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CIO100 2018 #31-100: Neil Gong, Airedale Property Trust

  • Name Neil Gong
  • Title Group ICT manager
  • Company Airedale Property Trust
  • Commenced role February 2015
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Technology Function Two staff members
  • Related

    Airedale Property Trust (APT) provides a wide range of services in property management and property development in the wider Auckland area, acting as a property arm of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, says Neil Gong, group ICT manager.

    APT is a social enterprise, or ‘for good’ business; all profits generated by APT go towards supporting  social and community work he says.

    One of the challenges APT Property Team faces is around property inspection.

    The team regularly carries out building inspections including checking the condition of ceilings, roofs and gutters. These tasks can be difficult, time-consuming and even dangerous for large and multi-story buildings, says Gong.

    Under the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, staff are not allowed to use ladders and instead, a cherry-picker will be required, adding more costs, potential delay and complexity to these tasks.

    “In order to solve this challenge, IT has been trailing using a drone to carry out ceiling, roof and gutter inspection tasks with the property team.

    “A ‘drone pilot’ works with a property team member to fly the drone and record the videos and pictures of the property inspected. Then the videos/pictures get uploaded to our property management system for analysis and reporting use.”

    This project has been a big winner for the property team, says Gong. “It has turned a boring and risky task into something a lot more interesting and exciting.”

    “This is just the first step towards building more smarter solutions to transform property management tasks. The next step we are looking for is ‘image recognition, analytics and processing’ solutions to further integrate with the property management system, reducing human processing time and improving data accuracy.”

    As well, a trial of using “Internet of Things” type devices for property contamination monitoring is also being finalised with other social housing providers.

    He says information security is becoming one of the top risks for business, though at the same time it is also a daunting and challenging topic for small and medium-size organisations.

    Gong has developed an information security programme that incorporates both a ‘top down’ and a ‘bottom up’ approach.

    “The ‘top down’ approach involves creating the influence and culture through different layers of the organisation. Information security is now part of the agenda for the board meetings. Regular training sessions and special notifications, have helped staff build cybersecurity awareness against online scams and malware tricks,” he says.

    “By helping people understand the needs to become more digitally vigilant, both from a personal and work perspective, we have changed the culture and attitude towards information security completely and this is no longer just an IT department’s problem. It has also been the most cost-effective way to improve our cyber defence.”

    The ‘bottom up’ approach is all about getting the basis right he says. Organisations tend to spend a lot of money on technological solutions but it is still difficult to tell if your organisation is adequately protected even with all these security solutions.”

    “One of the key lessons I learned in my career is about being able to learn, share and help each other,” Gong says.

    “A few years ago, my team and I were working on a major network project, we had to completely migrate our entire network to a new infrastructure within a day which involved a number of complex changes.

    “We started on Sunday morning and the first part went well.

    “Unfortunately, we encountered some tricky issues and by 9 pm on Sunday, we were still stuck and not able to resolve the issues.

    “As we had to get our network up and going by 6 am on Monday, things became more and more desperate.

    “Running out of options internally, I looked at my contact list and started calling people I knew who might be able to help.

    “A number of people answered the calls and all gave me really helpful suggestions and advice. With the help received, we were able to identify the problem by 1am and completed the migration by 5am in the morning.

    “I was really grateful to the people who helped me and I thought sometimes ‘who you know’ could be more important than ‘what you know’,” he says.

    “Knowing someone who I can call on a Sunday night and in return, knowing I will do the same to him is really valuable.”

    He says this experience prompted him to always be willing to actively share and help any of his peers in the industry.

    “I hope by doing this, we can promote a collaborative culture and actively going out to learn, share and help each other.”

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