Countrywide is the UK's largest estate agency and property services group, operating more than 1,300 associated branches across England, Scotland and Wales. Countrywide’s network of 10,000 people provide estate agency, lettings, mortgage services, land and new homes, auctions, surveying, conveyancing and corporate property management services.
Countrywide sell almost one in 10 houses, handle 30% of all residential mortgage valuations and are the UK’s largest mortgage broker.
Brooks was previously vice president and CIO at McDonald’s Restaurants Limited, the UK operating company of the McDonald’s Corporation, and is now Interim CIO at Brooks Consulting Services.
IT leader: Ivan Brooks, Group Chief Information Officer.
In role since: CIO from August 2008 - January 2013.
Reporting line: Report to Group Commercial Director, who has operational leadership responsibility for a number of Countrywide’s central support functions, including IT.
How often does the CIO meet with the CEO: Every week.
Board level seat: A member of the executive management team.
IT budget: Over the five years to 2013, Countrywide’s technology and communications expenditure will be in the range £20-25 million per annum, trending downwards.
IT estate and or number of log on accounts under the control of the IT leader: 10,000 log-in accounts.
Level of the workforce that relies on technology to carry out their tasks: 100% of the workforce. All members of staff need reliable access to technology on a daily basis in order to be able to do their jobs.
IT staff currently employed: Around 150.
Split between in-house/outsourced staff: Virtually all job roles are insourced, though we have been researching our sourcing options over the last 12 months and I envisage making a number of strategic changes in the near future.
IT management team and reporting structure: The IT leadership team is comprised of myself, plus my three IT Directors (accountable for Business Change, IT Services and our Online presence), together with senior managers responsible for Business Relationship Management and Programme Delivery, as well as my HR and Finance business partners.
Primary technology platforms at the organisation: Each of Countrywide’s five main operating divisions uses a workflow software platform that is specific to their sector, provided by a niche property services industry supplier.
Primary technology suppliers: Microsoft, HP and Dell for our central and end-user equipment, together with software provided by several niche property services industry suppliers. Systems infrastructure, integration and professional services are called off from CGI, Phoenix ICM and O2 Unify. Print capability is sourced from Danwood. Voice and data communications are provided by O2, Virgin Media Business, Global 4 and Mitel.
Significant strategic technology deals struck in the last 12 months: We completed our transition to a single group-wide data network provided by Virgin Media Business at the end of 2011. This is a core technology backbone, facilitating transformational business process efficiencies and enabling innovation, by providing new voice over IP telephony across the company. Countrywide has one of the largest photocopier fleets in the UK; in excess of 1,500 devices. An upgrade programme for all machines completed in Q1 2012, installing the latest equipment and reducing per page print costs.
Percentage of your applications/infrastructure run from the cloud: A low percentage – say 2% - and even then these are not core applications. However, a project is underway to migrate our Financial Services business on to a Cloud solution and I would certainly expect the importance of cloud (both internal and external) to trend upwards over the next three years to cover perhaps 30% plus of our applications.
Major technology or transformation project recently completed and how did it transform operations, customer experience or the organisation: Countrywide is very excited about the results it saw from a voice over IP (VOIP) pilot programme in retail branch estate, which is now into full roll-out. VOIP as a technology has been around for a long time, but has only recently become mature and viable on today’s ADSL broadband networks.
The business transformation from all angles has been pretty radical. Most importantly, our customers are seamlessly re-routed to a central support desk if a phone in a particular branch can’t be answered when they call. With that assurance in mind, company staff in high streets across the country are now more confident in spending additional time talking to customers and helping them to buy, sell or rent a home.
We have big plans for VOIP. We will put a new phone onto every desk in Countrywide by the end of 2014 – transforming our customer experience and facilitating considerable cost savings in telephony infrastructure and call costs.
Did the above project reach its cost, timing and transformation objective: Timings, costs and benefits were in line with or better than initial expectations.
Business transformation programme – beyond technology – that the CIO owns or is a major contributor to: Focused on two different elements, firstly I have a direct accountability to drive transformational improvement within the IT function – this means the people, organisation and technology services that support Countrywide.
Secondly, where business transformation is concerned, my role is to identify and demonstrate high impact technology-fuelled innovation opportunities. For these change programmes to be successful it is essential that I pass the baton to one of my peers in business operations to sponsor and drive delivery and roll-out to their own business areas.
I have played a lead role in transforming Countrywide’s approach to Information Security over the last one to two years
This is far broader than just technology. It influences virtually every aspect of the way in which we operate. Raising the topic up the management agenda, establishing appropriate policies and an organisation structure to back them up, have all been challenging. Countrywide appreciates that Information Security is a journey rather than a point solution and is committed to on-going improvement. We were very pleased to be able to inform our clients, many of which are large organisations in the finance services sector, that we successfully attained ISO27001 certification earlier this year, which I am sure further cements our position as a trusted supplier.
Strategic aim of the CIO and IT operation for the next financial year: To transform the company’s IT services by establishing a close working partnership with a major technology services supplier, working together to deploy a new technology environment onto every company desktop – covering both computing and telephony. The end result will be a more reliable, scalable and cost-effective business, positioning Countrywide to take full advantage of the inevitable future upturn in the housing market – whether that comes in 2013, 2014 or beyond.
Strategy in the use by employees of their own technology, use of mobiles and how social networking is impacting operations, customer experiences or the organisation: We are making appropriate use of social networking for marketing purposes, to complement our significant online presence on property portals and on our own websites, including www.propertywide.co.uk. We are seeing increasing numbers of customers choosing to use their smartphones to find us online, so in response we have recently developed new mobile-friendly websites and apps.
Strategy for dealing with shadow IT and BYOD including influence and engagement with executives, to place the right controls around employee choice: Shadow IT is best dealt with by maintaining close and influential links with each business area. Countrywide’s IT team is a shared services function at group level, so it is incredibly important that IT has people who specifically own the relationship with each operating division. The aim of course is to prevent any shadow IT activities, but failing that it is essential that we at least become aware of them.
I’m not satisfied with where we are on BYOD in Countrywide right now, but I can say with confidence that we are track to deal with it. The first consideration has to be around data security. Our imminent data centre transformation programme will centralise all data and deliver it to each user via a virtual desktop. We can then overlay a robust BYOD approach. In the interim we will continue to restrict corporate data to company-owned devices only.
Technologies being considered to enable transformation: Desktop virtualisation and voice over IP for every employee. Compute power, storage and applications centralised, outsourced and potentially cloud-based, on a scalable “pay for what you use” tariff.
Transformational inspiration sources: Understanding real business problems and opportunities and seeing them first hand, by spending as much time as possible with customer-facing staff, is the best source of inspiration. In my view that’s the job of a CIO – finding a technology possibility for every commercial opportunity.