In The Trenches with Transwestern’s Eugene Kesselman

In this week’s “In the Trenches,” Chris Saah chats with Eugene Kesselman, Chief Information Officer for Transwestern, one of the largest privately held commercial real estate and development firms in the U.S. His IT department provides support to over 1,600 team members at over 280 corporate and management offices.

Saah: You’ve been CIO at Transwestern for eight months now, Eugene. What has been your approach to this new role? 
Kesselman: My approach is simple: Invest time in one-on-one meetings with business leaders to understand what their needs are and what we can do to help. This helps us uncover the problems and find the pain points. We can then look for common denominators and attack the low-hanging fruit.
Saah: And can you tell us where you have made some advances–what pain points you’ve found and how you’ve solved those problems? 
Kesselman: The biggest issue has centered around data re-entry and multiple versions of the same data. In short, too many siloed systems.
Saah: How have you addressed that? 
Kesselman: We have utilized the capabilities of SharePoint 2010 to begin consolidating much of our data and have already developed three solutions to deliver the information in a more valuable way.
For example, TranSource is our Intranet, which formerly ran on a Content Management System (CMS). We started there because it was a low risk way to integrate a SharePoint 2010 platform, as the site already existed. We incorporated tighter integration between human resources, marketing and property data. Now, team members can look up a colleague, view their bio, contact information, and even what properties they are associated with in terms of leasing and management.
Saah: Was that a data integration nightmare? 
Kesselman: Frankly, it was. We actually spent more time on the data than the programming. First, we had to unify the data with unique identifiers. Unfortunately, this type of project is hard to develop synergy for, because while it is necessary, it isn’t perceived as that valuable or “sexy”. We used the opportunity of the Intranet redevelopment to focus team member energy on the data cleanup portion.
Saah: Sounds like it worked. 
Kesselman: By and large it did. We accomplished 90 percent of the clean-up in the pre-deployment phase. We made the decision to roll out the new version of the intranet with what we knew was less than perfect data. Once people began to discover that their bio or property affiliations were outdated, the remaining 10 percent of the clean-up happened quickly.
Saah: Tell us about your other two solutions. 
Kesselman: OnePlace is a property life-cycle collaboration suite that is both internal and external facing. It allows our team members, clients and vendors to manage documents and projects, and to collaborate all on one site. Again, this solution was deployed to integrate activities and data that were happening in multiple locations.
TranScend is a geographically-based market intelligence aggregator that brings in public data, our own market knowledge and utilizes Bing to tie in maps and photos.
Saah: So this is a marketing tool? 
Kesselman: Yes, we can present a client a map of the overall market and submarkets, then drill down to see the target building, walk the street, view other properties around it, and display all of the data in one platform. This tool provides superior decision support for clients. For instance, a possible tenant can, in one sitting, see all of their building and space options along with the pertinent data for each.
Saah: That is a very exciting project and again, one that sounds like it was quite challenging on the data and product integration. 
Kesselman: It was and continues to be. However, we have had excellent sponsorship and involvement from the business lines, which has enabled our team to expand the project much further than we could have on our own. Executives, brokers and marketing team members have been involved at every level, attending every meeting and were highly invested in the outcome. This has made the project a pleasure to work on. The key to success on a project such as this is the ongoing involvement by the business. Additionally, the data has to stay fresh and accurate for the solution to be valuable.
Saah: Well, you have certainly made some great strides in a short time. Where do you see CIOs in our industry making the most contribution? 
Kesselman: We simply have to shift from a “service” delivery model to a “value” delivery model. Simply keeping systems and machines running is just not enough to make a difference. If we don’t add value that the business lines understand and appreciate, our role is marginalized.
(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 ).