Chris Zissis joined JLL in 2013 to transform a reactive, break-fix IT service into an accountable, client and enterprise-focused technology and data capability. In three years he has shifted the focus away from infrastructure and towards people, capabilities, and business and digital solutions. He has driven digital transformation throughout the company enabling it to create new markets, products and services that engage clients in unique ways. The digital tools developed and rolled out have radically improved business productivity.

Job title
EMEA chief information officer

Company name

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
JLL is a professional services and investment management firm that offers integrated services worldwide to clients seeking increased value by owning, occupying, developing or investing in real estate.

Our focus is to provide clients with strong and reliable data to help them maximise the value of their real estate portfolios. We enable our people to provide superior client services across all portfolios and throughout the business mix by applying and leveraging our collective knowledge digitally.

Leading the EMEA technology team, I work relentlessly with colleagues and clients to ensure the creation of a differentiator that generates true value. This ranges from cloud services for fee earners that enables them to interact with clients’ mobile apps, to online property websites that digitise the relationship, to machine learning of lease documents that improves consistency and efficiency in client portfolio management.

Client demand for enhanced digital access to information and instant access to services is rising due to the superior user experience offered by companies such as Google and Amazon. Our digital-first approach to integrating technologies such as telephone-lead tracking into our property listing tool, OnLine Markets, enables us to track both online and offline leads more effectively. Technologies that mimic offline processes, such as e-signature tool Adobe Sign, speed up traditional commercial approval processes.

By driving digital transformation throughout the firm, I have enabled JLL to create new markets, products and services that engage clients in unique ways. IT’s value has grown from a reactive break-fix service to one of business innovation.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Business Online integrates two formidable cloud-based components to provide a comprehensive 360-degree digitised solution to manage the entire lead generation and client relations process.

Component 1: client relations and property management system - Leveraging cloud-based Microsoft Dynamics, the new data tool equips teams with the rich analytics, interaction history and recent opportunities insight they need to engage clients and convert leads. Data is accessible over the web from any location and on multiple devices, which is increasingly important for a team on the move.

The tool’s powerful search functionality identifies suitable properties for a client using supply and demand matching. Shared lead management allows teams to track all client interaction across the enterprise, which facilitates cross-selling and joined-up conversations. And as the property database is updated in real-time, other sales initiatives are never compromised.

Automated processes such as document generation and integrated document management increase productivity and free up the team’s time to engage clients. Marketing efforts can be more focused as teams are able to quickly identify opportunities and provide a dedicated account service.

Component 2: property listing portal - The CRM integrates seamlessly with the second component of Business Online – OnLine Markets (OLM), which is JLL’s property listing portal. The role of the CRM is to create and maintain the property availability data that JLL promotes to the market on the property listing portal.

The property listing tool was developed using Telerik Sitefinity, a web content management system (CMS) with a convenient drag and drop interface, advance analytics and mobile-responsive templates. Prospects can search for property and view real-time detailed information and e-brochures about each individual property using any device while enjoying a consistent user-experience.

Google analytics integration means all tracking can be consolidated into one centralised location. Leads can be tracked throughout their lifecycle from their initial origin such as marketing ads, through to telephone enquiries and final sales. The valuable information captured by the property listing portal is in turn fed back into the CRM and property data repository in the form of leads – prospects with specific property requirements.

Both components are underpinned by our EMEA data platform, which consolidates information from multiple local and legacy applications into a secure, single source of client contacts and property reporting.

Business Online has already delivered significant success generating leads.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
Product innovation - A few years back, consumer behaviour would change every decade, but now the speed of change sees technological shifts with every new product launch. For a data-driven industry, real estate has been slow to adopt new technologies. At JLL, I have worked closely with our clients to create bespoke solutions to meet their business needs. It’s the forward-thinking approach to real estate: we’re moving our business online, transforming how we do business and the industry, in ways that meet the demands of both existing and new clients.

Arguably the most exciting technology trend in real estate right now is the internet of things (IoT). Our workspaces are becoming smarter, and by 2030 we predict the tactical and operational management of workplaces will largely be undertaken by algorithms analysing millions of datasets.
IoT will see data collected and exchanged by billions of everyday objects, dramatically changing how we live and work. In our offices, objects such as office chairs or lights with embedded smart sensors will detect conditions such as CO2 levels in a room, and emit alerts or responses.

