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Global real estate firm gets edge with cloud and mobile upgrade

Warwick Ashford

Global commercial real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield has pursued cloud and mobile technologies to gain a competitive edge in the property sales market.

The firm wanted to give its 15,000 employees around the world access to corporate information anytime, anywhere.

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The company eventually embraced cloud computing because it wanted to avoid capital investment in new infrastructure, said John McKeown, chief information officer in Europe for Cushman & Wakefield.

“We do not want to own and maintain the infrastructure required to make it happen,” he told the IDC Consumerisation of IT Conference 2013 in London.

Corporate email has been switched to Office 365, customer relationship management is through Salesforce.com, storage is through Box.com’s enterprise offering, HR uses Oracle’s on-demand offering and service desk is through ServiceNow.com.

As part of the “mobile first” strategy, the firm has redesigned its website to ensure it is optimised for use on mobile devices and it has begun developing apps to provide information to clients.

But 18 months into the new strategy, McKeown said the firm faced the challenge of migrating employees mainly from Blackberry handsets to others better suited to staff needs.

“The driver is not consumerisation per se, but giving employees the ability to use information more effectively, the ability to be more flexible to achieve a better work-life balance, and the ability to access the right information at the right time, which has proven to be a big competitive advantage,” he said.

However, this has not been without its challenges. “One of the biggest challenges has been managing the change within IT in terms of support, security and cost,” he said.

McKeown said organisations should start small and expand as knowledge and experience grows. Cushman & Wakefield started by inviting employees to buy their own devices. It then provided corporate emails to those devices.

“At first, we empowered users to choose their own devices, layered in a company data plan, and provided best-endeavour support,” he said.

While this approach worked well in the US, McKeown admits that there has been some pushback in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, where employees would prefer the company to provide the devices.

In line with the “start small” approach, the company has chosen to support only one version of Android on one device, where employees prefer a company-supplied device.

McKeown said organisations should also talk to their mobile service providers about data plans and costs when starting to mobilise the workforce.

“There is a lot of competition in the mobile data market, and we found our providers were willing to help us get to our future state, which meant we could migrate 7,800 BlackBerry users to a choose your own device programme at neutral cost,” he said.

It is important to ensure security measures do not affect the user experience

McKeown also advised organisations to expect to use four to seven times more mobile data than before, and plan for that by building relevant data plans, including roaming, into contracts, and to educate employees on how to use data allocations effectively.

He said companies should also expect to “sell the change” because change is not accepted by everyone. “Emphasise why the change is important for the business,” said McKeown.

When formulating mobile policies, he said it is important to involve all the business stakeholders such as HR, legal and finance.

“But because most users will not read the policies, security and risk are important components in regular employee education programmes,” he said.

While security controls should be fit for purpose, McKeown said it is important to ensure security measures do not affect the user experience, otherwise they will go around the controls.

As a final point, he said companies should expect a huge increase in the use of company Wi-Fi and should plan accordingly to ensure there is enough Wi-Fi capacity to meet increased demand.

“I am not saying what we have done is all working perfectly or that there is not still a lot of work to do, but hopefully our experience will provide some guidelines for other companies facing similar challenges,” said McKeown.


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