CIO50 2018 #26-50: Mark Cohen, Domain
Mark Cohen recalls his early days in IT when he was asked to solve a problem with an advertising booking system.
“We had to map transactions to the 5/4/4 financial calendar (if you don’t know what this is, consider yourself blessed),” Cohen tells CIO Australia.
“We put in an interim solution that would allow us to launch the product and then [had to] figure out how to better integrate with the company’s finance systems. Many years later, I got a call from someone trying to figure out why the billing system had broken. It turned out to be because my ‘band-aid’ fix was still supporting a multi-million dollar system. This goes to show there’s nothing so permanent as a temporary solution!
“Before I put a band-aid in place I always tell people this story. If you think your band-aid is going to be replaced in a month, best to make sure that it’s well understood,” Cohen says.
These days, Cohen is chief technology officer at digital property and real estate organisation, Domain. During this past year, Cohen and his emerging tech team have been creating new consumer products powered by machine learning (ML) technologies.
One of these ‘home-rolled’ ML models links the floorplans of houses and photos into one interactive package. This has been rolled out to users of Domain’s mobile app across Android and iOS devices.
“This was worth celebrating because it’s a fundamental change in how we build and ship products,” says Cohen. “The best thing about this product is that we scaled it from experiment to a full blown product and it’s costing only marginal human effort. The next challenge is scaling this approach across the whole business.”
According to Cohen, technology is more than just the platform that Domain is built upon.
“We define ourselves as a tech company – tech is at the epicenter of the tsunami of change we’re all trying to adapt to everyday. As technology changes, it provides us with new market opportunities and potential competitive advantages, or disadvantages if we miss something.”
A technology culture permeates the entire company. Cohen and his team champion agile work practices and have an agile project management office. Coaches mentor and operate scrum teams, and use lean management capabilities for cross-business or vendor-based projects, Cohen says.
“We also champion the culture of innovation and introduce new technology to the business with a constant eye on return on investment rather than just throwing more ‘bling’ into the mix.”
Domain is also having success rolling out machine learning-powered property recommendations for mobile app and web users. These recommendations ‘convert very well,’ Cohen says.
“This is really the tip of the iceberg for me and I see the transformation to an organisation powered by AI and ML technologies as pretty much life or death,” he says.
A diverse workforce
Domain runs company-wide initiatives to promote diversity, a specific concern in the tech sector, says Cohen.
“We have been involved with many community meetups and work to maintain a presence at tech conferences where we showcase our diversity. We have internal mentoring programs and also encourage a more informal ‘coffee buddies’ program where we use a system to connect people to others who they do not engage with, as coffee buddies. This chips away at both cultural and organisational boundaries. This was a tech-led initiative and it’s now company-wide,” he says.
Split between new age digitals and classics
Cohen believes the CIO role is bifurcating into ‘digital CIOs and classic CIOs.’
“Classic CIOs being the ones who want to stay in the world of networking, data centres and enterprise systems. The legacy or classic approach is a shrinking market as the future is cloud and SaaS-based and requires a lot more product knowledge.
“Because of this and the general ubiquity of technology now, CIOs increasingly need to feed into business decisions and strategy outside of tech. Businesses with a massive legacy-style IT footprint or similar investments may well continue to need a classic-style CIO but I believe the role as already morphed into the digital CIO for many and will continue to do so.
“I believe a key contributor for success in new CIOs is going to be passion and enthusiasm for tech and a tremendous tolerance for change,” he says.