Every year, the JLL business runs an internal recognition scheme called Da Vinci to identify the best innovations in two categories: productivity and revenue generation. Last year the technology team won the platinum awards for both categories. Our revenue-generating innovation win was for a workplace initiative that harnesses IoT to revolutionise the way companies measure space utilisation in real estate. Using sensors and real-time powerful dashboards, clients can measure and adapt their office or retail space to the most productive environment.

We have brought IoT to the market as a subscription-based suite of products where JLL teams and clients can select and match the most relevant solutions from a wish list. There is no other service provider bringing IoT and space utilisation to the industry in this way.

The first of these products is the bRight solution launched through our workplace team. Major blue-chip clients are already benefiting from this product, which enables users to view real-time and historic occupancy data for a specific building, and run predictive analytics. The dashboards we provide clients show real-time utilisation information and heat maps of busy areas such as workstations.

This technology is a real step-change, as analytics on how clients were consuming space were previously obtained using slow, unreliable and manual methods, including ‘walk-arounds’ and stakeholder interviews. Data collection using sensor technology is instantaneous.

Three of five recent accounts won by our workplace team service line are new JLL clients acquired as a result of this innovative solution. The initiative is making an impact both on new business wins and also on existing client development with substantial revenue growth potential.

Business model innovation - Business Online transforms our formerly manual client development business model. It is a powerful combination of cloud-based components that seamlessly integrate lead generation, property data and client relations management. The initiative transforms the way colleagues at JLL work by digitising manual processes previously used to generate, track and manage leads all the way through to sales conversion, and contracts to account management and client retention. The component applications have been modelled and designed around actual business processes rather than driven by the technology itself.

The outcome is radically improved productivity of JLL teams, as the 100% cloud-based initiative frees up time, enabling colleagues to focus on strategic activities. Not only does Business Online offer colossal improvements in employee efficiency, it also drives competitive advantage through consistent and targeted client experience. The initiative is underpinned with data governance and fully aligns to our strategic objectives of using technology and data to deliver superior client service.

We anticipate that the initiative will have a significant impact on the real estate market. There will be minor variations in processes across service providers and locations, but JLL’s way of working is common to many/all companies in the sector. This means that the solution already addresses many common needs and issues for the sector, and as it grows and matures will become a beacon for similar service providers.

We have designed Business Online in such a way as to be extremely flexible, with integration-friendly technology, adaptable multilingual data model, tiered security and functionality designed in modules so that we can mould it to fit anyone’s client and real estate needs

Technology innovation - The second of our Da Vinci platinum wins for innovation last year was for an inspection app that modernises the inspection process, eliminating the need for surveyors to type up paper notes, and enabling them to send client reports instantaneously from the inspection site.

Inspection Tool’s suite of features includes the ability to annotate PDFs and photos, access previous inspection data, calculate floor area, track defects and create management information reporting, including dashboards and data extracts. It also offers a drawing tool, which allows users to quickly create simple floor plans. Once captured, inspection data can be exported into formats such as Word, Excel and PDF.

An inspection app with this level of functionality is an industry first, and an example of how JLL is using technology, process and data to differentiate its service delivery in the marketplace.
Adoption rates have soared and international demand across JLL for Inspection Tool has been overwhelming. Following its launch, the project team has been inundated with requests from JLL colleagues both inside and outside of the UK asking to have it deployed to them. To give an example of the level of demand from internal JLL stakeholders, we’ve received approximately 40 international enquires from at least 25 countries.

Inspection Tool is strongly advocated by JLL lead directors, who champion and recommend the app to other business lines and colleagues.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
I joined JLL as EMEA CIO in 2013 to ‘stop the bleeding’: IT was neither accountable nor credible. Over the last three years we have transformed the strategy, shifting the focus away from infrastructure towards people and capabilities and business and digital solutions.

Digital, technology and data are now recognised as a key strategic pillar of JLL’s success strategy. In 2013, by contrast, technology was seen as a key inhibitor to growth, productivity and better margins.

Our recent annual report makes this strategy clear. “At JLL we are committed to developing and continually enhancing the best data, information-management and technology platform in the commercial real estate industry. Across our business, we rely on innovative technology to serve our clients, support our people and connect our firm.”

Our CEOs and business leaders have to be more and more adept at being technology experts, in addition to bringing their product, market and client knowledge to the table. It is my role as CIO to ensure that the business is equipped with the knowledge, skills, innovation opportunities, priority decisions and capabilities to drive the business strategy and the value that it will create. All of this takes places with a backdrop of realising the entire IT value chain and not only focusing on the next best thing, but also ensuring that unchecked control does not squeeze the life out of innovation and change.

