The commercial real estate industry is edging toward integrating Web-based technologies. Companies who have only had a general awareness of online real estate resources are now migrating toward selecting e-commerce tools. Given the recent emergence of most of the Internet applications and the diverse business models, many traditional real estate decision makers are having a difficult time discerning the differences between Web-enabled services. To date, there has been a paucity of data available to assist users with their analysis of e-commerce sites.

To help bring order to the chaos, PikeNet and Waltham, Mass.-based Gomez Advisors have teamed up to complete the first of several studies focusing on real estate e-commerce. Our mission is to generate a consistent methodology for objectively analyzing online commercial real estate sites. Gomez Advisors is a leading provider of e-commerce customer experience measurement, benchmarking, research and analysis that has covered more than 6,000 dot-coms in 75 industries. The PikeNet and Gomez venture should build a foundation to help the traditional real estate industry confidently navigate and transact online. The first report, which compares listings and transaction management sites, as well as studies the current state of technology adoption, will be presented at the PikeNet Forum on May 2-4 in San Francisco.

What criteria do PikeNet and Gomez recommend for comparing online real estate services? We'll start with a few questions.

Ease of use/functionality

Does the site offer consistent navigation and an intuitive graphic layout from screen to screen? Is the technology fully browser based, or does it require software installation on the user's server? Does the home page clearly describe the full range of functionality and tasks? Can data be efficiently accessed and organized? To what degree is personalization offered? Can information that is researched be saved or copied to facilitate future searches? How many different search parameters are provided? How easy is it to collect the data for statistical or financial analysis?

Training/user confidence

What kind of training is offered? Does the company offer to initially populate the data fields? Is staff available to visit your company on-site to provide “hands-on” training? Is this training included in the basic fee structure or as an additional charge? What are the availability, depth and breadth of customer service options provided? Can the user seek service requests online? Does the Web site have telephone customer service available 24/7? Is there an online “help” search function? Is there a methodology for purging older or incorrect data input into the system?

Software/Web interface

Does the site provide real-time status reports on the Internet, or is data upgraded from daily downloads? What kind of password protection is provided? Is it available at multiple-user levels to create and change the security hierarchy? What kind of overall confidentiality can be maintained? How frequently is the information on the Web site backed-up for redundancy? What is the overall speed of the Web interface? Is the site highly scalable to handle significant volumes of users and traffic? Is the Web solution built on open architecture to allow integration with existing legacy systems? Can the various screens and drop-down boxes be customized by the user, or must it occur as a software change through the Web site?

Report functionality

How many standardized reports does the site have? How easy is it to use the report functions to sort and organize collected data? What kind of graphics can be added? What is the overall on-screen as well as print appearance of the reports? How easy is it to customize for corporate logos and terminology? Can the user make changes directly without Web site assistance?

Company track record

What is the company's financial strength and funding stage? Can the business model produce profits at modest usage levels, or is large-scale market penetration required? How long has the company been in business? Can the management team be easily accessed from the Web site? Are there strategic and technical alliances with strong third-party companies? Is the Web site a “pure-play” competitor, or has it evolved from roots as a former software maker or traditional real estate service provider?

Once a consistent evaluation has been completed between online competitors, PikeNet recommends narrowing the field between the top choices by beta testing. Given the relative infancy of commercial real estate e-commerce sites, most online providers are willing to structure trials. No volume of analysis can replace hands-on experimentation by your staff.

Company track record

What is the company's current financial strength and funding stage? Can the business model produce profits at modest usage levels or must large-scale market penetration be required for profitability? How long has the company been in business? Can the management team be easily accessed from the Web site? Are there strategic and technical alliances in place with strong third-party companies? Is the Web site a “pure-play” competitor, or has it evolved from roots as a former software maker or traditional real estate service provider?

Revenue model and cost structure

What is the comparative cost of the online service provided vs. traditional means to accomplish these same functions offline? Is the fee structure flexible for different size users? Is the fee structure comprehensive or are modules priced on an individual basis? Is there a trial period discount? Are there up-front licensing costs or just monthly usage charges?

ecirco@pikenet.com