Key Technologies Boost Functionality and Lower Costs

By Pam Baker

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While market lamentations rattle forth from every industry and market segment, few would argue that the housing and relocations markets are the hardest hit. Among those straddling the widening gap between a profitable past and a promising future is SIRVA, a company that conducts more than 300,000 relocations per year, transferring corporate and government employees as well as individual consumers. The company operates in more than 40 countries with approximately 4,000 employees and an extended network of agents and other service providers in over 175 countries.


A recent example of the company’s high-profile moves is the relocation of the entire Seattle Super Sonics professional basketball team to Oklahoma City. SIRVA's well-recognized brands include Allied, Allied International, Allied Pickfords, Allied Special Products, DJK Residential, Global, northAmerican, northAmerican International, SIRVA Mortgage, SIRVA Relocation and SIRVA Settlement.


Erik Keller is CIO at SIRVA and the man left with the mother of all Rubik’s cube question to solve: squaring IT cuts with the need to increase IT to curb the hemorrhaging of the company’s real estate risks.


“There’s no question that the U.S. economy has put pressure on both the relocation and the moving parts of our business. That in turn drives things within IT where we need to make sure that we are spending money in a way that makes the best use of our investments,” he said. “But at the same time we are doing things within IT with tech(nology) to make sure we are managing real estate risks as effectively as possible. So, in some cases, it’s actually driving investment with the economy being where it is.”


Keller thinks BPM will be his saving grace. “BPM has really provided us a means of increasing efficiency that makes it easier to contend with this market,” he said. To date, his focus with BPM has been on the relocation side of the business. An analysis is underway now of Lombardi Teamworks on the moving side of the business. Also ranking high on Keller’s list of most valuable tech tools is VMWare and Microsoft .NET.


“VMWare is very easy to manage and we’ve seen really good ROI, and it’s helped us to reduce costs significantly. We like Microsoft .NET for reliability and performance. It’s allowed us to integrate it with some other technologies we have.”


Over the last couple of years SIRVA has been focused on system consolidations. The company had multiple back office systems at both its moving and relocation parts of the business. “There have been some pretty significant consolidation efforts that have been completed successfully, that really show good bottom-line and productivity savings within the company,” said Keller. “At the same time, we’ve launched core technology initiatives such as BPM, BI, document management, and are starting to see some of the benefits of those.”


Understandably, Keller is hyper-focused on real estate risk management. “The business processes that we have developed and implemented with Lombardi Teamworks allow us to quickly review real estate risk for various homes that we need to handle as part of our corporate relocations,” he explains.


For instance, if somebody has a septic tank, or if somebody has a previous lien on a home, there are various things that SIRVA needs to understand in considering the eligibility of the home to go into its program. “Being able to quickly route these issues to the right people makes it possible for us to manage the risk of potentially some day owning that home,” said Keller.


“Again, it’s the basic idea that we came from a company that rolled up from different smaller companies, so there’s a legacy or culture of disparate business processes that we’re using BPM to get a handle around things and standardize processes,” he explains. “Right now, BPM allows us to get participation from other constituents. So now clients and bankers can participate in the process which drives customer satisfaction and productivity.”

Among the company’s many BPM projects, Keller is particularly proud of SIRVA agent dashboards. “It allows agents to see their performance relative to their peer groups, based on metrics that we measure for them. If they are underperforming in a particular area, we can then provide them information on what they can do to improve their performance in that area.”


Capabilities and Functionality


Despite the many accomplishments, the obstacles have grown, fueled by a battering and battered economy. “There’s high demand for new capabilities and functionality that had to be put on the back burner while we focused on consolidation. There is a lot of that new demand that needs to be addressed now while at the same time there is a lot of pressure to incur cost efficiency and quality, and continuing to build out an architecture that allows us to grow.”


Certainly, SIRVA is not alone in that particular predicament. Many Fortune 500 companies have lagged behind in adding new functionalities and capabilities while they busily worked at consolidation. Now the crunch to add IT, despite shrinking IT budgets, has taken on a renewed sense of urgency. Then there’s the pressure applied by customers demanding new IT services.


“New areas are in demand now, like social networking which we would never have thought was an area that we would need to address, but now we’re talking to clients about it,” he said. “Our clients actually ask if we have those types of sites, almost like Facebook, for some of their transferees.”


Despite the need to hang onto a dwindling customer base, companies cannot always afford to cave to client demand these days. At the end of the day, it comes down to: “is there a strong business case,” explains Keller. “And how effectively can you implement and manage the change.


“I’ve been in technology for 20 years and there’s always new technology, so it’s really about: can you really figure out the right way to apply the new technology to meet a business need?”


Beyond the business need is the human need to retain a good quality of life beyond economic pressures at work. In Keller’s world, sports reigns supreme from spectator sidelines to in-game competition. “I have three athletic sons who are mostly into wrestling and football. I enjoy watching them compete and I’ve coached football for the last 10 years. And, just recently I trained for and completed my first triathlon.”