In the Trenches with David Stanford, Executive Managing Director & Founder, RealFoundations
David Stanford is an Executive Managing Director and Founder of RealFoundations, a professional services firm that provides management consulting, managed services and energy solutions to companies that develop, own, operate, service, occupy or invest in real estate. David has over 23 years combined experience in providing strategic financial and operational improvement services to clients in the property and building industry. He leads the company’s Owner/Operator and Institutional Investor practices and is responsible for corporate development activities of the firm.
Chris Saah: David, I’d like to start by asking you about the role of the CIO. There is a lot being written and discussed about how that role is changing both throughout the business world and in the commercial real estate industry. Can you tell us how you view the 21st century CRE technology leader?
David Stanford: If I put my Realcomm hat on and think of our audience, one of the things we see and talk about is the concept of explicit separation of information and technology, because for the most part, in real estate, IT has been perceived as a cost center. Therefore, we find that many of the practitioners in CRE IT have been limited to focusing on the “T” and really don’t spend enough time on the “I”.
Chris Saah: Well said.
David Stanford: If someone wants to be a 21st century CRE technology leader – to grow and shape their career and have a seat at the leadership table for a real estate investor, developer, owner - we believe it’s your job to take a significant role in shaping the operating platform and information strategy.
Chris Saah: Could you describe your view of the operating model?
David Stanford: We try and keep it relatively simple and think in terms of two major pieces: the functional model and the information model. One of the ways we feel the technology leader can play a major role is that they are generally process minded and can add an important perspective to the mix.
So the functional model is a map of all of the work that gets performed on behalf of the organization and we find that in the vast majority of companies this is not explicitly defined. People do their part but there is no real understanding of all of the functions in the organization and how they interact. And then there is the information model which represents all of the information required for the work that gets performed, whether it is inside or outside of the company.
For the technology leader understanding how these two areas come together is critically important, especially, for example, when dealing with sourcing. Because whereas traditionally, all of the systems were kept on premise, many things are now moved to a data center or hosted in the cloud.
Chris Saah: And managing them requires an entirely different skill set.
David Stanford: Exactly. Now the IT leader needs to become a manager of relationships, a manager of contracts, and a manager of service levels versus someone doing some task such as making sure backups ran last night because we have found a service that can do that better. So as these technology functions move outside of the organization, we can focus more on the information aspect of the company. Ultimately, that makes you a more valuable member of the management team and you can play a bigger role, especially if you understand how the business works and how the functional model and the information model interrelate.
Chris Saah: I know you have spent some time refining how you explain the technology application map. Could you spend a few minutes outlining that?
David Stanford: Because we speak to business executives about these things we have worked on removing the acronyms and consultant-speak and we’ve simplified it to these three parts: the Interaction platform, the Core Transaction Processing and Reporting layer, and the Infrastructure components.
Chris Saah: The Interaction platform is a fairly new concept for some. Could you elaborate on that?
David Stanford: Well, as you and I discussed before the interview, it’s the ability to interact and work in a materially different way. It’s not always one-on-one; we often do not execute work in a synchronous manner. So when you have tools like Yammer and Skype for Business and have IM, voice, video, screen sharing, and these multiple channels just one click away, as you’re well familiar with, it dramatically changes how people work.
Generally these tools have not been well represented in the IT strategies of the past and they have a significant impact on infrastructure and decisions about whether to move these to a managed service provider or to the cloud. There is a fairly significant information model change that we are seeing and the interaction platform is key to helping people work differently and more efficiently and more how people want to work.
For example, we were talking to a leader at a global company about a CRM solution. He was basically saying that he didn’t have the time to enter whatever he spoke to people about in some CRM tool, he was already overwhelmed with email, and couldn’t pick up the phone at 3:00 AM to talk with someone in China. But give him a tool like Yammer where he could dialogue about opportunities that were in the works or Skype for Business where he could dynamically chat and conference with a distributed team and he’d be all over that!
Chris Saah: Would you agree that increasingly, and rather dramatically, the business leaders are looking for innovation in this interaction space and taking for granted much of the transaction and infrastructure components?
David Stanford: Absolutely. The business doesn’t want to hear about your needing to buy more hard drives or backup tapes. All they hear about from their colleagues in the industry is about moving to the cloud and mobility tools and they don’t want to pay for that kind of technology anymore.
Chris Saah: Thanks for your time today, David. There is so much more we can talk about. Perhaps we can pick this up at a later date.
David Stanford: My pleasure, Chris. I’d be happy to.
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