CIO50 2020 #Jimmy Lee, Cedar Woods
Over the last two years, Cedar Woods’ chief information officer, Jimmy Lee, has led a program that has changed the way the organisation works, improving all aspects of its core business from the acquisition of land, development of projects, and the marketing and sale of properties to customers.
As COVID-19 struck, Cedar Woods’ existing digital and technology strategy put it in an enviable position among its peers, Lee tells CIO Australia.
“The whole business was able to transition to ‘working from home’ as soon as the managing director gave the instruction with no delay or no discernible loss in productivity,"
The company's digital transformation program was aligned to four strategic priorities. The first was to create a high-performance culture. Under this, Lee and his team created ‘Woodsy’, an intranet that provides a place for all staff to share and access information related to the whole company, breaking down the siloed nature of staff engagement and knowledge.
The team also introduced machine learning technology to tag and catalogue corporate data such as images and documents with metadata to enable more efficient storage and retrieval of tens of thousands of digital assets. This initiative decreased costs for Cedar Woods as previously, duplicate images were often purchased or commissioned by the company.
The second priority was operational excellence and under this, Lee led the implementation of a multi-million-dollar ERP project to replace legacy finance systems with Dynamics 365 Finance and Oracle Planning SaaS applications over a 15-month period ending October 2019.
The project integrated all core busines systems and included professional services of two major systems integrators and an internal project of more than 20 people.
Secondly, technology platform transformation has provided a solid base for growth and innovation, vastly improved cyber security and more resilient and flexible workforces.
This has included deploying an SD-WAN across all state offices; transition on-premise file and print services to SharePoint; moving all on-premise workloads to cloud-hosted solutions using a combination of IaaS and PaaS offerings when required. The team also introduced cyber security systems providing a high level of protection to email links and attachments, multi-factor authentication, anti-spam and anti-phishing systems, and mobile device management.
They also created a digital workplace to provide flexible working environments and resilient systems by moving the company to Office365, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, and cloud-hosted applications.
The final priority was financial strength and earnings growth. Deployment of new core business systems have improved cost management, provided more visibility over expenditure, faster turnaround on analytics and reporting, better information for decision-making, as well as more efficient transaction processing.
Lee is the executive sponsor of a digital marketing strategy, too, for which he devised and implemented an organisational change strategy enabling a smooth go-live for the ERP project. He also re-assessed and realigned the structure and roles within the team to the new IT operating model.
A big lesson
The project to replace Cedar Woods' core business systems started three years before Lee started working at the company. In that time, the CRM system had been split off as its own project and had been implemented, albeit with a limited scope and poor change management.
The ERP rollout also suffered one aborted attempt with a vendor and industry offering that was deemed unsuitable during the planning stages. The challenge was to make sure Cedar Woods’ executive team and board retained confidence in the overall strategic direction of the integrated core business systems project, while trying to reset the initiative with a new solution set and implementation partners.
Adding to the complexity was running the selection process for a new planning tool while designed the ERP component of the solution, Lee explains
Forward to the present and the entire core systems replacement is live and delivering great benefits to the business with the new IT operating model expected to drive sustainability and optimisation going forward.
To get to this point, Lee had to make sure the executive and the company were made aware of the journey the entire time and build a team of staff and contractors to manage the project, and ensure outcomes meet the expectations of the executive and board.
“Having this clear vision of what the future was going to look like and making sure the right team was recruited or adequate training was providing was one of the biggest lessons l have learnt,” he says.