A paradigm shift has taken place. Corporate strategy, once developed in isolation from operational strategy, is increasingly interdependent on technology, procurement, marketing and HR. Digital, data and technology are now embedded in our culture, driving our ambition to be recognised, in the words of our global CEO Christian Ulbrich, as “the best user of advanced technology and live data in real estate and beyond”.

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
Reporting directly to the CEO, I also serve on the EMEA operations executive board. With the proximity to our CEO and board, I am well placed in the organisation to shape and drive our digital agenda. The technology team’s recommendations and progress packs are regularly presented to the ops exec as well as the country managers throughout EMEA and the UK board.

Recently, I have been talking to my leadership about how we better measure the success of digitisation and adoption on the bottom line. This has become a bigger focus for me as we refocus more and more on our investments for not only improving but changing what we go to market with as a firm.

Combined with my own stakeholder relationship management, I lead and encourage the IT management team, our IT business partner experts and wider team to be actively engaged in supporting and communicating the importance of digital transformation to the senior team.
As real estate is a traditional industry, not long after joining JLL I recognised the significant challenges ahead in driving digital adoption and transformation from analogue to digital. To help bridge the gap, I created a new role within my organisation – a technology communications specialist to translate and break down our complex digital capabilities into accessible business benefits for non-technical stakeholders. We have increased awareness of the importance of our digital, technology and data agenda company-wide, and will continue to focus our efforts on this challenge.

These are some examples of the ways we have been successful:

1.Leadership showcases: Each year we take a leading role in showcasing digital initiatives at internal conferences attended by our most senior-level colleagues. IT leadership has stage presence at these events to promote the core message, as well as at the dedicated showcase where our technology product owners demo our initiatives. At a recent senior event we delivered short, engaging and interactive training to country managers so that they could get first-hand experience of the potential of the solutions.

2.Business partnering: We have dedicated IT business partners who work alongside business teams to ensure that requirements are communicated and captured into the solutions. This early-stage involvement and partnership cements IT to business alignment, promoting stakeholder buy-in and adoption.

3.Priority positioning in the strategic e-magazine: We own the digital section of the regional e-magazine where we are able to communicate and share knowledge about our initiatives and the business benefits each month.

4.Digital catalogue: Last year we launched a catalogue of our initiatives broken down by business function in a highly visual and accessible way. This catalogue is also available as a mobile app, ensuring that stakeholders can find out more about our work and products from any device.

5.Leadership communications: We regularly provide email updates to JLL’s leadership and senior team, with advance information on our launches to encourage support throughout their teams.

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
With the rapid evolution of technology, easier access to insightful information and the increase in data freely available online, we are witnessing an age of digital disruption. While real estate isn’t the first to be impacted, a faster response is required. Bringing innovation and opportunities, startups can support us in achieving this ambition, but equally have the potential to become disintermediation threats. Nimble niche players and innovative startups are as much a threat to our business as traditional competitors.

In December 2016, JLL signed a global cooperation agreement with Leverton, a leading global machine and deep learning technology startup, embarking on a strategic partnership for automating and digitalising key administrative processes in lease management. The technology Leverton offers enables the identification, extraction and management of key terms and data from corporate documents, such as leases and contracts. We are integrating these systems into our own technology platforms to transform the way lease documents are reviewed, analysed and managed for our clients.

As well as upskilling and diversifying our expertise by partnering with startups and through strategic acquisitions, we build strong partnerships with top, market-leading tech companies in pursuit of our business ambitions. We are a Microsoft partner and are strongly aligned with NTT, IBM, Cisco, Google and Verizon, to name a few. Our relationship with these technology partners is critical to our success and growth. We foster and maintain collaborative relationships with all our partners, who are considered internally an extension of our team. For the JLL/IBM partnership for example, JLL and IBM technology talent collectively drew up a charter of cooperation combining and articulating our shared values and ethics.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Our increased focus on technology development and delivery services to provide digital solutions and tools for clients affects our recruitment needs and influences our organisational structure. We are driving strong technology and data delivery capability through focused upskilling, business partnerships and technology alliances.

The pace at which we need to recruit has exploded over the last few years. As there is a shortage of technology skills, the market has become very candidate-led. Our recruitment drive has become much more proactive, with recruiters needing to actively seek out and head-hunt talent, and promoting referral schemes rather than rely on the incoming response to recruitment campaigns.

