REINZ’s journey to tech transformation

Published on the 05/08/2021 | Written by Heather Wright

REINZ transformation_Kirti Desai

Leading genuine technology transformation…

Kirti Desai is straight forward. Transformation isn’t as simple as people think.

“Actually, getting the work done, or even knowing where to start in defining your transformation journey is a lot of work,” Desai says.

The chief digital and innovation officer for The Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ), whose previous roles include head of business transformation for Paymark and digital sales performance director at Westpac, Desai is well versed in transformation.

She’s led REINZ ‘on quite a journey in terms of defining their transformation’.

It’s a journey that the entire REINZ business has been on – with the customer at the heart of the transformation – as a membership organisation, members are ‘our number one priority’, Desai notes.

For REINZ the transformation started with understanding the customer journey including an audit of what was being offered, the pain points and then looking to understand exactly what the customers – in their varying forms – needed from the organisation today and in the future.

“The first thing they think is ‘I’m going to lose my job’”

“We wanted to define the experience customers wished they could have with us – and not just what that experience looks like, but what it felt like when you got there. Getting people to describe a feeling helps you understand what it needs to feel like when we deliver that experience,” Desai, who will be speaking at the upcoming CIO Summit, says.

“The feeling bit is what gets people resonating with your brand.”

REINZ also did an audit of its technology and architecture so it understood fully not just what it had, but what was needed to support the experience customers’ said they wanted.

“We looked at what technology we needed to support the customer  experience, what it needed to look like and developed the roadmap of how we would get there. What are the areas that are the biggest risk? What are the things that you need to do first versus the things you can do later on?”

Alongside all that, the Institute was looking at its own evolution, with a widespread commercialisation strategy to help it understand the wider market segments, where it had the skills and experiences to deliver a unique experience and where it wanted to focus its efforts for both existing and new customers.

“That helped us with a growth strategy and starting to think about diversifying the business slightly, so you are evolving as the market and customer needs evolve.”

For REINZ, the transformation strategy has translated to more structured growth, a move into the data analytics space, and a series of new products, including an automated valuation model, using advanced robotics to constantly analyse house prices across New Zealand to provide estimates of values for real estate agents and the internal team.

The REINZ DataHub is a central hub for accessing and understanding REINZ property data. REINZ has invested in a Datamart, pulling all REINZ’s data into one platform that allows APIs and web services.

“There was a bit of organic growth before I got here. Now it is definitely more structured growth and everything is happening in a targeted way,” Desai says.

“Data driven analytics is really where the business is evolving and I think most businesses are going in the same direction,” she says.

“But what that means is that we have thought about our infrastructure in a different way, around what are the foundational things you need, what enables the customer experience and therefore what are the products and services that you can then offer?”

The transformation programme is structured so that any changes or new systems need to fall into the areas of innovation, enablement or foundation.

When it comes to driving a high-performance culture – a critical component in leading a genuine technology transformation – Desai offers up three key tips:

  1. Empower your people, allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. “Sometimes a mistake can actually lead to a new opportunity too,” she notes.
  2. Ensure upfront, clear open conversation and allow people to challenge each other’s thinking in respectful ways. “That helps create a culture of people asking questions, which is not a bad thing, and that way, everyone is starting to think a little differently – which is what you want.”
  3. Provide strategic direction, but not the how. “It’s important to be very clear about what the outcome needs to be, but your team should develop the how and come up with the ideas because if you tell them every step to take, you don’t get any different (and better) ways of thinking.”

Oh, and one other thing: Tackle the elephant in the room upfront.

“Saying to people we are going to do a digital transformation means nothing. People think digital probably means automation of some sort, and the first thing they think is ‘I’m going to lose my job’.

“The elephant in the room should be addressed versus ignoring it, which just creates more uncertainty.

“And actually, in most organisations where you go through a true transformation of the digital sort, you actually start with your people, your customers. They are at the heart of your change which is around improving the processes for your people so that you can service your customer faster. It’s not that we fancy putting in some new technology.”

The 2021 CIO Summit will be held in Auckland and virtually, August 31-September 01. Register here.

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