During a CIO panel discussion at the 2014 NMHC OpTech Conference & Exposition, leading executives talked about how the responsibilities of CIOs have changed dramatically, from being responsible for the care and maintenance of equipment to leveraging technology systems and applications to help their companies set strategic agendas.
The most visible evidence of the evolution is in the organizational structure. Whereas CIOs traditionally reported to CFOs in the past because their focus was on managing IT costs, many now report to the COO because their contributions are a key element of the operations and marketing programs.
Scott Wesson, senior vice president and CIO at UDR, noted that back when a CIO was a relatively new concept at many firms there were many tasks for which no one was really responsible, so they ultimately fell to the CIO. For example, Wesson recounted a time earlier in his career when he was working at Lincoln Property Company and a coworker burst into his office in a semi panic because the light bulb on an overhead projector had burnt out. “I was like, is this my job?” he said. “And I quickly realized that if you plug it in, it’s my job.”
“I think there’s recognition that we do more than manage the gear. When I go into a meeting, I hardly get asked to fix a laptop anymore,” joked Tom Bumpass, managing director and CIO of Greystar.
And the role continues to evolve, with CIOs noting that even in the last 24 months, focus has narrowed to figuring out how technology can enhance the value of the properties. Apartment firms are now collecting loads of data, so the challenge for CIOs is to turn information into actionable business intelligence.
Shawn Mahoney, CIO for GID, said he’s been developing data dashboards that can help “shorten decision-making times by giving them info that’s relevant and current. ... We’re using data visualization tools to get about 20 charts that we can put in an interactive format. We want regional and management people to get what they need quickly.”
Several other CIOs noted that they also were focused on pulling out a limited number of key metrics and assigning a red-yellow-green evaluation to give executives a snapshot of how operations are performing at any moment.
“The best business intelligence systems are the ones that reflect the goals and desires of leadership,” said Wesson. “We continue to evolve ours, but I think we still have a ways to go in leveraging data in a way that moves the company efficiently around our core operating goals.”
The CIOs also commented on the fact that whereas this process of collecting and analyzing the data used to be an expensive prospect, forcing companies to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars, technological advancements and cloud services have made progress more attainable.
But with new technologies developing daily and mountains of new data becoming more accessible, the question of how to balance investments in these areas and the need for innovation is always an issue. Most of the panelists said they relied on an executive committee to help drive many of those decisions based on overarching business goals.
“We have a lot of technologies as a third-party manager,” said Bumpass. “What we’ve found is our resources get consumed in just managing the day to day, so we are starting to carve out resources for R&D and trying out these [new] technologies.”