Adobe Summit 2021 - Turning a face-to-face organization into a digital-only business at RICS

Profile picture for user Mark Samuels By Mark Samuels April 30, 2021
Summary:
How the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) delivered its digital transformation program in weeks rather than years due to COVID-19.

Image of RICS building
(Image sourced via RICS website)

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)  is working with Adobe to create a platform that supports the rapid digitization of people, processes and products.

Aidan Connor, Head of Digital Solutions at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, recognises that gearing up for digital transformation is never straightforward - but it's particularly challenging in a 150-year-old institution, which is a membership organization that serves more than 134,000 qualified and trainee professionals across the globe.

However, rapid change became a priority when the coronavirus pandemic struck last year. Social-distancing obligations meant digitization became a must-have rather than a long-term objective and Connor outlined to attendees at Adobe Summit how RICS had to embrace digital technology as quickly as possible. He said:

Face-to-face interaction was no longer an option. We had to react and adapt. In March 2020, RICS had to become not just digital-first, but digital-only overnight. The concept of a digital platform suddenly became more important than ever before.

While digital transformation is now central to how RICS operates, that's not always been the case. Connor explained how the organization was created as a decentralized network of professionals because, at the time, technology could not support a central function. RICS took the form of an amalgamation of regional offices, with each one having to communicate independently with the other via post or in-person.

Regulations and printed publications were dealt with regionally, while all training and events took place face to face. Over the decades and as technology allowed, RICS has been able to reduce its reliance on regional centers and to create fewer offices with a wider global remit. Yet Connor said it was recognised within the organization that a further tech-enabled push towards centralisation was still required. He explained:

In many cases, each product, service or publication had its own agencies, marketing, strategies, analysts, digital platforms and sales teams working on their individual entities. In order to make RICS a twenty-first century membership organization, we needed wholesale change across product, people, process, and platform. We wanted to become the digital-first RICS that our members need.

Data services

Connor and his colleagues had already enacted a five-year digital transformation plan. They were hallway through this plan when Coronavirus and social-distancing requirements forced a sudden change in direction with a new emphasis on digitization. This switch was a significant challenge to an organization that was so used to communicating and working in-person:

It was not just about digitizing our current working processes, but about redefining them. This was not just within our customer-facing experience solutions, but also in the tools that we use in our everyday working practices.

Connor explained how there were a range of variables to consider. RICS provides data services to its members, but also to governments and financial institutions. Some of the organization's other key activities include industry regulation, membership training, dissemination of best-practice advice, and the development of software products to support surveyors' work. Connor said RICS achieved its digital transformation aims by empowering its people, rethinking its process and reimagining its products - and he said enacting this programme of change provides best-practice lessons for other digital leaders. He added:

Enablement of your existing teams, and empowering them to drive change, will be absolutely critical to the success of your transformation. Rethink and redefine processes, and most importantly, challenge your existing processes; always ask why. Also look to innovate your product catalogue and redefine your delivery methods.

Empowering people

Connor said the starting point for wholesale rapid change was people. RICS focused on empowering its people to make bold changes and to be able to do their work remotely from anywhere in the world. The organization also concentrated on how it would digitize offline processes and rethink its current online processes.

When it came to products, Connor said the organisation has moved towards digital-only forms of delivery, with the long-term aim of transitioning permanently to a hybrid model, where publications are released on a digital-first basis in the post-COVID age. Finally, his team began introducing platforms to support changes across people, processes and products:

In order to facilitate a 100% digital landscape, we implemented an Adobe Sign integration with our Salesforce HR system. This was used to reshape over 600 staff into new roles. Without Adobe Sign, this would have meant 600 contracts being sent out via post globally; 600 physical signatures, 600 returned contracts, and 600 contracts being manually processed by the HR team. There were massive time and cost savings involved in this project.

Analytics 

Process change, meanwhile, centred on the use of enterprise analytics. The aim here has been to enable the organisation's line-of-business teams and senior executives to make data-driven and strategic decisions. To achieve this aim, Conor and his team integrated existing platforms and products and united them under a single Adobe Analytics implementation to create a 360-degree view of the organization's data and digital landscape.

Another objective of the digital transformation programme has been to create a customer-centric organization. Connor says putting users first relied on RICS being able to both store and exploit its customer data effectively. Once again, Adobe technology played a key role, helping the organization to deliver effective marketing and content to members:

We're integrating Dynamics 365 and Adobe Campaign to activate our CRM data for personalized, cross-channel communication. We're also bringing our journals and publications wholly online with the power of Adobe Experience Manager, saving over a million pounds in print costs and expanding our readership beyond the UK to a truly global remit.

With the digital transformation programme well underway, Connor says the long-term aim is to establish a process of continuous transformation for technological development at RICS. Now the foundations are in place, his team's focus is around supporting a process of evolutionary digital change:

With each cycle, we can redefine our experiences, with member needs driving our roadmap. Although implementation, and our original functional scope will be complete, the process refinements that are born of our new ways of working will ensure continual progression becomes business as usual. This will be the new RICS - and just like our people, process and products, our platforms will need to continually evolve to support the user and the business need.