Craig Ulrick, Chief Information Officer, discusses the company’s rapid expansion, digital rebirth and the brand culture which made it all possible...
Founded in 1982 as LMW, Acumentis’ presence in the Australian real estate industry has been long and distinguished. Representing the only property valuation and advisory services firm on the ASX, the company currently employs over 300 people across 40 offices spread around the country, including Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. Capable of providing a range of services, such as residential property valuations, strategic portfolio advice, data analysis and agribusiness, Acumentis’ breadth of knowledge is matched by its desire for expansion. Having acquired several other valuers over the course of its existence, most recently in mergers with MVS in 2017 and Taylor Byrne in 2018, the company finally decided to rebrand itself in 2019 to reflect its new commitment to digital transformation.
Having joined the company two years ago, as the excitement of its expansion was fully underway, Craig Ulrick, Chief Information Officer (CIO), wanted to capture the energy and sense of urgency permeating the atmosphere of Acumentis in his approach to digital transformation. Placing an immediate focus on increasing efficiencies and driving the revitalisation of legacy systems, Ulrick was determined to bring the company fully into the digital era. “Acumentis is one core platform; one core brand with multiple combined services, which share the same data across the group and allow us to gain real insights about our customers and make informed decisions,” he explains. “We had to build smart-tech solutions to replace slow and sometimes ancient business processes.” For Acumentis, the mission to undergo digital transformation can be summed up in two words: Project One.
In order to adequately serve its customers, the company had to find a way to analyse quality data in real-time - fast enough to help them make crucial real-estate-related decisions in an informed manner. “It was nice getting stuck into a nice, big, juicy project like that,” says Ulrick. “Project One was part of our rebrand development to transform the company into a cutting-edge platform. The business made a decision to transform because it wasn't sustainable to maintain the many systems we had under different contracts and arrangements previously.” Gathering information about properties from myriad sources, including government bodies, local authorities, councils and geographic surveys, the voluminous sum of this research can be overwhelming, particularly as it must be interpreted and used to a customer’s advantage.
The role of AI and algorithm-powered analytic systems has been pivotal in making sure that quality, data-driven decisions can be made. “Acumentis uses something called an ‘automatic valuation machine’ (AVM). It's not quite AI; it's more like machine learning,” clarifies Ulrick. “So you type in an address and it processes some associated data. It then informs you what that property might be worth right now. It’s not perfect, but it gets a lot of the things spot on.” Ulrick opines that the further automation of these labour-intensive tasks will form the core focus of the real estate industry moving forward, particularly regarding valuation services. Software similar to facial recognition technology is being trialled on photographs of properties in order to determine if the quality, condition and value of a property can be estimated by a machine programmed to notice key features.
However, whilst maintaining a visionary approach is important when considering the application of new technology, it is equally important to leverage the services of key suppliers and partners. However, more than simply delivering a great service or project, Ulrick emphasises that the company’s ideal partner would want to actively understand the real estate sector and want to join in the mission to improve it. Software solutions developer CALUMO is a powerful intelligence platform which Acumentis uses to run its budgeting and forecasting. Enabling the company to collate information across multiple platforms, Ulrick enthuses that CALUMO provides a fantastic tool for business automation. “We used it recently to replace a largely spreadsheet driven process of commissions. It’s allowed us to streamline our data and just focus on making informed decisions with it.” Equally vital is the digital marketing agency Orange Digital, Ulrick says. “Orange partnered with us to align our people and our brand, assisting us to shape our ongoing culture program and allowing us to bring a combination of minds into our strategy and people engagement.” With a passion for culture and brand, the Brisbane-based company is also an expert in web design, development, apps, videos and search engine optimisation. Its services during Acumentis’ rebrand have been significant and transformative.
Acumentis’ digital transformation has gone hand-in-hand with its increased focus on security. Following a data disclosure incident in early 2019, the way the company handled data had to be overhauled and bolstered accordingly. Rather than choosing not to comment on the issue or acknowledge areas that required improvement, Ulrick states that the company took the occurrence in its stride and remained open and frank with the public. “We are the custodians of our customers’ data,” he says, and Acumentis wasted no time in fine-tuning its approach. Achieving ISO 270001 certification in late 2019, covering the technology and infrastructure supporting its valuation services in the residential, government, commercial, insurance and property advice sectors, Ulrick believes the company has reaped a positive result from initially unfortunate circumstances. “We can segregate our customers’ data and encrypt it, along with any attachments. We consider how long information is needed for and only store it for the absolute minimum of time.” It is also a vigorous approach to client protection which he considers a distinguishing feature for Acumentis among other companies in the sector.
When asked what the future might hold for Acumentis in 2020, Ulrick is quick to intimate that further expansion within Australia remains a high priority, particularly with regards to overcoming the geographical challenge of serving such a large country effectively. Further automation and value-added services, such as illicit substance screening capabilities for properties and quantity surveying services, will help shape the company’s ongoing quest to become Australia’s best-in-class valuation and advisory agency. “We will continue to expand and invest in our people and clients, in order to understand what problems they're having and how we can solve them,” Ulrick concludes. “Our transformation has been a combination of digital, culture and branding: we have a new brand that has been informed and shaped by our team and it reflects the culture of this business.”