Stockland CMO shares his lessons on digital transformation

Property development group's marketing leader details the two-year journey his team has been on to overhaul digital and the importance of marketing-IT alignment and data strategy

How you plan your journey towards digital transformation, the alliances you make and routes you take, will directly impact how you enjoy the destination, Stockland’s CMO claims.

Speaking at this year’s ADMA Global Forum in Sydney, Stockland’s marketing leader, Ben Allen, shared the property development giant’s two-year replatforming journey to fully embrace digital, and the cultural, operational and technological lessons learnt along the way.

“When we started the journey, it felt like a road trip – everyone was excited, the music’s playing, there’s that big open road of opportunity and we were pumped,” he said. However, all too often, things end up looking more like a Chevy Chase film – vehicles off the track with the wheels fallen off, unwanted passengers, and travellers wondering how they got there, he said.

Plot the travel route before you start

In a bid to minimise shock and the risk of failure, Allen said the Stockland team spent a lot of time thinking about the journey and what needed to be done. The business had 15 systems partially held together with “digital bandaids” and knew an overhaul was needed to execute its digital strategy, he said.

From the outset, marketing and digital teams sat down with IT and mapped out a roadmap towards the end state including itinerary and staging.

“The important thing is we kept putting business value in front of each stage,” Allen said. “We kept pushing back on IT and resequenced the journey based on business need.”

Once Stockland got its use cases together, there were 5000 things it wanted its new digital platform to achieve, Allen said.

“Ultimately we had to do a lot,” he said. “When we realised it’d take two years, we did get a bit depressed, but we followed that track. We changed vehicles along the way, but we followed that itinerary.”

Identifying the pain points was vital, Allen said. “As marketers, we’re naturally excited about new things and where we can take that, but we spent a lot of time bedrocking our solution around alleviating the pain points of the business,” he said. “This went way beyond marketing, and we spent a lot of time demonstrating how if we went this way, we’re going to be able to do things.”

With fear a major inhibitor to change, the team invested time talking to staff about future pain if things weren’t improved, such as losing employees or rising costs. This was particularly important when addressing functions that supported legacy systems.

“We accepted we were excited about change but not everyone would be and that we had to get people on board,” Allen said. “Every business has a black hat or critical thinker – that person who can see everything that’s wrong with everyone and find every risk.

“We embraced those critical thinkers and got them into the process of defining use cases, looking at demos and solutions. They could cut through marketing hype quickly, and identify big issues early.”

Detractors actually wound up powerful change advocates. “When that happened, other people thought the solution must be good if he or she likes it,” Allen said. “Don’t avoid those people – work hard with them.”

Keep usability in mind

Where Allen said the team could have done more was keeping the emphasis on platforms that were easy to use based on Stockland’s diverse business objectives and challenges.

“When looking at lots of different options, we realised everyone could do the core things. The question we had to keep asking was how easy was it,” he explained. “We needed to look at who could satisfy our needs and the things most important to us, and how do we do those in the easiest way.

“Otherwise, you end up with solution that does everything ok, as opposed to doing the things you really need, really well.”

Another piece of advice from Allen I picking ‘technical evangelists’ to lead the project from the business side who can convert no-believers, as well as keep scope creep at bay.

“This is the person who can get in a lift, sniff out a non-believer and by the 30th floor, they’ve convince them to see the light and get on-board,” Allen said. “Without that boundless enthusiasm and passion, it’s hard to keep momentum as you work through stakeholders.”

On the road

Once Stockland commenced roll out, Allen said communication was a constant requirement, both in terms of core messaging and ambition, as well as providing transparency on how things are progressing.

“When you’re holding 500 workshops, people lose sight of the big solution. We found a few symbols and communications mascots to keep people on track of where we are trying to head to,” he said.

During this time, it was also crucial Stockland stuck to the roadmap, and Allen warned others on the digital transformation journey not to be “temped to take the tourist routes”.

“Decide and be careful on scope creep,” he said. “You can only have so many of those fantastic things, you do need to stay on the main road and be prepared to pay the tolls, otherwise you will never get there. If we did everything we wanted to do, we’d still be going.”

And the more you show others what you’re doing, the further you can go, Allen continued.

“We visualised things before we had anything, through storyboards and mockup of what it looked like for the customer. People couldn’t get their heads around what we were talking about, and we needed these to get support,” he said. “Otherwise, people will fill in those gaps with their own paranoia.”

Data danger

Where things became troublesome for Stockland was data strategy, and Allen said it’s important to “watch your data roaming”.

“With projects like this, a lot of the data conversation is around migration and how get what you need in the right format,” he said. “The problem is you need to know what are the critical things for your golden record. For us, our legacy systems were so bad, we had stopped putting stuff in. So when we started thinking about what we really wanted to do, there was data or processes we didn’t have.

“We realised we had a data plan but not a data strategy.”

Stockland’s approach was to look at a data lifestyle. It started with applications and what data was needed for a particular part of customer acquisition, then looked at the lifecycle of that data – its structure, where it resided and was captured, interpretation, and analytics required. People and process were the other component of the equation.

“That enabled us to open our eyes around what we need to help make decisions on integration, prioritisation, where data we’d like needs to be, plus highlight our data blueprint,” Allen said.

Keep IT onside

Through all of this, marketing and IT alignment is essential to getting a balanced solution, and Allen said both sides learnt a lot from each other.

“You’re solving to different things – IT was looking at legacy systems, minimal risks, less interruption, whereas I was trying to solve for systems of innovation and flexibility,” he said. “We had to find a way through that. A lot of our road mapping was about compromising on those things.”

But Allen agreed the change in skillsets marketing now requires, along with the agility of digital business, raises questions about what the business-as-usual model looks like in future for both sides.

“We have invested a bit in our people but it’s an ongoing conversation about what that model looks like as we come out of this transformation,” he concluded. “We anticipate there will be more of those technical people sitting into the marketing business, and working differently to the way of the past.”

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