View from the C-suite: CBRE’s CTO

No one can be complacent when it comes to protecting data, says Chandra Dhandapani, chief digital and technology officer at CBRE

What prompted your appointment and how has your role evolved since you joined? 

CBRE is keenly in tune with the current and emerging needs of clients and professionals in the real estate investment world, so the CEO and the board decided to sharpen the firm’s focus on digital strategy and technology enablement, and this prompted the creation of my role as chief digital and technology officer in 2016. In addition to digital strategy and all aspects of technology, data strategy and capabilities have become a more significant part of my role since I joined and I also now have executive oversight over the valuations and advisory services business, which includes property appraisals.

What single activity or aspect of your role takes up the most bandwidth on a daily/weekly basis?

Typically, I spend time on strategic issues with my team as well as the CBRE executive committee, client engagements and engaging with our professionals globally to understand their specific needs and challenges first-hand, as well as promoting the role of data and technology in real estate. As we speak, I am currently on a multi-week tour of EMEA and Asia-Pacific visiting our clients and teams in multiple countries.

How do you collaborate with the rest of the operations team on technology and data-related issues (for example tech upgrades, cybersecurity and transparency)?

I work with a talented CTO who manages day-to-day technology operations globally as well as cybersecurity issues, which is a top priority for us. He and I stay connected on a regular basis. We also have formal reviews and comprehensive dashboards, which give us ongoing visibility into the health of the firm’s operations.

In your role, what issue keeps you awake at night?

Cybersecurity is always top of mind. No one in this industry can afford to be complacent with regard to the protection of data and technology. Beyond that, as the incumbent leader in a rapidly evolving industry, CBRE has so many opportunities ahead of us, so I think a lot about strategic opportunities that would extend our lead over the next three to five years and beyond.

Where do you think the biggest tech spend will be in the next two to three years?

Overall, as companies learn to recognize value from tech spend, they will continue to invest more. This will range from modernizing current infrastructure to be more cloud-based and creating new capabilities, such as platforms to improve employee experience in the workplace to meet the emerging needs of clients. I believe data and data-related capabilities, like AI and machine learning, will also see more significant spend in the next two to three years because the commercial real estate industry is starting to see the value of data as an enabler and we are starting to see more data being collected.

What is the single biggest challenge for CDOs/CTOs in real estate in the coming years?

There has been a lot of buzz related to proptech, with billions of dollars of venture capital investments flowing into the industry. With this trend, the biggest challenge for CTOs will be to balance financial discipline with forward-thinking innovation, and to focus on a clear set of priorities that reflect the company’s growth strategy while avoiding distraction.

What lessons have you learned in your role?

Having a clear strategy and vision and communicating that strategy in very simple terms is incredibly important to get everyone in a large, global, multicultural organization to row in the same direction.

Looking forward, how do you see technology affecting the industry?

This is a great time to be in technology in real estate. The next decade of evolution will be even more profound than the prior 10 years. Managing, leveraging and differentiating data is a hard challenge and not something all companies can master, but at CBRE we are committed to lead in this space and I look forward to the road ahead.