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Why one real estate CIO is sold on agile

Clint Boulton | Jan. 12, 2016
A part of a plan to increase business value, Marcus & Millichap is embracing agile software development as it plans to refresh or replace several applications in 2016, says CIO Ken Sayward.

It didn't take long for Ken Sayward to begin tackling one of his strategic priorities for 2016. The Marcus & Millichap CIO joined his application development team in Redmond, Wash., last week to participate in an agile development workshop, the purpose of which is two-fold: To create a common framework for developing software in a rapid, iterative fashion and to apply that method for a high-priority rewrite of a core application on which the real estate company's brokers rely heavily.

Ken Saywar, CIO of Marcus & Millichap.
Ken Saywar, CIO of Marcus & Millichap. 

“The focus here is all about the brokers in the field and really understanding how we deliver, with some agility, solutions to those guys who are producing revenue for the firm,” says Sayward, who joined the 45-year-old company in September after five years managing business applications for rival Colliers International. The agile methodology itself is less important than the mindset that IT should produce value for employees as quickly as possible. Instilling such a “speed to value” mindset presents a change management challenge for a business culture used to more measured approaches to its products and services. But it's a necessary step, as all CIOs know.

Speed is increasingly proving to be of the essence for companies rushing to digitize and automate their business operations, ostensibly to gain an edge on rivals in various stages of similar projects. Companies are casting aside waterfall playbooks and 18-24 month development cycles for crisper coding conducted in weeks and close collaboration with business line leaders. Ford, for example, has hired Pivotal Labs to augment its agile development capabilities and is adopting bimodal IT to segment work between emerging and core technologies.

Real estate app gets a refresh for the Web, mobile

At Marcus & Millichap, Sayward is rewriting an application brokers use to add data to a listing proposal or marketing package. Called Impact, the software automatically imports information on properties and exports the data to a SQL server that dynamically populates online marketing, print, and Internet media. The app was originally written as a Windows desktop tool and must be updated for the Web, and eventually expanded to run on iPhones, iPads, and pretty much any other mobile device brokers elect to use, says Sayward.

“We’re modernizing the user experience of the application itself, as well as modernizing the output that it creates for our clients,” he says. “It’s a strategically important application for us.”  

Sayward says his staff is 80 percent through a rewrite, with plans to launch 1.0 release in the first quarter this year. Initially, the plan is to continue to host the app internally, though he may consider migrating the tool to Microsoft's Azure public cloud, with which, along with Office 365, he had some experience implementing at Colliers. "I could see taking us there sometime in the future but right now it's most critical for me to deliver it and not worry about that end of rearchitecture," he says.


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