Friederike Buchheister, CIO CORPUS SIREO, talks about the digital disruption of the real estate industry and Cyber Defense.
CIO Talk

“Partnership at its best.”

Friederike Buchheister, CIO of asset management company CORPUS SIREO, and Sebastian Soloschenko, Account Manager at T-Systems, about multi-vendor vs. single provider strategies, data protection and data security and entering new markets in partnership with T-Systems and Deutsche Telekom.
Author: Thomas van Zütphen
Photos: Oliver Krato
Friederike Buchheister
After studying law in Münster, Friederike Buchheister began her career in 2005 by joining the Legal department of Sireo Real Estate GmbH. When Corpus and Sireo merged, she took the helm at Corporate Procurement and was then appointed as the asset management company’s CIO six years ago after becoming board-certified in IT law.

Ms. Buchheister, you only just visited the T-Gallery. Why did you go and what did you take away from it?

We’ve recently started building a digital transformation team within the IT department in order to drive our digitization strategy. However, this process won’t go anywhere if the business unit isn’t on board. By visiting the T-Gallery with CORPUS SIREO’s management team, we hoped to collect more ideas from T-Systems, our ICT partner, to supplement the many pitches we get from startups and other sources. We hope the input will help us to properly prioritize the digitization programs that we’ve identified. The Telekom Design Gallery has been a key component of our cooperation agreement. It’s a real eye-opener, too. For example, it has shown us how extensively real estate is digitized today and how much more digitization we will see in the future. It’s now up to us to develop concrete use cases for our clients and portfolio based on what we’ve learned.

Digitization is disrupting many industries, including yours. How are you responding?

You’re right about the disruption, but we’re not worried. On the contrary, we’re investing a lot of time and energy into preparing our business model and entire organization for digitization because we believe it holds a lot of promise. Specifically, the promise of more efficiency and more innovativeness. The promise of better understanding our customers and enhancing our services by analyzing data more thoroughly and leveraging our findings more intelligently. And the promise of retaining talent, developing our staff and optimizing processes with new technology.

You work closely with T-Systems / Deutsche Telekom on digitization issues. Can you describe the relationship for us?

We first started thinking about a relationship when Salesforce.com was implemented as CORPUS SIREO’s central platform. This idea gradually took concrete form until we signed a cooperation agreement under which T-Systems, Deutsche Telekom and our company agreed to jointly market the real estate platform. This is a strategic partnership that combines our own knowledge of the real estate value chain with our partners’ expertise in digitization, scaling and business model expansion. Deutsche Telekom and T-Systems watch market trends closely and can respond nimbly to changes in market requirements, allowing us to focus on our core business and, with the backing of our cooperation partner, leverage it profitably for the future.
And that’s what this is all about: if we want a real estate platform, not only do I want it to comply with German laws, particularly in protecting personal data, but I also want us to be involved in marketing the platform and sharing in the success instead of leaving everything to my cooperation partner. That’s partnership at its best: fair, reciprocal and win-win. I think our cooperation agreement puts that goal within reach. We’ve already received inquiries from competitors, and they show that our idea is sound.

Facts & Figures
CORPUS SIREO has been a member of the Swiss Life Group since 2014.
CORPUS SIREO is an asset management company with 560 employees. It has been a member of the Swiss Life Group since 2014.

You mentioned Salesforce.com. Why are you using this digital service platform, what groundwork did you have to lay and what has the outcome been?

Salesforce.com is a huge deal for us. The way I see it, its implementation in early 2016 marks CORPUS SIREO’s entry into the digital age. Our vision was to have one application for all our business units; the cloud platform enabled us to start realizing this vision and optimizing the heterogeneity of our application environment. We’re currently in the first phase: eliminating five autonomous CRM systems and automating our real estate management processes. This frees up so much organizational bandwidth, especially if your goal is to reduce complexity and improve efficiency across the entire organization. We want to solve a wide range of issues, from old Excel templates to duplicate and triplicate data records to standalone software solutions that aren’t upgradable and thus aren’t future-proof. Our long-range goal is to build the real estate platform that I mentioned earlier and support all the processes along the real estate value chain, with CORPUS SIREO as the first mover. That means implementing a platform that automatically and digitally supports all processes, particularly in asset, portfolio and fund management. Ideally, we might be able to reach that goal in only two years.

That sounds ambitious. What will you need to make it happen?

Close cooperation with our business units. That’s our number one priority since our IT department can’t accomplish much without clear definitions of our business processes or the willingness of our business units to collaborate on the platform and use the finished product. Luckily, we can count on Deutsche Telekom and T-Systems to actively support us when dealing with current market trends and change management.

Let’s talk about cost savings. Will changing CRM systems cut costs?

