Interview with Countrywide CTO, Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

We spoke to Steve in July 2017:

Thank you for talking to TORI Global, Steve. To start, what are the biggest changes that the property industry has seen in the last few years?

ST: The biggest changes are around, and I’m going to use a common term here, ‘Digital Disruption’ as well as new entrants coming into the market in terms of offering quick speed-to-market solutions. Giving customers the choice of how they interact for both new business and servicing with apps and mobiles has been the biggest change which has digitalised processes rather than the traditional face-to-face relationships end-to-end.

How is Countrywide adapting to these changes?

ST: We’re adapting to the changes by working with our supply chain to embrace the PropTech companies to look at how they can plug and play supplementary functionality, enhanced propositions, customer experience and service into our line of business solutions. We also need the ability to plug in things quickly giving us faster speed to market, better and cheaper.

Where do you think Countrywide should look to innovate next in order to retain market share?

ST: We will innovate across the value chain of the customer. Not necessarily picking out one area, but it all starts with customers wanting to buy or rent a home. We link people to property and vice versa. We have the unique ability to serve the customer end-to-end across the buy, sell, landlord, tenant, conveyancing and mortgage customer journey, and most importantly, giving choice across those.

How are you managing the cultural aspects of Digital Disruption?

ST: That’s a difficult one. It’s about behaviours, isn’t it? We are a business that’s been historically run on people and relationships. Customers still want choice and relationships are still key, people are our biggest asset once you have connected digitally.  It’s really an ongoing piece to look at how you reward and keep your talent. We put a lot into our people and they are key to any future success.

How do the incumbents of the property sector stay one step ahead of disruptors?

ST: Disruptors won’t necessarily have the breadth and depth of experience to run it end-to-end. You need to know what customers want and have the agility for change.  We’ve been doing this for years, we understand the market, we’re credible. What it’s really about is trying to match people to property and property to people, and it’s making that simpler and an easier journey for customers to go on.

How do you think the role of CTO has changed over the last 5 years?

ST: I think it’s broadened heavily. We’ve got to have the ability to advise on technology and the business. Looking at the digital journey or the analogue journey, if you want to call it that, or the hybrid journey. We need to have the technology to underpin the value propositions. Days have gone where we can say that we’re just going to give you the capability and the enablement of technology, it starts with proposition. It’s ensuring that you can actually showcase or prove that the technology is working for those user journeys and business processes.

Has the role become about engaging with people?

ST: The role has always been very human. In terms of selling or buying internally and your relationships. Whichever department you’re in in a company, you’re a salesman internally. If you go back 5 years, the role of CTO was, dare I say this but, associated with server and languages. Now it’s connecting technology to the Target Operating Model. How you’re going to win business and how you’re going to serve your customer better.

What new challenges are CTOs facing today?

ST: It’s probably keeping abreast with it all. The markets and technology are constantly changing. There’s always new technology coming out! It’s getting the time and the bandwidth to be sure you’re aware of the latest and greatest. You want to have that key differentiator, killer proposition and that competitive edge all at the right price point.  It’s not just about keeping things running.