drives big change

Aidan Coleman, a business technology executive with more than two decades of diverse international experience, joined Charter Hall in 2014 fresh from a three-year stint delivering technology transformation at Stockland.

“Charter Hall came to a realisation around three years ago that it needed to take a more strategic view of technology, and how it could be better utilised to both grow the business and to scale the business,” Coleman says.

“Property is interesting because it’s one of those industries that is a bit of a laggard when it comes to technology. IT is certainly a huge focus for property businesses now and at Charter Hall we’re in a really good position. IT has now firmly got a seat at the executive table and we've started to deliver on the strong pipeline of solutions for improved services for our people and customers. ”

As a property investment and funds management business focused on office, retail, and industrial property sectors, Charter Hall has experienced rapid growth over the last decade, a factor that was contributing to their immature IT strategy of three years ago. 

It was Coleman’s task, as the incoming Chief Technology Officer, to establish a clearer strategy and identify opportunities for improvement, putting in place the capabilities underneath to make it happen. 

“The immediate focus was really to establish the capability within the IT team, based on shifting from what was very much an operations focus. Charter Hall had grown its IT function organically to include a team of really dedicated, talented people who have primarily come out of the project infrastructure space,” Coleman explains. 

“While the team was very proficient in this space, when it came to process improvement, project delivery and applications development we recognised that we needed to bring in new skills and capability to lead the business to achieves its strategic goals.”

And while Coleman will admit that there is no end date to the continuous improvement initiatives that the Group is planning, he is making significant progress. At this month’s RealComm conference in Silicon Valley, the Australian property funds management group was the only Australian nominee for a prestigious Digie Award.

“This nomination reflects the success of our strategy and recognises the depth of the skills and talent of our team and our ability to create a culture of innovation in order to deliver greater efficiency into our business processes.” 

A three-stage process of change
With a wide range of objectives to tackle, the IT team at Charter Hall has been implementing a three-year transformation program aligned with the business objectives. 

“It’s been a very interesting couple of years. We’re about a year-and-a-half into the Enterprise journey and we’ve completed our first launch of major projects, which have been quite varied,” he says.

“These include a range of initiatives to really simplify and streamline how we undertake our financial processes internally. For instance, we’ve just put in a new solution in terms of how we process tax, financial reconciliation and our transactional banking process.”

Charter Hall has also been doing a lot of work in the customer space, developing a customer strategy that is focused on understanding what their customers needs are and turning those needs into great customer experiences..

This has been no small undertaking, with Coleman collaborating with leadership from the property sector and marketing teams internally to develop more user-friendly customer portals, and automate traditional B2B functions, like service request management. 

He’s also worked closely with Charter Hall’s Head of People, Brand and Community, Natalie Devlin, to implement a new HR platform, Workday, which aims to support a broader talent strategy. 

“We launched Workday in April of this year; it was a big piece of work which focused on enabling a smarter employee experience so we can better manage and enable talent mobility across the orgnisation. We realised that there was a great opportunity to connect our people and create better efficiency in our systems and processes in HR.”

Harnessing ‘Big Data’ for big results
Charter Hall is redefining its relationship with information technology both within the business and externally. Opening up the world of big data within its property portfolio and at a retail level has been a game-changer, Coleman confirms, particularly in terms of gaining a competitive edge.

“We’ve been embracing new data-capture technologies across our retail platforms, where we’re rolling out WiFi, for instance,” he explains. 

“It’s great for our shoppers and retailers in the centres, but it's also giving us a whole world of data around people: everything from how people enjoy our shopping centres, to how our marketing campaigns are impacting our foot traffic.””

Charter Hall has been working with some third parties to integrate that data into areas like basket analysis, so it can gain a greater understanding around not just how people are using the retail centres, but also what they are buying, when, and why.

This is creating huge insights in terms of building strong customer profiles and also in terms of evaluating the competition, Coleman says.

From ad-hoc, manual processes to streamlined systems
Processing data to use in forecasting and predictive models has also been really important, and the company has a focus to drive that forward. 

“It’s really about getting a focus on productivity and process improvement around our core focus, and trying to deliver to not only release our people internally – so they can focus on adding value to drive the business forward – but also to improve the quality of information that is flowing right through our business,” he adds.

“This is all in the pursuit of streamlining our operations so that as a funds manager, we can make the best decisions around doing what we do best, which is managing our investors’ money.”

“I think that as we succeed in this space – and a number of initiates have already been implemented or are in the process of being implemented – the focus is shifting towards the customer experience. It’s a continuous program of working with the business more broadly on a range of initiatives, focused on both automating and streamlining our core processes and systems, and also delivering new capabilities, new functionality, new reporting systems, and a big focus on our customer strategy.”

Another key focus and “a key pillar” that has been recently implemented is a philosophy to create a ‘best in class’ workplace, Coleman adds. 

“Anyone who comes into our environment will tell you it’s quite energised and fully tech-enabled,” he says. 

“We are fully embracing ‘agile’ as a way of working, not just a project methodology. The conditions are ripe for change. It’s a great workplace with low levels of bureaucracy and a huge opportunity to innovate. I’m glad to say that the changes we’ve made to date are really working.”

Charter Hall
Aidan Coleman