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CIO Focus Interview: Stuart Appley, Shorenstein

We’re starting a new CIO Focus Interview Series on the blog to get insights from some of the top thought leaders in the industry. For our first interview, I spoke with Stuart Appley, CIO at San Francisco based Shorenstein, to pick his brain about the current and future IT landscape. You can hear more from Stuart on Twitter.

CIO Focus Interview: Main Challenges

CIO Focus Interview: Stuart AppleyBen: Could you give me a little background on your company as well as your role as CIO within the organization?

Stuart: Shorenstein is a real estate investment firm and owner and operators of commercial properties. Essentially, we act like a private equity firm by raising money from high net worth individuals. Instead of buying a company, we buy commercial buildings. We buy them and own and operate them for 10-15 years before selling them off and closing the fund. When we buy a building we typically manage it, so the other part of the business is being a property manager, investing in the property, doing redevelopment, etc. As CIO, I’m responsible for running the IT shop and IT’s long term strategic vision

Ben: What sort of unique challenges do you face as the CIO at your organization?

Stuart: A main challenge we face is that the company culture is a little older. This is something we are actively trying to change. We also have a diverse set of workers and a very distributed, mobile workforce. We have leasing agents out in the field, engineers checking equipment on the go, etc. Supporting the needs of this workforce is a challenge. I would say some of our users may not be as tech savvy as they are in other industries. We tend to hire a lot of senior level people, so our age base is a little higher than other companies. This makes it more difficult to get people to adopt technologies and bring them up to speed.

CIO Focus Interview: A look back at 2014

Ben: What was your main accomplishment in 2014 from an IT perspective?

Stuart: We just completed a large cloud ERP project. Doing this has allowed us to reduce a lot of application sets. This was a huge accomplishment because of the large amount of data and apps we have been moving in the cloud. Overall, the project, which lasted a little over a year, went smoothly.

Ben: How long have you been utilizing the cloud?

Stuart: 4-5 years, maybe even a little longer. Right now, we have 70% of our applications in the cloud. This includes LOBs apps that are standard, like Salesforce, and industry specific ones like Intralinks.

Ben: Did you have any pushback from the CEO, CFO or board of directors when you made the pitch to go cloud?

Stuart: No, it really wasn’t an issue with them. I was able to make the case that we should outsource things that we do not have a core competency in, and they were completely on board. Buy vs. Build.

CIO Focus Interview: Looking Ahead

Ben: What are you looking to accomplish in 2015?

Stuart: A main focus of ours is to rationalize cloud storage. We have a lot of content management systems right now – about 5-6. It’s time to rationalize that and get it down to 1-2. Another big focus we have is leveraging the beginning of a digital strategy we have been creating. For example, there are a lot of documents that need to be manually signed. We want to automate the signing of documents to save time and increase efficiency.

Ben: Anything else?

Stuart: We’re also going to review our data center and determine whether we want to move things to public clouds or private. We have listed out apps and services and plan to determine where each one would be the best fit. Finally, I want to continue to focus on mobility and try to push ease of access anywhere, anytime.

Ben: Throughout your career, what concept or technology would you say has had the most drastic impact on IT?

Stuart: I would say the idea of the consumerization of IT. This concept has transformed the whole industry. Users go home and use consumer apps and then carry those same expectations into the work place. In their mind, that ease of access should be available anywhere and everywhere across the board. To me, it’s a great thing for IT because it is forcing us to deliver. We have higher expectations and have a high bar to match.

Ben: How do you view IT?

Stuart: IT needs to be an advisor to the business. There is a lot of innovation that is happening with cloud vendors and we shouldn’t try to match that. The challenge is helping users understand that we support them going out and looking at other options. At the same time, we want them to come to us so we can let them know if there are any security concerns or if it will need to integrate with other apps that already exist in the environment. We need to be a consultant to the business and not a centralized just-say-no organization.

Are you a CIO/CTO interested in participating in our CIO Focus Interview series? Email me at [email protected]

By Ben Stephenson, Emerging Media Specialist