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Live from LEADit: REA smashing IT department stereotypes

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I’m at ‘LeadIT‘, itSMF Australia’s annual conference. In this article I share how REA have transformed the image of their IT department. Nigel Dalton keynoted at LeadIT and Damian Fasciani led a breakout session.

How REA transformed IT

There’s a certain stereotype that comes to mind when we talk about enterprise IT support teams; it’s a bunch of dudes, (usually), sitting in a small, dimly lit room next to a rack of servers, and maybe playing Xbox until the next maintenance reboot. There’s a new breed of IT leaders at work striving to change that image. The REA Group, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, have turned that stereotype on its head to create an approachable corporate IT team that colleagues are eager to work with.

Damian Fasciani leads the Technology Services team for Real Estate Australia. With the guidance of CIO, Nigel Dalton, Damian has restructured his team and rebuilt the corporate technology strategy to align with the digital business that REA has become.

REA is Australia’s biggest property website providing residential and commercial property listings. The grand plan is to turn property hunting into an experience, where people can spend time on the REA sites to research neighbourhoods, utilities, streets, schools, and so on. Damian’s team of 15, (one based remotely in the Sydney office), supports more than 1000 employees, globally.

The practices introduced to the Technology Services team, and the decision to adopt a cloud-based software strategy, have all been driven by the intention to put the focus back on employee relationships. Damian says, “we made a decision that our engineers shouldn’t be spending time in the data centre behind the servers. They should be sitting down with people in the organisation and talking about how the software resonates, and how to get the most out of technology.” And with a cloud-first strategy, he hasn’t shied away from integrating a number of solutions like Box, Zendesk, Leankit and Okta, to achieve the required outcomes.

MISSION-PRINT-A1

REA’s human-centred approach to corporate IT is clear, even to the outside observer. While I stood waiting at the Tech Services walk-up desk for the rest of my group to turn up for a tour and presentation Damian was soon to host, team members came to offer assistance, I could see posters promoting recent technology changes within the organisation, and there was a toy truck in sight with a digital display counting down to the opening of a brand new, purpose-built corporate headquarters down the road from where they are now.

The walk-up desk was a service REA started offering to staff a couple of years ago. In the first half of this year, the team have serviced 900 walk-ups, already. The service is popular and employees present a wide range of issues, from break-fix to forgotten laptops to questions about working more efficiently with technology choices. Nigel Dalton, describes the walk-up technology services desk as “vitally important” to their relationship with the business as a whole. So much so, that when the team relocates to the new building, the walk-up desk will gain extra resources with more space and staff, and the availability of tech-toys like 3D printers, Google Glass, and Oculus Rift goggles for colleagues to tinker with. Technology Services aims to become a kind of store-front for day to day tech needs as well as an R&D lab for finding innovative ways to improve the services REA provides to their customers—real estate agents.

As a digital business, technology and agility are fundamental to the way REA works. Damian could see the original structure of the IT support services wasn’t going to fit, so the team have combined a light ITIL framework with practices from Agile and Lean methodologies. One of the significant differences between REA’s IT team and what we’d normally expect from corporate IT, is that members are assigned to take gemba walks out on the floor amongst their colleagues. Gemba walks are a Lean management philosophy developed at Toyota, and they involve proactively walking the floor and talking to people. “Those conversations might just turn into Zendesk tickets, they may turn into an idea which inspires a $50000 IT project. It depends”, Damian says. “You’ll only find the truth when you talk to humans. Not inside tickets and not on the phone.”

tech-it-easy

While the Technology Services team have transformed their support services with an outside-in approach, they’ve taken to changing the culture from the inside out. The people we’d normally refer to as Desktop Support, REA call Technology Consultants. It’s amazing how a simple name change and a bit of rebranding and internal marketing conjures a whole new idea of what to expect from a relationship with IT. Instead of just fixing something when it’s broken, it’s about advice and training. It becomes a consultative relationship that enables all employees to get on with the job at hand.

Real Estate Australia is going through rapid growth and the changes to their IT systems, processes and behaviours have allowed them to scale with that expansion and fuel new projects. With a number of clear wins under the belt, REA’s human-centred approach to employee services and IT staff development is set to continue, and I hope it catches on across the industry.




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