‘In The Trenches’ With Acadia Realty Trust’s Larry Schachter

Source: Reposted from: ‘In The Trenches’ With Acadia Realty Trust’s Larry Schachter

The power of collaboration can be a great tool in solving the sticky technology issues that we all struggle with. This week we are featuring the second in a series of articles called ‘In the Trenches’ written by Chris Saah, CIO, Transwestern. They are brief, informal, ‘water cooler’ conversations with some of the brightest, most innovative technology professionals in our industry addressing problems that many of us are facing today.

When I asked Larry if he would do an interview with me for “In The Trenches” his response captured exactly why we are doing the series: ”It is a place where I spend more time than I wish. Sure – I’d enjoy chatting…” I’m sure all of us can relate to his honest response.

Larry, we’re writing this series to keep an open dialogue going about the day-to-day operational issues we all face. Could you share with us some of the issues that challenge you and how you deal with them?

While the IT staff at Acadia would prefer to spend their time rolling out new technology, or implementing new systems that enhance productivity and efficiency, user support is part of our DNA. Within the IT department, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, each of us has our areas of expertise; however to the rest of the staff we are the “IT guys”. Hand holding for our less technical staff is something that none of us can escape. I was talking to a colleague CIO with 2500 users who said his senior executives still seek him out personally for help with their Blackberries. In a company of our size it is unavoidable.

How do you deal with this, especially with a limited staff?

We embrace it. First of all, since all staff want to access from home to corporate resources such as email, our MRI based accounting system, intranet, and shared files; we recognize that these needs can extend into staff members’ personal technology. And since users are accessing corporate resources, we need to insure that there is adequate security on home networks, which means WPA keys and the like for wireless connections. In doing so, this will affect the connectivity of personal items such as their kids’ computers, TiVos, Wiis and iPods. So we are forced to become knowledgeable in these technologies too. Clearly, the line has become blurred as it relates to where the corporate responsibility ends.

So you service home technology?

To an extent, yes. People are working 24/7 and need seamless access. Their home is really an extension of their work environment. By simplifying and standardizing, we can minimize support needs. We are rolling out new Citrix XEN technology, in conjunction with the Legato email archiving product, which will allow users access to all of their Acadia applications from one website, as opposed to requiring VPN access for email, and a separate login mechanism for other apps and documents.

At the same time, many users will not know what to do when home networking issues arise (and we all know that they do). We’ve trained our users that more and better questions will yield more and better responses from us. Most can be accomplished remotely, but we have been known to make the occasional ‘house call’.

And you don’t view that as a distraction to your mission?

No, to the contrary, I see it as a way I build trust. The staff know they can turn to IT to keep them connected. It is a tangible value we can provide to them personally. Plus, it allows all of us to hone our problem solving skills. If we don’t know an answer, but show an organized and logical approach to finding it, that’s a positive. When users see that we are competent in an area that they understand and directly affects them, they are more apt to trust our judgment in something that is harder to understand and indirectly affects them, and does help get the business-side sponsorship we need.

Do you have a recent example of that?

Yes. We recently automated our payables process. There is always hesitation when you want to “tamper” with something so critical to the operation, but we got the sponsorship we needed partially because the trust in being able to deliver was there.

How did that go?

I think it’s safe to say that everyone was quite pleased. We implemented the PayablesNexus product from Nexus Systems in Arlington, VA. This was project with a January 1 hard start date. Between our internal interdepartmental team and the vendor’s personnel, we were able to meet the deadline (through the difficult holiday season), at the budgeted cost, and there were no major surprises or hiccups after going live.

Do your invoices go offsite for processing?

No, vendor invoices still come to us as they always have – either our main office in White Plains, NY or several regional property management offices. Our existing copiers were network-enabled, so in most cases invoices are scanned to FTP sites by function and are then visible in the software for coding and workflow. The paper invoices go in a box and are destroyed after a period of time. The product is run as a “Software as a Service” solution and allows for enhanced workflow and visibility. At the completion of the workflow, the data is moved to and from MRI through a series of APIs. We save the time and expense of moving paper invoices both between and within offices. And with some minor process modification, were able to shave time from the invoice processing, which adds up very quickly.

Thanks for the insight Larry. You’ve really turned what many of us view as a distraction at best into a strategic part of your mission. Thanks for your time.

Larry Schachter is the Vice President- Information Technology for Acadia Realty Trust. Acadia Realty Trust, headquartered in White Plains, NY, is a fully integrated, self-managed and self-administered equity REIT focused primarily on the ownership, acquisition, redevelopment and management of retail and mixed-use properties including neighborhood and community shopping centers located in dense urban and suburban markets in major metropolitan areas.

 



Author: Chris Saah
Chris lives in the Washington DC area with his wife and business partner, Allyn. His roles have included Chief Information Officer of Transwestern, the commercial real estate company, President of Saah Furniture, a family manufacturing and retail operation, and Associate Pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Central Maryland. He has also been the co-chair of Realcomm and is certified in the administration and interpretation of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.