Insights | Apr. 11, 2024

Q&A: Chief Technology Officer Clark Ardern on Building a Digitally Native Industrial Real Estate Company

With more than 5 percent of U.S. GDP flowing through our portfolio, Link Logistics connects consumption, technology and the supply chain. Playing a central role is chief technology officer Clark Ardern, who leads the implementation of digital products and services. Here, Ardern discusses topics including the firm’s recent CIO 100 Award and how his team drives value for customers, employees and stakeholders.

What are the big-picture goals of the Technology function at Link Logistics and how is it a strategic differentiator for the firm?

We think about everything we do from a digital engagement perspective to maximize benefit internally and externally. Every time we look at reengineering a process, we challenge ourselves to think about how to do it in a more digital way that can leverage the information we have at our fingertips. Creating more efficient processes saves us money and creates better experiences for our employees, customers and investors.

It starts with data. We harness the power of all the data our scale provides and then ensure we have a single source of truth for the entire firm. Then we can expose that data to applications and dashboards we’ve built for internal or external use, as well as to our investor community so they can easily understand how our portfolio is operating. Because we have such a maniacal focus on data, making sure we have a single, systematized source of truth across the firm is essential. Our use of data truly drives our business. It empowers our teams to make action-based decisions and helps us support customers in determining informed solutions for their business needs.

As an industry veteran, how have you seen the role of technology in business change?

When I began my career, business and technology were seen as two separate functions. Today, technology is fully immersed and integrated into business processes, and even runs the business in many instances. In the past, there was sort of a struggle to get business leadership to buy into technology. But now that dynamic is totally different. It's much more of a strategic partnership dedicated to delivering value for our customers and stakeholders, as well as our internal teams.

You built the Technology function at Link Logistics extremely fast, probably faster than has ever been done in industrial real estate. How do you maintain a great culture within a team that is very spread out while supporting a rapidly growing firm?

Having a flexible work structure regarding location has helped us secure the best talent available, wherever it sits. But that creates a different challenge: How do you get people to feel like part of a cohesive team? So, we really emphasize getting people physically together as often as makes sense. Project teams come together once a month, our departmental leadership team comes together every other month and our entire Technology organization comes together for an annual summit. We also have other in-person gatherings for Technology team members and the business partners they work with. We are happy to hire the best talent wherever it sits, but part of the deal is that everyone be committed to regular time in-person to foster connectivity as a team.

Link Logistics recently earned a CIO 100 Award, which is prestigious recognition within the technology space, for Link+, the firm’s digital customer-focused platform. What does this honor mean to you and what does it say about your team?  

It’s objective third-party validation that Link Logistics is making the right investments. It’s also recognition of an extreme amount of hard work over the past two years—thousands of hours of effort from departments across the firm. People truly care about the customer experience we are providing with Link+ and about making it better every day. When you really care about something, it shows in the final product. Coupled with the high adoption rates we’ve seen among Link+ users, this award is validation that we put our heart and soul into something that makes sense in the public domain. That’s very gratifying.

Building Link+ required broad collaboration. How does Technology collaborate with other departments at the firm, and how does that internal collaboration eventually create external benefits?

Collaboration might be the most important element of what we do. We have a very symbiotic relationship with departments across the business. Everyone works together as one team to deliver a new product or capability, from setting the strategy and then on through the full process.

Link+ is a good example. When we started building it, having a business owner of a technology platform like this was a new concept. We didn’t have a role for that on our Customer Experience team—actually, we didn’t even have a Customer Experience team yet. But our Technology department and newly formed Customer Experience team partnered to set the course and build this new platform together to create value for our customers.

Looking to the future for a moment, AI is having a cultural moment but its impact on industrial real estate might be less clear to people. How do you see AI potentially enhancing operations and efficiency for Link Logistics, and for the industry more broadly?

When the personal computer was introduced, it took about 20 years to really transform productivity and operations. With mobile and cloud technology, that window was even shorter. And it will be shorter still with AI.

In our sector, it is still early days for natural language processing, which is the form of AI that has really exploded in the popular consciousness. We’re still working on where that fits into Link Logistics. Other forms of AI – cognitive insight and robotic process automation, specifically – are very appropriate for our business now. With robotic process automation, we can have software do things like scan invoices to extract accounts payable information or automate payments. With cognitive insights delivered by machine learning, we can use algorithms to detect patterns in huge volumes of data to do things like predict when a customer will need more space. Machine learning is a major emphasis for us already, but I’m excited to see AI have an even greater impact for us in the future.

Because we are so large – more than half a billion square feet of space and approximately 10,000 customers – we have a high volume of transactions and massive amounts of data to work with. That will continue to create a lot of opportunity for us with regard to AI.

That sounds like an exciting future. Looking back, though, what stands out most about your time at Link Logistics so far?

The opportunity to build an organization and attract an amazing group of real estate technology experts to design and create a digitally native industrial real estate company from scratch has been special. Getting to see all our hard work manifest itself across our business and in platforms like Link+ brings joy and satisfaction. The time to value, velocity and pace have been extraordinary. It’s beyond my wildest dreams—and truly a testament to our people at Link Logistics and the partners that we have helping us.

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