A particular challenge we currently face is finding candidates for technology consultant roles with a good balance of technical and client-facing skills. Candidates tend to be either highly technical but lacking in the required confidence and communication skills to go face to face with clients, or have excellent people skills but are not technically-savvy.

Another change affecting our recruitment strategy is the growth of our technology offering for clients. As we grow our portfolio, we also need to increase the volume and depth of our sales roles. Examples of new sales roles that we have been recruiting include pre-sales leads and adoption, and product management roles as well as technology trainers. Technical sales roles also require candidates with a rare skillset, combining sales experience and technical knowledge.

To address the high demand and skill shortage, we have extended our search outside the real estate industry and into the traditional technology industry, which includes stiff competition for talent from companies across EMEA. We have also developed the diversity of our team geographically, with core competencies in the UK, France, Germany, CEE and southern Europe. These strategies help us to secure the talent that we need to serve our markets effectively.

We are also forging alliances with technology partners such as NTT and IBM whose core competencies are better suited to the delivery of certain aspects than ours. I believe we have a healthy mix of permanent, contractor and partnership agreements in place to address our resource needs, and we evaluate these regularly, strategically and operationally.

We have also diversified our talent marketing strategy by expanding the number of channels used, with a particular focus on social media. Using integrated social media campaign platforms such as Sprinklr, we broadcast our recruitment message across multiple sites including LinkedIn. As part of our talent attraction strategy, we are also working with our team to make their LinkedIn profiles more colloquial, approachable and candidate-friendly to create a positive first impression.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I have implemented a number of changes to our organisational structure within the technology team to enable our business’s digital focus. These changes have strengthened our capability to focus on our strategic priorities to develop enterprise applications, client tools, agile business solutions and digital innovation to support growth and change.

Our previous structure was very much targeted towards modernising the enterprise and transforming technology into an enabler of our growth and business mix. The change also builds on these priorities, but also includes a strong focus on data as an enabler as well as technology. Our ambition to be recognised as the best user of advanced technology and live data in real estate is at the heart of our products and services to our clients.

In the new organisational structure, we have built on two specialised pillars that cater for both our regional and global focus. These pillars are infrastructure and operations services, and business technology services. We have introduced a specialist development and delivery services team of experts (both internal and tech alliances) that focuses solely on the delivery of products, tools and code in line with our business and technology roadmaps.

What makes this team different to a traditional application delivery organisation is that it comprises a combination of architects, technology consultants, developers and product managers. Their objective is to build the future while defining the technology and data future – they are building the plane while flying it, but with very clear direction on what the plane should look like, and the minimum key components for the plane build. We are also not averse to buying the components, and do not feel we have to build everything ourselves in cases where it is not our core competence.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
My firm belief that a relationship-driven approach is key to delivering technology as a business enabler and differentiator is reflected in our partner strategy. Our technology partners are diverse both in terms of size and capabilities. At one end of the spectrum we work with startups such as virtual data room pioneer Imprima iRooms and machine and deep learning technology specialist Leverton. Our preferred partners also include dynamic, small to middle-sized enterprises such as South African real estate software specialist OpenBox, and mobile app and IoT developer Waracle. At the other end of the spectrum we work in close partnership with larger and more traditional industry players, including Microsoft, Cisco, Verizon, IBM and NTT.

For me, the most significant technology deal we made last year was the global cooperation agreement with Leverton. As we expand these optimised lease extraction services across the business, clients stand to benefit from the more efficient processing of their important documentation. In the longer term, clients will also benefit from the insights we can provide from better integration of this data with systems used across JLL, such as our real estate analytics platform RED. Leverton has the potential to work seamlessly alongside our existing digital tools and applications to offer increased transparency, and help clients meet regulatory requirements and make more informed decisions about their real estate activities.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
Our strategy is geared toward pushing forward with the key IT enablers for the business growth strategy and realising the benefits of key investments made to date. There are three specific areas in which we will focus our efforts.

1. People: People are a key priority is building strong technology and data delivery capability through upskilling, business partnerships and technology alliances. Our goal is to recruit, retain and partner with the most digitally-savvy people, creating a digital mindset and DNA throughout the organisation. By institutionalising innovation, our corporate culture will cultivate forward-thinking and game-changing opportunities for JLL. Importance will also be placed on the continued partnership between IT and the business, ensuring the alignment of digital and business strategies. 

