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Our Technology Strategy Is Build, Buy, Partner: Chandra Dhandapani, CBRE

As Chief Digital & Technology Officer, Chandra Dhandapani, leads the company’s digital strategy and all aspects of technology globally. She and her team provide the technology capabilities and infrastructure to support CBRE’s clients and professionals across the globe. In a chat with BW Businessworld, Dhandapani talks about the technology strategy of CBRE and her expansion plans.

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Q: How is the Proptech market evolving in India? 

Chandra Dhandapani: In the last three years, we are seeing a lot of mainstream leases invest money in PropTech, more than what we have seen before. We also see large IT companies building their own divisions targeting the real estate market. 

We now see these flexible spaces as a trend where space and experience are provided as a service. Also IOT, Big Data, ML and AI are changing the property landscape very fast. Companies in the real estate space are working towards adapting to these changes by keeping a close watch on the startups in various spaces that affect their business. 

At CBRE, we have partnered with VC companies and keeping a close watch on technology companies that can disrupt the property market space. We have a partnership with Microsoft and using a product they have built for us. 

Q: So, what are the challenges you'll be facing in the next couple of years regarding the proptech?

Chandra Dhandapani:  I would say we see more opportunity than challenges. At its core, real estate as a sector is very attractive. There's always a lot of capital flowing into real estate. In the next couple of years I think the opportunities are going to increase even further.  

Hiring right talent will always be the key. 

This is where startups fit in. Personally, I get a lot of energy working with start-ups and observing them. I enjoy the energy that comes from innovative people who want to change the world and that's what keeps us on our toes. We have already organized events like Disruptech where we identify bright startups from the domain and we will be doing many more such events in recent future.  

Q: What are the Digital and Technology centres (DT Centres) that CBRE is setting up? What do these centres do? 

Chandra Dhandapani: This is the digital technology and development hub. It’s the first one that we created in Asia Pacific and we have about 150 essentially product development teams. These teams are across varied domains – HR, Software Development, Product Engineering, UI/UX etc. We are also creating a similar centre in Hyderabad.

India has a huge talent pool in all fields of technology and we intend to tap into that. I am thrilled able to come back and see our teams in action.

Q: How much the total annual revenue is allocated for the development of digital and technology wings of CBRE in India?  

Chandra Dhandapani: I would say typically we don't look at it from what percentage of technology is focused on India. What we look at is the products that we create. I like to think about it as there are global platforms that we have and there are local capabilities we have. Increasingly what we've moved towards is more of a platform strategy. 

For instance, many of the capabilities that we bring to bear in Indian market are either a combination of things that can bring to our clients in Indian market or plug and play with our global platforms. We also do internal development here. 

My technology strategy for CBRE is what I call a build, buy and partner. If we feel like there's something truly differentiating we bring to our customers, we want to own that technology and so most often we will build it. That's why you have centres like the DT Centres. If we think there's a narrow window of time that we can bring something differentiating to our clients but we don't have the time or in some cases the expertise to build something at that point in time, we will rush to buy it. We have made some technology acquisitions as you probably are aware of and we are always scouting for that. We also partner with companies like Microsoft. We use both Azure and E.W. as cloud platforms. 

The power is in bringing the best of CBRE global and local together. In fact our tag team for Digital and Technology is globally connected locally empowered. So, the more you can get globally connected and at the same time have the local teams innovate is the way we think about it, versus what's the percentage spend.

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