The CIO Executive Council chats to Andrew Clowes, who left his post as chief information officer at JLL last month after 20 years with the company. Alongside his role at JLL, Clowes has served in the Navy for more than 38 years as a permanent officer, specialising in submarines and as a reservist with a specialty in intelligence and amphibious operations.
He discusses his tech career, greatest achievements and what being part of the Navy has taught him about business.
CIO: What prompted you to pursue a career in the tech sector?
Clowes: I got into IT by accident, originally I wasn’t really tech-based; I had a career in the [Australian] Navy as a submariner. But I was always fascinated by technology. When I first left the Navy, I went into resort general management and at the same time, I commenced a masters degree in project management. So my background back then was in project management but as I progressed in that degree, I became passionate about the use of technology in construction.
I ran into someone who was then running the property business at JLL, we talked about technology and they said ‘that’s exactly the kind of thing we are interested in’ so that resulted in me starting work [at JLL] not specifically in an IT role but more in a project and technology role for property.
At the time, the company was implementing an SAP system, which wasn’t going particularly well. I became the project management guru to rescue that project and then went on to implement many projects across Asia-Pacific. From there, I gradually morphed into more of a CIO role.
CIO: You were in that CIO role at JLL for 10 years. That’s quite a long tenure, what kept you in the role for so long?
Clowes: I was appointed in April 2009 as CIO and that’s probably what prompted me to think that maybe my time is done. 10 years prior to that at JLL I was implementing those big technology projects around the region. But for me, it’s two things: firstly, JLL is a great company to work for, we’ve got many directors who have got 20, 25, 30, 35 plus years. Our CEO [Stephen Conry] started as a very junior office agent.
People here have a long tenure but I went into the tech space kind at the start of the dot com bubble and it’s been a pretty exciting journey – so many changes that it was hard to get bored.
So I guess it gave me the intellectual stimulation and hang around and do more things. Virtual reality didn’t exist when I started and JLL is now building VR models for its properties.
CIO: What are some of the key projects you worked on that you think are going to drive the property industry in the coming years?
Clowes: At a base level, people have an expectation these days that you are going to get fast internet connectivity, WiFi when you walk into a room, you can open up your laptop and it just works. That was pretty cool even six or seven years ago, that’s just an expectation now.
One of things that I am most proud of that I have achieved here is particular our data visualisation, especially in the geospatial area. I’ve always been a believer that it’s not just a glib remark that property is about location. I’ve always had that view that we can use technology to really enhance how people understand how to build that location.
And now that JLL is building 3D models onto its GIS platform with the help of some great technology partners – I think those things are really changing the way people see property because they can visualise it so much better rather than a spreadsheet of numbers. It’s that enhanced experience.
We’ve build virtual reality models of the City of Sydney where you can see what future development pipelines will look like. That really helps people make decisions when they can actually see what it’s going to look like based on the data we are getting out of development pipelines.
So I guess that being able to visualise data and using some cool technology like GIS and VR is what I am most passionate about.
The other thing that is going to change in property is the primacy of data to make decisions and we are now seeing literally hundreds of startups around the world that are focusing on that area, using data in real estate.
CIO: You’ve been in the Navy for 38 years. What has that taught you about business and about how you interact with people? What were the key lessons that you’ve have learnt from your Navy training that you took across to your role at JLL?
Clowes: The military gives me a lot of great skills that I have taken into my commercial life and vice versa. People often tend to think that the military is about being in command and giving people orders, it really isn’t. It really is a people business and all good military leaders are empathetic with their people to achieve an outcome.
Often, military outcomes are very hard and I think that ability to get the best of your troops – or coworkers – is what drives good leadership.
Going back the other way, I’ve used a lot of my commercial skills in the military. I recently did a deployment to the Middle East – I was away for about seven months. I was able to use some of my geospatial knowledge that I used in real estate and apply that in every sense to the operations that we were conducting. But I also think of things that the military tends not to focus on, ‘what is the cost of me doing this or what is the cost of not doing it?’ Both [roles] have been complementary over the years.
CIO: Now that you have left JLL, what will be your next move?
Clowes: I am passionate about technology and the digital transformation of organisations. I think I have taken JLL a long way down that path. There’s much more to do, the company has a very aggressive agenda around that and I wish them well.
I think I’ve got an opportunity to do bespoke digital transformation projects and consulting-type work which gives me the flexibility to do other things that I am passionate about such as my sport and running and obviously, I will spend time with my family.
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter: @ByronConnolly
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