2. Enabling platforms and data: These will deliver the enterprise, business and data systems in line with agreed and prioritised investments. Organic growth through M&As has led to diverse and widespread data throughout the region. The EMEA data platform is a collection of services, including a centralised data repository that collates data from key applications including our Microsoft Dynamics CRM and property system. This single source of client contacts and property reporting across EMEA will provide a secure, consolidated, consistent and reusable view of the data.

3. Digital, business and client solutions: With technology at the forefront of our target business mix, client relationships and growth, digital solutions and tools for our clients and markets are key to our strategy. We have an ambitious goal to digitise all JLL data, workflows and business applications by 2020 to optimise our business functions. Some examples of our progress in this area include Inspection Tool, which replaces traditional paper-based methods of collecting data with a mobile app for surveyors to capture notes on iPads and send reports directly from the inspection site, and Leverton, which digitally extracts lease information, previously keyed in manually.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
We are rising to challenging market conditions by retaining a growth mindset with our ability to make investments and acquisitions. Our focus is on our strategic initiatives to become more of a digital company and serve our investors and corporate clients better.

To reduce the impact of Brexit, we are re-evaluating and refocusing our investment on the projects and initiatives with the most significant ROI benefit.

We will continue to drive our digital strategy, moving more of our business online to improve the ways that clients engage with JLL. In addition to creating lead-generating opportunities, digitising our channels automates previously manual processes, freeing up teams’ time to focus client service.
Business and enterprise applications that bolster productivity and transform the way we work through better collaboration and knowledge sharing will remain a high priority.

The consolidation of our data assets into our EMEA data platform provides a reliable, single source of data integrated with countries and applications across the region. Powerful dashboards leveraging these data assets enable our people to offer the intelligence clients require to make data-driven decisions. This targeted focus on technology and data strengthens our competitive edge and market position.

We are a very diverse team geographically with core competencies in the UK, France, Germany, CEE and southern Europe, and the leverage of our partners NTT and IBM. With global and regional recruitment and a combination of centralised and highly independent interlinking services, I believe this balance will enable us to serve the UK and the rest of EMEA as we have always done.

When did you start your current role?
April 2013

What is your reporting line?
In my role as EMEA CIO, I report directly to the EMEA CEO and serve on the EMEA operations executive board.

Are you a member of the executive leadership?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
JLL employs an EMEA chief data officer working closely with the EMEA management team and me to drive our ambition to be the undisputed leader in data, information management and analytics in real estate services. In addition a board member chairs the digital board on which I sit.

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
10,000+ in the EMEA region and 77,000 globally.


What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
We have balanced our investment and costs in infrastructure from 90% of the budget in 2013 to 45% in 2016, and leveraged this in over 20+ acquisitions since 2013. Circa 55% of budget (as at 2016) is invested in our business, digital data solutions and platform, which include innovation and R&D. This world-class platform is the backbone of a regional business, which has grown from a $700m business to circa $1.3bn in four years. 


Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. CIO peers
  2. Analyst houses
  3. Industry bodies
  4. Media
  5. Consultants


Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
We have a designated head of IT security who is a practitioner in cybersecurity and CISO. Our head of IT security reports into the CIO management structure and leads an accelerated security programme of enhanced incident management, APT prevention, multifactor authentication, SIEM, cybersecurity awareness and process documentation/improvement. We also have a formally joined-up global and regional CISO team with capabilities and commitments managed by the CIOs on a global basis.


Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?

How many employees are there in your IT team?
Circa 180 full-time employees, excluding some leveraged outsource partners. Recruitment has been very high on my and my team’s agenda since 2013 as we measure ourselves against key KPIs in this area. We are not overly struggling to recruit as we rely on a balance of internal and external capabilities, and also recruit extensively across our geography. Our philosophy is one of paying mid to upper market, with high reward for delivery.

Although we don’t operate a formal apprenticeship scheme in technology and data, we look to our partners to place students and new graduates in our teams. Our people and team strategy has not changed since 2013, which is a balanced in-house and out-task organisational capability. We will recruit some additional in-house role in 2017/18, with a view to increasing some coding and data science capabilities.

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?


Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • ERP
  • CRM
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • ERP
  • CRM
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
With those listed above, we have been making incremental or large investments since 2013. Top technologies that we are investing in that are set to have the biggest impact on our market are VR, deep learning and IoT.


Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?