In The Trenches with Scott Morey, SVP & CIO, General Growth Properties

Last month we interviewed Robert Juliano, CIO, Brandywine Realty Trust and one of the Realcomm 2013 Co-Chairs. This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Morey, SVP & CIO, General Growth Properties and also a Realcomm and IBcon 2013 Co-Chair. Scott and I talked about his personal challenges and successes as well as his vision for our industry and the Realcomm and IBcon conferences.
CS: Congratulations on your co-chairmanship of Realcomm & IBcon 2013. 
Morey: Thanks. Appreciate it.
CS: Why don’t we talk about the conferences and what you would like to see happen, where we can make a difference? Where do you feel the challenges are in the industry? 
Morey: It’s interesting for me on a couple of levels; when you look at the role technology plays, I think the role itself is changing a lot. Over time when you look at the types of projects we get involved with, and even on a broader basis for some of the people in my peer set, the changes in their roles or expansion of their roles. It’s fulfilling what we predicted years ago, that we were going to become more and more ingrained in the business, not just in the back office, but also the front office. When you take a traditional view from IT , we do the plumbing on the IT infrastructure side. On the project side, whether back office or front office, we do projects and then we move on. Going forward, the historical ownership model is changing.
Here’s a great example: In the last ten years, a lot of people have done something on the energy side to try to reduce that cost. The process is enabled via technology in a pretty automated way: in how many points it connects within an individual asset; in collecting that data; and conducting the analytics encompassing usage and rates.
Traditional thinking was that when you’ve completed a project, you move on to the next one. Our new way of operating is we’re never really done with a project. It’s not like past projects when you go back several years; whether it was doing back office accounting or some kind of reporting or something else, at the end of that task you were effectively done.
The project ownership structure is changing for us, which in turn is changing our responsibilities. We’re becoming more and more ingrained in the operating models. People are looking at us not just for solutions, but they’re looking at us for business answers relative to the project we’re supporting. Does that make sense?
CS: Yes, it does. Amazingly, although you come at it from a different angle, R.J. probably said almost the exact same lessons that you did when we spoke. The way he put it is we’ve been used to taking the kiddie table at the party, and we really need to sit at the grownup table, in that the business is not looking for us to simply provide data and reports. They really want us to become a key part of the corporate governance model, right? 
Morey: Yes. I definitely agree. I think when you see things go awry now, it’s because we’re still using the old model: we do a project, complete it and then we move on. I think that model is true in some cases, but not in all cases.
CS: So are you seeing more CIOs being invited to the grownup table?
Morey: I guess I could answer that in a couple of ways. One is certainly if you go back over time, on average more and more of us are invited to the table. I think about meetings we had in Toronto recently with our peers. We asked people about who had to do Board presentations and who didn’t and what level of interaction they have at a Board level. More and more of us are getting invited to that table. If you go back ten years ago, it was pretty rare any of us really presented to the Board. It seems like the norm now is that it is occurring. That’s the first point.
Second point is we’ve gone from information gatherers to brokers. Say we’re producing a report; now people are looking to us to put together pieces of their information that are unique, and not just putting them together, having an opinion about what it means.
CS: I think so too. Well, I think the other issue is that, by virtue of our familiarity with data, but also the fact that our operation touches every other part of the overall operation, that we sometimes have more dots to connect than anybody else in the company. 
Morey: I think it’s definitely true, because I think we’re one of the few groups, that touches everybody. Besides HR, I guess; but they do it in a different way.
CS: What do you think could transpire this year, specifically from the conference, but just in general the energy of the organization, that could advance the game one notch from where it is today? 
Morey: Well, I think, again, it’s to me less about the technology and more about how we’re collectively advancing ourselves and being better real estate people. That’s the way I look at it.
And then, we talk a lot about other industries and about people that have made the conversion from a CIO to a COO or a CAO, and we don’t really have any of those.
CS: Agreed. 
Morey: RJ and I talk about this. Many of us do, that in the next five or ten years we think for the first time we’ll start to see those transitions, which we view as a good thing. It further validates what we were just discussing. I talk a lot about predictive analytics, forward-looking analytics, where BI or reporting historically is backward-looking. Whether you want to put that under a big data umbrella or something else, I think for some asset classes it’s a relevant topic. There is other more tactical IT stuff, I think, that goes in that same category.
CS: So, really, if you go back to Nicholas Carr and the whole concept of does IT matter, and the vanishing role of the CIO, it’s not really vanishing, it’s morphing. So really the REvolution begins with us. 
Morey: Yes.
CS: Next time let’s talk about your challenges and successes at General Growth Properties.