In the Trenches with CBRE’s Don Goldstein

In this week’s ‘In the Trenches’, Chris Saah chats with Don Goldstein, Global CIO for CB Richard Ellis. CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) is the world’s premier, full-service real estate services company. Operating globally, the firm holds a leadership position in virtually all of the world’s key business centers

It’s been a few months since we have chatted, how has 2011 been so far?
Crazy! No lull as we have had in prior years. We have hit the ground running.
I assume some of that is the result of the ING REIM acquisition.
That is definitely a part of it. But we are also seeing a marked increase in requests for IT solutions. I think that people had put self-constrained filters on their requests the past few years knowing that resources were tight. They knew we just had to focus on keeping the lights on. Well, those filters have clearly come off and the doors have been opened with all of the catch-up demand. The company is now willing to make an investment in platforms, competitive edge type projects, and frankly cool, innovative stuff. If IT investment is a barometer for our industry’s health, then we can say things are looking up.
Is there a theme to the types of initiatives you are being asked to undertake?
Well, I’m seeing a strong willingness to make capital investment as I have not seen in quite a while in infrastructure and on the business side. I would say one common theme is global platforms. What we have found is that while things were lean, some solutions were developed at a local or regional level. They figured it out on their own how to get the job done and now the business is realizing that we have to be more consistent.
And who is driving this demand? Is it coming from the bottom up or top down, or are your clients driving it?
Our clients are definitely demanding consistency in how we deliver services and that demand is filtering in from the field. At the same time, our executives have bought into this and realize how much IT can play a role in achieving the global footprint of our strategic plan. People need and want to share information and the business is beginning to see how difficult that is over disparate platforms.
So it sounds like life has gotten a little easier in as much as you do not have to solicit for sponsorship.
Well it has and it hasn’t. You’re right, the sponsorship is there. Now the issue is that demand is growing and expectations are high. There has been all of this pent up unmet need for quite a while and the question everyone is asking about our solutions is “When?”
So how do you deal with that? It’s difficult to tell people to stop doing their own innovation when you can’t immediately give them something to takes its place.
Yes, that is exactly the point. It is a very fine line. First, we have to start delivering some incremental solutions to meet some of the need short-term. Some of the global platforms will take years to fully develop but there is some functionality we can deliver now. And in some cases we are telling people to stick with their home-grown solutions for now until we can deliver a better alternative. It’s not the same answer for everyone. It depends on where we are in the life cycle of the enterprise solution, how much we can deliver incrementally, and how much a local solution delivers without impeding the long-term objective.
What type of solutions are you focusing on?
Financials, HR Systems, CRM. We are working to create truly global systems in all of these areas. Collaboration sites are another focus. We are finding that there is an acceptance of Web 2.0 and social networking; that this is the way the world is going and people want to do business the way they are used to working in the rest of their lives. So we are working to imbed social networking into our collaborative sites. We are also acknowledging the mobility of the workforce and delivering content to PDAs and tablets in a platform agnostic way, whether it is the Android, Apple, or Microsoft OS either directly to the device or through a virtual desktop. We are laser focused on this because we only see the demand rising logarithmically.
We have been focusing on the technology piece of the puzzle and I’m wondering if you find that many of your challenges are in the people space.
Absolutely. Change management is a big component. We need to discover how people operate out in the field, how management is thinking and what they are trying to achieve, and we need to manage expectations and introduce new paradigms. And frankly, we in IT need to change. We need to think outside of our own network and the traditional limits of what we can control, and facilitate people accessing and sharing the data they needs outside of the traditional network border.
Thanks Don for sharing where you’re taking CBRE technologically and helping to set a vision for our industry. We appreciate your time.
Glad to do it, Chris.
(About the Author: Chris Saah is President of TecFac which provides IT support services to Transwestern and its clients throughout the US. Follow Chris at ).