Executive Series: Part One of an Interview with Cartus’ New CIO and SVP, IT, Rizwan Akhtar
Posted by: Trevor Macomber, Brand Marketing & Campaign Manager & Rizwan Akhtar, CIO & SVP, IT
This post is the first part of a two-part series of an interview I conducted with Cartus’ CIO & SVP, IT, Rizwan Akhtar, on Technology Transformation in the Relocation Industry. In this first part, we discuss Agile Development and how Cartus is embracing it, and in the second part, we will focus on Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs) and how they are an important part of Cartus’ digital strategy.
Trevor Macomber, Cartus Brand Marketing & Campaign Manager: As someone with deep technology and business domain experience in the Retail and Banking realms, what do you see as the greatest opportunities for the relocation industry in terms of borrowing technological best practices from other fields?
Rizwan Akhtar, Cartus CIO & SVP, IT: This is one of the key opportunities I saw when joining Cartus. Three concepts come to mind, specifically.
The first one is a “digital first” strategy that focuses on creating products that are digitally powered and offered through a digital channel, whether optimized for a mobile device or an online interaction. This is far preferable to converting existing capabilities or services into digital products.
Number two, given the number of generations that we cater to—Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z’ers—we need to make sure we address their distinct needs. Each demographic has different expectations in terms of the way they interact with us and the way they would like us to interact with them.
Baby boomers probably prefer more high-touch or white-glove treatment. More personal interactions like phone calls versus relying on email. Millennials would probably like more of a mobile-based approach—whether that’s via text or an app—where they can quickly see what’s available to them or how their relocation is progressing. And someone from Gen Z might just like an update here or there on their wearables like a smartwatch to keep them informed, but not consume a lot of their time.
We live in a time where we have to provide choices to our customers for how and when they want to consume data, so our products have to be available across multiple channels, whether that’s online, mobile, or wearable. The day is probably not very far away where we’ll even need to offer services to voice-activated channels like Alexa.
So, with these two areas of focus, the third thing that’s important is to make sure we can offer new solutions in a faster time to market. If you design products that are going to take 18 to 24 months to deliver, by the time you deliver them, you’ve already fallen behind. With a digital-first mindset, and the creation of digital products across multiple channels, there must be a way to deliver them faster. Which is why I think the adoption of, and transition to, Agile methodology, and specifically using a Scrum framework, is important.
So, those are the three objectives I would identify as not necessarily borrowed from, but inspired by my past experiences. Really, it’s a continuation of a digital strategy that can basically cross boundaries and cross industries. Because that’s the whole purpose of a digital strategy—that it connects a lot of different businesses, people, and industries.
TM: That’s a great segue. You mentioned Agile and Scrum in particular. Beyond those, you hear other terms like Crystal, Kanban, Lean, SAFe, RAD. It seems like every industry is moving to what you might call a “leaner, more incremental” approach to development—not just software, but even operationally and logistically. Relocation has traditionally been resistant to rapid change, I think because we’re such a people-focused business. Our customers obviously have very concrete concerns, like how quickly is my home going to sell, or when are my household goods going to arrive? And we’re trying to digitize the framework within which these very personal interactions occur. So can you speak a little more about Cartus’ version of Agile? I know there’s the so-called “Agile Manifesto”, but no two Agiles are the same, right?
RA: I’ve been an Agile evangelist for about six years now, and I’ve helped two previous organizations adopt or adapt to Agile, with Cartus being my third. I can confirm that you’re absolutely correct in stating that the Agile Manifesto states one thing, but no two Agiles are the same.
One trap to avoid is what I call “Agile for Agile’s sake.” If your objective is to be called an “Agile-certified” organization, then you might be lost for a long period of time. Cartus’ objective will be: how can Agile help us accomplish our business objectives successfully but faster? If the focus remains on what is valuable to the business and how Agile, and the framework we adopt under Agile, help us get there, then Cartus’ version of Agile will never be the same as anyone else’s.
I personally have more experience using the Scrum framework, which I think is perfectly suited to what Cartus aims to accomplish: defining a culture where people are focused on building products that are important to the business as opposed to just defining, initiating, building, and deploying projects.
Furthermore, as we move from a project organization to a product organization, I think it’s important for us to find a way to deliver features as the need for them is established. You can’t wait to complete a product before you launch (aka, “Waterfall Development”). You launch a product, you start getting feedback from the market, and then you launch features incrementally as they become available. And I think Scrum and Agile methodology play very well into that strategy.
Coming Up Next
Be sure to watch for part two of our interview, Technology Transformation in the Relocation Industry: Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), where we will discuss APIs and how their flexibility will help accelerate Cartus’ digital transformation.