You can buy a Bluetooth-enabled coffee cup that keeps your brew at the perfect temperature. You can access your entire work-life anywhere in the world via a smartphone. You can track down long-lost childhood friends on the other side of the world through social media.
The consumerization of IT is everywhere—almost.
It turns out that commercial real estate financing hasn’t kept pace with the wider economy. It’s analog, unconnected, and generally dated.
Although NorthMarq was an industry frontrunner, renowned for its corporate ethics, strong workforce, and innovative services, it was no different when it came to digital transformation. They were missing a digital edge; the ability to transform ideas into amazing new processes, tools, or systems.
But the company’s leadership wanted change. They were watching other companies reinvent themselves for the digital era and realized the opportunity available to them.
When I joined NorthMarq as SVP of Technology and Innovation, it was under the clear instruction to drive digital transformation and turn the company into a digital leader in the marketplace.
Lay the foundation
Digital transformation is a nebulous concept. Ask a dozen companies what it means and you’ll get a dozen different definitions. At NorthMarq, it’s simple: Our long-term vision focuses on improving the experience of our customers. We start with the goal and work backward.
At NorthMarq, it’s simple: Our long-term vision focuses on improving the experience of our customers. We start with the goal and work backward.
When I arrived at the company, I assessed our foundation: our people, platform, and processes. While we had great assets across the three categories, I knew we weren’t yet in a place to drive a wide-reaching digital transformation. So starting in late-2019, I began shoring up our foundations.
I restructured the team and brought in players who could drive an Agile mentality. I hired product owners for our three internal products: Salesforce, Enterprise! and Automation. They each owned their product and drove progress from ideation through to adoption. Behind the scenes, I also hired leaders in Application Services and Infrastructure Operations. They’re our back-office engine, keepers of all things sacred to technology and ensuring we’re adequately equipped to do our jobs.
My next focus was our platforms. We created platforms for our two spheres of work: our front-end and our back-end. That way, we’re all talking about the same language. We also built a new data model. We are working to pull data from our two internal platforms and integrate it with third-party data sources to add information on customers, building owners, rent rates, and so on. Combined, we created a 360-degree view of our customers.
Last, I turned my attention to our process. We mapped out NorthMarq’s entire process from stem to stern. Never before had the company had a high-level view of how everything worked—the value chain, the departments, the processes, the stakeholders. Once we had an exhaustive visualization, we identified the pain points. And from that, we decided what we were going to work on.
Getting our people, platforms, and processes in place was a long and involved transformation. Every day, it was tempting to rush ahead and dive into the endgame. But we didn’t. We stayed the course, and focused on our foundations. Now, after more than a year and a half of groundwork, we’re finally starting to reap the rewards.
Getting our people, platforms, and processes in place was a long and involved transformation. Every day, it was tempting to rush ahead and dive into the endgame. But we didn’t. We stayed the course, and focused on our foundations.
Prepare for the long-haul
It took until August 2020 until we shipped our first major product. It was Enterprise!, a loan servicing platform. This “platform” also consisted of a document management system/workflow via DocuSign CLM, an internally built Financial Statement tool and a borrower portal built within the Salesforce Community Cloud. When I arrived at NorthMarq, it had been in development hell for three and a half years. We identified it as a major pain point in the company’s process and prioritized its development. We pushed hard for 11 months and got it to market.
Enterprise was a sort of proof of concept for the digital transformation. For several months, we’d worked behind the scenes, building the team, developing platforms, and analyzing processes. Although we’d staged many victories along the way, this was the first major launch we could point to as the fruit of our labor.
Its launch was the first moment of real credibility. It showed what we can do and prepared people for all the amazing things we’ve got in the pipeline. But it also hammered home how important communication and change management was to creating a lasting mindset. Building new technology was almost the easy part. Getting humans to use it was the challenge.
Building new technology was almost the easy part. Getting humans to use it was the challenge.
Communicate the heck out of everything
To win over hearts and minds, we had to communicate at three levels: individual, team, and organization. All three have the same theme, but they’re different types of communication.
To communicate across the three levels, we relied on a battery of channels, campaigns, and strategies.
Our Tech Tuesday update goes out every other Tuesday, come rain or shine. It’s a consistent feed of everything that’s going on. Because we have this unbreakable communication schedule, nothing arrives by surprise. We announce, preview, and launch every new development in separate updates.
We also spun up roadshows. We went from team to team, training employees on what we needed them to do. It was face-to-face and personable. Although Tech Tuesdays had me in a presenting role, our roadshows really were all about the team. We were speaking live to small groups or individuals. We were answering questions and providing detailed instructions. Although the pandemic forced us to pivot to virtual roadshows, We are in the midst of planning a six-week roadshow and look forward to being face-to-face (safely).
Finally, we integrated a digital enablement tool, Spekit, as a sort of digital companion. We think of it as our swivel chair replacement. That’s a reference to someone getting stuck on something in the office and swiveling their chair to ask a colleague for help. But instead of physically swiveling, they can use Spekit to instantly get help, wherever they are.
Instead of physically swiveling, they can use Spekit to instantly get help, wherever they are.
Let’s say I need to know how to enter a customer contact into Salesforce. I just go into Salesforce, and Spekit visually walks me through the process. Considering how much we’re changing, having always-on reinforcement, directly within our employee’s workflow, is invaluable.
Considering how much we’re changing, having always-on reinforcement, directly within our employee’s workflow with Spekit, is invaluable.
A leader in the marketplace
If I’m being honest, some of our competitors got out of the blocks faster than we did. They’re a little ahead of us in certain areas of digital transformation. But we’re a quick study. Our goal is to outpace and outlast them all.
With all the work we’ve done in the past couple of years, we have a clear roadmap to achieve that goal and take our place as a leader in the marketplace. We’re reinventing the way people work, changing their experiences, and altering mindsets. We’re driving the world of commercial real estate financing into the digital era.
We’re reinventing the way people work, changing their experiences, and altering mindsets. We’re driving the world of commercial real estate financing into the digital era.