Jon Levi is a man who has been passing himself at the airport the past few years. As CTO of Cassidy Turley, he has seen his user base grow from 350 to 2800 over the past four years. We recently caught up with each other one evening at a middle-eastern restaurant in suburban DC, where we enjoyed hummus, lamb, baklava, and talked technology.
CS: It was good to see you back in circulation at the CIO luncheon this fall. Thanks for making the time to get together. How are things going? Do you see light at the end of the tunnel?
Levi: My wife just asked me the same question. I think by the end of 2012 things might start to get back to some degree of normal. I’ve just hired a second VP of IT to oversee our service and support operation, which is a big help, and our enterprise CRM roll out should be well under way by then, so I am optimistic that I will be enjoying a few more dinners at home.
CS: Well, I think you can offer a unique perspective on managing technology given all of the mergers and affiliations you have been through in a relatively short period of time. Tell us about your IT team. How many people do you have now?
Levi: We have 53 people total. We have 9 at our call center in St. Louis and another 10 around the country as a kind of virtual call center. We have 22 in our engineering/network/ infrastructure team and another 5 in our onboarding and compliance team. We do use contractors for some of our onsite property work and technology refreshes. Actually, the ratio of IT staff to end-users has stayed pretty much the same.
CS: Tell us more about your onboarding team.
Levi: They handle new property assignments and insure we stay compliant with SAS 70 and SOC1. They provision hardware, set up network accounts, email, and handle connectivity, and in some cases go on site at the time we take over, and generally insure that we have a smooth transition and that our owner’s interests are protected.
CS: No developers?
Levi: Not really. We have a few SharePoint people in our Property Management team and we’ll be adding developers with PeopleSoft PeopleTools in IT this year to help build and maintain interfaces between the CRM, ERP and other feeder systems.
CS: So, what are some of the key platforms you are using?
Levi: We are about to deploy PeopleSoft Financials in July which we will use for core financials, contracts and project costing and in October we’ll roll out their payroll, benefits, and time and labor modules. We upgraded to Exchange 2010 last year and enabled Active Sync to accommodate Apple devices and we are deploying a cloud-based mobile device management solution handle the BYOD reality. Our users have loved that, particularly with proliferation of iPads when CoStar rolled out CoStarGO and gave away thousands of iPads. We also rolled out our Intranet eCommunity site on SharePoint 2010. We also completed the upgrade to Yardi 6 for Property Management accounting and now use Yardi for all Property Management lease administration.
CS: Earlier you mentioned a CRM roll out. What are you deploying?
Levi: Oracle CRM On Demand and Marketing On Demand. While we are using the on-premise version of PeopleSoft, we are deploying the hosted solution for CRM. It will allow our affiliated companies to access the solution off-network and they can pay for their own subscriptions. Some CRE overlays have been developed by third parties for the product so we are not starting from scratch.
CS: And this is enterprise wide?
CS: Wow. No little feat! I have spoken to numerous folks from organizations big and small, where this has been a major challenge. I remember one international player saying it took 18 months just to get one division of the company on the same page as far as a CRM solution. Are you replacing an existing platform?
Levi: Actually, multiple platforms. We have many people using REApplications, REA and SalesLogix, as well as, multiple instances of ACT. Oracle will replace all of these with a highly scalable, integrated, enterprise-wide solution. We have about 100,000 contacts and 40,000 accounts that we’ll be importing.
CS: And how are you encouraging adoption?
Levi: Easy, we are simply no longer supporting the siloed solutions. But more importantly, the pipeline in the CRM feeds the closed deal revenue recognition, billing and A/R. Sure, some people will keep deals off the radar screen until they are fairly sure, but they have to be in this system to get paid. We’ll track leads, opportunities, Win/Loss, assignments, projects, splits, and integrate with AR, AP and Project Costing.
CS: Obviously agents are very protective of their contacts and turf wars often arise when implementing an enterprise CRM. How are you dealing with that?
Levi: We have very specific policies about transparency, client relationship governance, and ownership of contacts. If an agent leaves, we export their contacts and give them the file. Our Managing Principals are the key gatekeepers/arbitrators. They decide ownership, co-ownership, junior ownership in their markets and can escalate to Regional Managing Principals and National Service Line leaders when necessary. We are working toward a very transparent platform nationally, but it is also critical to respect the confidentiality of client information and provide SPOC, anonymity and internal firewalls to protect client interests.
CS: Well, good luck with that. We’ll have to check back in six months and see how it is going. So overall, Jon, what would you say are your biggest challenges?
Levi: Keeping up with our Property Management growth is a huge challenge. They are very proactive and are pushing us for solutions. We 450+ on-site management offices and are growing at a rate of 60-70 million square feet a year. As a SAS70/SOC1 audited business unit, they are very disciplined operationally with rigorous change management that involves Human Resources and IT.
The second challenge is standardization. We now have about 280 applications and strategically need to get that down to 100 or fewer. So, much like with our CRM solution, we need to ferret out siloed point solutions and replace them with highly scalable enterprise-wide platforms.
CS: Jon, it’s been a pleasure as always. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.