As one of the most ubiquitous business sectors around, real estate works with copious amounts of data and resources that may seem prime for migration to the cloud — yet there are questions players in this space must consider before diving in.

Real estate services giant Realogy owns such brokerage brands as Coldwell Banker, Century 21 Real Estate, ERA Real Estate, and Sotheby’s International Real Estate. The parent company has more than 200,000 agents across its franchises and direct affiliates, and 11,000 internal employees. Realogy is primarily US-based with substantial operations in the UK and Singapore as well.

Nashira Layade, executive vice president and CTO at Realogy, spoke with InformationWeek about the choices her organization made as it explored and adopted the cloud.

What considerations had to be weighed before adopting the cloud and where did the heavy lifting take place in the migration? Were those considerations specific to Realogy or were there challenges related to the real estate sector to address?

We weren’t going to the cloud strictly to say we’re going to the cloud. It was a clear consideration as to what was going to be most transformative and most closely aligned to our business strategy. We looked at going to the cloud trying to make an impact in four specific areas.

First is identifying how we can use cloud to foster our culture of innovation and experimentation. Second, how could we use cloud to get faster time to market for agility. Third is looking at how we could improve performance so that’s improving security as well as leveraging new technology. Lastly, how do we use cloud from a cost perspective? To provide more transparency, greater flexibility?

Those were the four things we really considered.

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Nashira Layade, Realogy

Over the last two years, which is when our transformation really leapfrogged, [there’s been a] close alignment to our business strategy imperatives. How do we use the cloud to be bolder? To be faster? To give it real-time data and analytics? For a company looking to start or continue their cloud journey, they have to first ask themselves what they are trying to get out of it and how does it assist them in realizing their business strategy in a more comprehensive manner.

Your deployment of cloud should be closely linked with your business strategy with clear deliverables you’re trying to get.

Were there challenging legacy technologies that needed extra handling for cloud migration?

There are a few of our legacy applications that as we considered transitioning them to the cloud or deploying them to the cloud, we had to ask ourselves, “What is the business value in doing this?”

How much time is it going to take us to transition? In this transition, are there risks we need to consider? Based on the type of data, are there data privacy regulations that may have come up such as CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) or GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that we now need to consider as we transition to the cloud?

Lastly, we considered usability. Moving to the cloud makes it faster but is it more complicated to do the move, versus taking some time and just waiting for a system. For the business to be ready for us to completely deploy the system versus just a lift and a shift.

Was this a multi-month or multi-year strategy to transform? How do you continue to reassess options and services that you use?

Our cloud strategy has been multi year. For the last two years, we looked at it as a way to serve as a foundation of our digital transformation journey. Initially, we looked at this in the context of a strictly technical thing. How do we reduce our onsite data centers? How do we get more capability by moving to the cloud? What are some cloud-based technologies that we could use?

Over the last 18 months, I asked our organization to take a look and stop with technical focus and more align [our cloud efforts] more strategically to where we need to be. There were certain things that maybe were a priority in phase one that became deprioritized so we can focus on accelerating the business.

One of the things that was key for us to determine is did we want to be single cloud or multi cloud and what were the advantages and disadvantages of both. For our organization, having a multi-cloud approach works best. When we started this three years ago, we were looking at a single-cloud approach and that quickly evolved.

Do you still have some resources on-prem?

We are a hybrid model. We still have some onsite. For cloud, we are multi cloud. There’s specific vendors we use for infrastructure and other vendors we use for platform. That’s based on different things such as the economics — shifting to cloud has influence on your operational expense investments. We have to consider what made the most sense for the organization. Then there is ease of transition. If there were some of our more critical services that were already in one vendor, it didn’t necessarily make sense for us to transition to another vendor. So, if 60% of our most critical platforms are with vendor one, then we’ll move everything to vendor one.

What have digital transformation and the cloud meant for your organization?

At Realogy, we believe in the concept of open ecosystem and agile product delivery. Cloud has completely opened that up for us. Cloud is a backbone for that. We use cloud to enable real-time data analysis as the largest real estate brokerage in the United States. The data we have access to is incomparable, so we use cloud quite a lot for data analytics and our artificial intelligence laboratory. We use cloud to enable business experimentation and reinvention. As I think about the last 18 months, in light of COVID, where cloud has been the most transformative is in using it to facilitate collaboration.

Because we had made certain investments in our digital transformation and our cloud infrastructure, we were able to convert to remote work pretty much within a 72-hour timeframe. Even as we balance a hybrid workforce, our cloud infrastructure assists with that.

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