As the real estate industry continues its recovery, real estate investment companies, asset managers, property managers and corporate real estate departments are beginning to search for their next generation of automated systems. Unlike prior searches, which focused disproportionately on software to support the company's basic financial accounting requirements, today users are demanding automation support for leasing, onsite property management, facilities management, budget preparation, portfolio management, cash flow and yield projections, purchasing and other operational, analytical and performance measurement activities taking place throughout the company.
Under these circumstances it is becoming increasingly unlikely that a single vendor can provide an all-encompassing solution. Fortunately, users of automation services are pravitating to popular platforms and processing environments that facilitate the integration of software products provided by different software developers. At the same time software developers are encourage to produce state-of-the-art products for these popular processing environments following industrywide programming and interoperability standards. As the prospects for technical integration among diverse product offerings improves, we are witnessing an increasing number of business combinations and strategic alliances between product suppliers.
The art of linking various software products together so they can share processing resources, access and update common data bases and serve users possessing varying degrees of technical sophistication and proficiency is broadly referred to as system integration. The user interface aspects of the systems integration process are often referred to as work flow re-design or re-engineering activities.
This article focuses on today's system integration challenges and opportunities facing real estate investors, asset managers, property managers, corporate real estate departments and other real estate oriented organizations. It explores systems integration from the technical, applications, vendor and user perspectives with particular emphasis placed on the acquisition of appropriate software products.
The two dominant technical design paradigms impacting the latest generation of software are graphical user interfaces ("Windows") and client/server technology.
Graphical user interfaces featuring "point and click" processing are replacing existing character-based software at a rapid pace seemingly limited only by how fast software vendors are able to fund, write, test and introduce new software.
Graphical interfaces up user friendliness
The introduction of graphical interfaces may have minimal impact on current users who are comfortable with their existing interfaces; however, the increased "user friendliness" of a graphical interface opens a whole new world for those who previously did not work directly with computers when performing their job functions. The introduction of graphical interfaces has the potential to empower more users and enable additional tasks performed throughout the company to be automated. The relatively intuitive nature of graphical interfaces also enables users familiar with old proprietary systems to readily adapt to the new software products that are being introduced.
Eventually, non-graphical software systems are destined to go the way of the rotary telephone, where the next generation of users will not be able to fathom how prior generations tolerated the imposed constraints and limitations of character-based systems. Despite the obvious benefits, today there are still a sufficient number of users who don't recognize the benefits of graphical user interfaces and are not predisposed to switch. This factor coupled with the unavailability of new software suggests that graphical systems will phase in over the next several years.
In the real estate industry we find some vendors retrofitting existing legacy systems with graphical front-ends and backends, while others are writing completely new products. All vendors I've met generally agree that if they are to remain in business beyond the next few years they will have to eventually provide a graphical interface offering. However, for vendors there are many yet unresolved questions regarding languages to adopt, standards to follow, techniques to employ, features to offer, processing volumes to support and product pricing structures to establish. The more specialized the application, the longer lead-time a vendor is likely to have before being forced to address the need to offer a graphical product. In the real estate industry the predominant transition to graphical interfaces will probably occur over the next two to three years, but as soon as graphical products become readily available the market for competing non-graphical products may virtually disappear.
Today, in many instances, the customer is left to choose between proven character-based software and relatively new and untested graphical products. Some users are restricted in their choice of new systems due to limitations of their processing platforms, others are unable to cost-justify a change before recouping previous automation investments and then there are those that remain satisfied with their existing systems and see no need to change and plan to build added capabilities around their existing systems rather than replacing them.
The CTI survey indicates that the vast majority of retail managers are still using proven legacy software operating on midrange minicomputer systems at this time.
A recent survey of the 50 top shopping center property management companies in the United States conducted by CTI Limited Inc. revealed the following:
* 39 of these companies use midrange computers and application software to address their accounting and property management requirements (26 of these use IBM AS400-based solutions);
* four of these firms use a combination of midrange computers and personal computer networks;
* seven rely on personal computer networks exclusively;
* 15 of the top 19 retail managers which are real estate investment trusts (REITs) use midrange systems; and
* CTI software running on IBM AS400 computers is used by 13 of the 50 top retailers.
Most real estate companies are gaining initial exposure to graphical products through the introduction of spreadsheets, word processing products, contact management systems and schedulers of other low cost generic products. Most companies conducting the "toe test" are finding "the water to be fine" and anxiously awaiting the introduction of industry products featuring similar graphical interfaces.
Timberline Software was one of the first vendors to introduce graphical accounting software for the real estate industry. Yardi Systems Inc. is beta testing their initial graphical property management offering. Management Reports Inc. (MRI), Alternative Management Systems Inc. (AMSI), EXECUDATA, Maxwell, Minicom and others have added graphical front-ends and back-ends to their existing products. Several vendors noted that this is an interim step in their overall plan to move to the next generation of software. IBM AS400 minicomputerbased product vendors including Bishara Computer Systems Inc. and The McCosker Corp. are using GUI 400, Power Builder and Visual Basic along with other specialized utilities to front-end and back-end their existing software products.
Client/server efficient for large users
There are many definitions describing the client/server paradigm as viewed from a technological standpoint. For this article's purposes we will assume the following technological characteristics identify a client/server system:
* processing activities are shared between servers and clients in supporting user needs;
* often includes multiple servers interacting via gateways and telecommunication networks;
* permits the integration of new and legacy application software;
* programs and data bases are shared and used in an efficient manner;
* network administration is in place to control the use of resources and provide appropriate security;
* system is object-oriented with a high degree of on-line teleprocessing; and
* system is designed to facilitate expansion and scaleability.