Absolutely, but not in the first year. There are so many migration issues, initial project outlays and licensing costs. That said, there are some quick wins, too. If we only look at our five CRM solutions, the implementation of one solution already eliminates five software maintenance contracts and cuts internal costs by 80 percent – these are all massive savings. Another example: our first project, which went live in June after an implementation phase of only six months, is an acquisition tool that supports the property purchase process. It replaced an Excel spreadsheet containing thousands of rows with an automated version. All in all, we expect to break even after two to three years.

CORPUS SIREO operates in a complex IT domain, but is purchasing a lot of ICT services from one vendor. Why?

We used to follow a multi-vendor strategy, but that approach wasn’t flexible enough for us after Corpus and Sireo merged in 2007. So when we revisited our IT strategy and then moved to re-tender services such as hosting, we decided to switch to a single provider strategy. Not only was it a better fit with our business plan and clearly the most efficient solution, but it offered a host of other benefits as well – greater efficiency, less internal administrative overhead to manage service providers and T-Systems’s ability to provide the full range of ICT services that we needed. Not to mention Deutsche Telekom’s high security and data protection standards.
“It was the right decision to put CORPUS SIREO under the protection of Deutsche Telekom's Cyber Defense Service.“
Friederike Buchheister
CIO CORPUS SIREO

You’ve recently completed a whole slew of migration projects. What lessons have you learned – including lessons about what you require from IT service providers?

First, keep your project and milestone plans realistic. Second, if you want your migration project to succeed, you have to communicate constantly, manage the project closely and ensure the IT provider’s service obligations dovetail tightly with your own cooperation obligations.
Finally, pay close attention to how the project team’s migration deliverables are implemented in regular operations. This is the point where the single vendor approach kind of breaks down; T-Systems is just too big to maintain one face to the customer. Right now, we’re facing the challenge of jointly exploring and capturing opportunities to optimize the migration of future projects. For example, we might leave more responsibility for multiple process steps with the same people.

We’re looking into ways to change our processes in order to minimize the inefficiencies that mid-sized businesses and large corporations commonly experience when working together ...

... and that’s definitely the right approach. On-time, on-budget delivery is often subject to multiple layers of dependencies in large corporations. In my view, this is a constant, mutual learning process that never really ends. That’s the true lesson. 

The benefits for you are clear, but what’s in it for your customers?

The concrete benefit for our customers is that we can serve as a one-stop provider of professional infrastructure, rigorous security standards, superior data integrity and everything that goes with it – all thanks to our close partnership with a strong service provider. That builds trust and is a powerful selling point for customers to award mandates to us.
T-Systems-Account-Manager Sebastian Soloschenko
For T-Systems Account Manager Sebastian Soloschenko, “face-to-face meetings and discussions are the foundation of superior customer service”.

You’re responsible for EUR 63 billion in client real estate assets within the Swiss Life Asset Managers Group. Recently, you requested and received a permit from BaFin, the German financial regulator, to operate an asset management company. To what extent will this change the priorities within your IT organization?

First, let me say that this development was driven by our business strategy. Essentially, our goal is to expand our operations in the German real estate fund market. What I specifically mean is that we’ve established a German asset management company that will serve as a new, additional conduit for launching open- and closed-end real estate investment funds that are organized under German law for institutional investors. This represents a major expansion of our business operations. Our job as the IT organization was to explicitly support the BaFin application. We had to describe exactly what we and T-Systems did in order to technically implement this strategic goal in a regulated environment and how our IT set-up ensured a reliable execution. This is where our single provider strategy really came into play. We could point to the Deutsche Telekom Group’s support with a wide range of solutions: from telco services (WAN/LAN/WLAN/VOIP/internet/firewalls/cellular and conventional PSTN) to countless data center solutions (conventional, dynamic, simply hosted or in the Telekom Cloud), managed IT workstations and mobile devices all the way to application management services for SAP.

So BaFin essentially conducts due diligence by looking at how the IT department helps to ensure the success of a new business model?

That’s right. It helped that ten percent of our IT budget goes toward security. That underscored the stability and security of our IT infrastructure in the BaFin application, as did our decision to put CORPUS SIREO under the protection of Deutsche Telekom’s Cyber Defense service back in 2015.

Being a multinational company, you have to send data across borders every single day. What do you do to comply with data protection regulations?

Of all the countries where Swiss Life Asset Managers does business – currently, Germany, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and the UK – Germany probably has the most restrictive national data protection laws. So we generally base our data protection and data security standards on the German requirements.

Customer/supplier models tend to be very fluid. What’s your vision for your relationship with T-Systems in five years?

My vision is that we will procure all our outsourcing and digitization services from one future-proof source with support from our cooperation partners and their partner networks. This vision follows from our business strategy of being Europe’s largest real estate asset manager within Swiss Life Asset Managers, supported by our relationship with Deutsche Telekom as a first mover and innovator with flexible, agile digitization models that deliver a decisive competitive edge.

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