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CIO owning outsourcing in standardised Countrywide estate

Edward Qualtrough | Dec. 13, 2013
Countrywide CIO Oliver Skagerlind describes current infrastructure transformation and strategy of owning your outsourcing to enable project success

"Big Data is not a priority right now, our main strategy is undergoing a transformation and delivering an infrastructure that will enable us to innovate," CIO of property services company Countrywide Oliver Skagerlind says.

"It's not cutting edge stuff but it is hugely important," he says. "And it's innovation that will give us a competitive advantage."

Countrywide is the UK's largest property services organisation and is made up of nine different businesses; these include its front office retail business of estate agents and lettings, a small army of surveyors, a financial services and mortgage arm, auctions and most recently commercial property following the purchase of Lambert Smith Hampton consultancy in September 2013.

Countrywide, Skagerlind explains more succinctly, is a collection of acquired businesses. The company floated on the FTSE 250 in March this year, and previously was owned by specialist investors.

Company transformation
The senior management team at Countrywide went about its own transformation, taking it from what Skagerlind described as a bunch of slightly disparate businesses into a "consolidated offering, from the estate agency lettings business right through to selling mortgages, conveyancing, surveying and all the other bits and pieces around it".

Skagerlind, in his first CIO job since February 2011 following operations roles at American Express, Centrica, Onetel, Carphone Warehouse and most recently RBS Insurance, explained how he was now part of the transformation that started 20 months ago when the company was still under private equity.

"It is essentially the consolidating of our technology function around the infrastructure," he said.

"We formed a deal with CGI and it was a transformational outsourcing deal. We call it a '2+5' deal - two years of transformation and five years of run and the strategy was simply around revitalising HQ and all of the branches, delivering standard technology to those locations; standardised desktops, a standardised way of distributing applications to those end-users, and consolidating all of our data.

"It's not leading or cutting edge technology. The key strategy at the moment is wanting to build this revitalised infrastructure that gives us the capability to innovate and have a better level of intelligence that comes with that.

"What we're doing is consolidating and putting in standard technologies across the group to help our vision."

Standardised infrastructure
Skagerlind said the organisation will be moving from 1,700 servers, which will be "rationalised down" to around 250 virtualised servers.

"If you take an industry view, that's a fairly standard position to be in terms of how your data centre is going to operate," he said.

The integration challenges for Countrywide are apparent when Skagerlind describes their recent flurry of acquisitions; Countrywide has gobbled up over 100 different organisations in its lettings business, and in 2013 alone is on track to acquire 26. A further 26 are set to become part of the Countrywide estate in 2014.


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