REA Group is undergoing a major “re-platforming” of its Australian and Asian operations as it prepares for its next phase of growth.
The ASX-listed real estate advertising company is taking two different approaches for each region of operations.
In Australia it is rebuilding its core around in-house built microservices that sit on AWS and then “book-ending” that core with Netsuite and Salesforce.
But it is taking a slightly different approach for its Asian businesses, going with cloud-based software end-to-end – with Salesforce overseeing “lead to order” and Netsuite “order to cash”.
“So it’s two very different plays in two different markets for different reasons, either [due to] what was there before or what we want to achieve in those markets,” REA Group CRM program senior manager Shane Williams told iTnews on the sidelines of Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference.
The re-platforming of the Australian operations is expected to be a “multi-year journey” as the company builds out microservices “to facilitate everything from customer on-boarding to billing”.
Already, the project has seen the beginning of a planned migration off REA’s existing CRM system in Australia – a 15-year-old Sage system – onto Salesforce’s sales cloud and service cloud products.
“[REA] bought a financial account system back when they were a start-up, and it just happened to have a free add-on CRM,” Williams said.
“They were a start-up so you just make use of what’s free, but 15 years later they’re a massive 500-odd developer tech organisation, they’ve heavily integrated everything into this thing, and it’s getting to the point where it’s not going to scale.”
The decision to switch to Salesforce was made prior to Williams joining REA: he previously worked on a similar CRM transition at REA’s parent News Corporation before shifting into the real estate subsidiary.
“I’ve spent the last 12 months getting the Australian sales teams all on one [Salesforce] platform, migrating all the customer accounts and contacts data across, and then enabling the sales teams with mobile [access],” Williams said.
One of the major changes between Sage and Salesforce is the underlying data model and structure.
“[Our version of] Sage is effectively an accounting system, so it focuses on a billing entity as a unique identifier rather than a person or customer,” Williams said.
“It is focused on a finance data model so the challenge for us is to re-platform that around who is the customer and put that as the central record.
“For us, [the customer is] the account, and all the contacts on the accounts are real estate agents in our context, or media agencies that we deal with for display advertising.
“In building a relational database [using Salesforce, we’re] building a whole new data model to support not only the existing business but where they want to take it. The data’s the same but it looks very different.”
With the Australian CRM foundation built, the next 12 months will see an expansion of its use, though it could involve both native and third-party tools.
“Now that we’ve got that single view of the customer and all that data, it’s a question of what are we going to do with it? How are we going to enable marketing automation or onboard customers and new products faster?” he said.
Artificial intelligence augmentations were also possible, though again REA is not completely wed to those being native to the Salesforce platform (branded Einstein).
“I think there’s definitely use cases for [AI],” Williams said.
“If it’s part of the core offering [I’ll] look at it as a first case, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m wed to it. I’m happy to look to the ecosystem [as well].”
REA similarly wants to establish a single view of its customers in its Asian operations, which includes the business it acquired from Malaysia’s iProperty Group last year.
Asia is considered a key growth opportunity for REA, hence the focus on getting its IT systems right.
It presents a different challenge to Australia, with “13 different businesses in seven countries” and all using different systems.
“They’re going from everything from spreadsheets to in-house built databases and Dynamics,” Williams said.
“We’re saying ‘let’s migrate you off that and get you to a single view of the customer’ right across Asia.”
But REA is not simply replicating its Australian model into Asia, preferring instead to have almost everything run in the cloud.
“It’s a different challenge and a very different play in terms of a tech stack strategy so we’re not going to build a whole lot of custom proprietary stuff in the middle and bookend it with two SaaS platforms,” Williams said.
“It’s very much Salesforce right through lead to order, and Netsuite for order to cash. That will give us a lot more flexibility around how we’re going to deliver for Asia.”
The Australian instance will convert to Lightning; it’s just a question of when, but it could happen as early as this financial year, he said.
The Asian re-platforming project began in July. Salesforce went live in its first market, Hong Kong, about a fortnight ago.
Read more here