Typically "clients" support on-line teleprocessing, provide spreadsheet interfaces, support graphic presentation and facilitate structured queries to the data base. "Servers" control the data base and objects, support access to legacy systems and support electronic data interchange. A key characteristic of all client/server systems is the establishment of an open architecture and interoperability to meet enterprisewide processing requirements using shared data bases.
A vast majority of real estate-oriented organizations can achieve their processing needs using stand-alone computer systems, personal computers configured into local area networks, small minicomputers or other processing techniques that do not employ client/server technology.
However, for large institutional investors, real estate organizations linked to parent corporate entities and organizations supporting large multiple entity data bases or offering processing services to many users, the client/server paradigm may offer the most efficient and effective processing alternative. Client/server technology is particularly beneficial in situations where it can be used to minimize the amount of information flowing over telecommunication lines. For example, if data selection is accomplished at the server, only the subset of records required are sent over telecommunication lines to the client for further processing. The most likely real estate applications requiring client/server technology are the general ledger/financial management and reporting system, which stores substantial volumes of budget and actual financial information, and the asset management system, which collects years of property and tenant-level financial and statistical information.
Some large institutional investors are considering generic general ledger systems employing client/server technology such as PeopleSoft, Platinum, Dun and Bradstreet, SQL Financials and Lawson. In the area of asset management some of the early offerings are provided by Minicom Data Corp. and Kenneth Leventhal & Co. using Oracle or Sybase data bases. Minicom offers an industry-oriented general ledger system employing client/server technology and a relational data base system in addition to the asset management system. Some organizations are using development tools provided by PowerSoft, Gupta and Progress to develop proprietary client/server-based asset management systems adapted to their organization's specific informational requirements.
Systems integration plays a significant role in enabling a company to successfully introduce either of these two popular paradigms into its processing environment.
Steps to provide real estate applications
The leading property management systems in operations today are the result of many years of evolution reflecting input provided by hundreds and in some cases thousands of users. The leading personal computer and local area network-based property management system vendors include AMSI, EXECUDATA, Management Reports Inc. (MRI), Melson Technologies (Skyline), Realwise, Timberline Software and Yardi. There are also vendors such as Prentice Hall Professional Software and Rent Roll Inc. who have emphasized PC-based onsite property management systems. Leading minicomputer-based property management system vendors include Bishara Computer Systems, CTI Ltd. Inc., J.D. Edwards, The McCosker Corp., Minicom Data Corp. and TenMan Systems. With the exception of Timberline and the Yardi beta test product, none of these leading vendors has yet to offer a new product incorporating graphical user interface and/or client/server technologies.
As noted earlier, several vendors are building front-ends and back-ends to their existing products to enable their clients to phase in features reflected in new technology systems. This strategy benefits both vendors, by maintaining their client base, and clients, by giving them more time to make a decision regarding their next generation of software.
Besides core financial accounting and property management applications, efforts are under way throughout the country to provide specialized real estate industry software taking advantage of state-of-the-art concepts.
Some notable examples of efforts under way to provide specialized real estate industry software include:
* a lease management system offered by Siegler Mountain Group which includes scanned photos, maps and plans;
* a leasing support system offering lease-by-lease analysis and presentation by Landware Systems Corp. which includes stacking diagrams and the ability to integrate custom graphics;
* a space management tool kit offered by Earnest Development which uses a graphical property data base written in Access with the ability to import Autocad plans;
* a research data base for the commercial real estate market including graphics offered by Black's Guide Inc. that allows users to search for buildings and spaces using over 150 information options;
* a Windows-based product, WinStock, to produce lease stacking plans for commercial properties by Real Pro-Jections Inc., which can import tenant data files from popular lease-by-lease analysis products and potentially from property management systems;
* a Windows-based lease-by-lease cash flow and valuation product introduced by Absolute Software Associates; and
* Rent Roll Inc. interfaces with MRI, Timberline, Skyline and HUD Manager systems.
Leading vendors of valuation and cash flow projection products including Melson Technologies, ARGUS Financial Software, Dyna Software & Consulting, H.B. Pascal & Co. Inc. and EOL are planning for the introduction of Windows versions of their products -- the issue is when and how rather than whether to pursue the graphical interface program. However, from a practical standpoint these applications characteristically depend more on their inherent computational prowess and processing capabilities than the friendliness of their user interface since they are typically used by users who are very comfortable with computers. Graphical interfaces for these products will probably not substantially increase their usage by financial analysts and appraisers, where specialized analytical skills are required, but will enable many additional users to employ versions of these products to support budget preparation activities and perform limited valuation activities.
Compared to prior generations of application software, the next generation is much more flexible where with minimal or no programming it should be easy to:
* add elements to the data base;
* change the look of particular screens;
* generate responses to queries;
* create new forms or reports; and
* perform on line analytical processing (OLAP).
In many instances, vendors will be called on to supply "tool kits" or "objects" where users and consultants specializing in their implementation will adapt these products for use in a particular company environment. Under these circumstances, companies or their designees will serve as the primary systems integrators, particularly where multiple vendor products and platforms are incorporated in the solution.
Vendors meet expanded clients needs
In the past, an industry-oriented vendor's goal was often to be the client's sole source of software and automation services capable of meeting a user's total automation needs. As the uses of automation continue to expand, providing such a total solution is becoming increasingly impractical. The real estate industry already is witnessing alliances between vendors arranged to meet expanded client needs such as:
* both MRI and Skyline linked to Budgetrac when a job cost module was required in addition to their core property management systems;
* many property management vendors developed bridges to Project and ARGUS rather than attempting to develop cash flow projection modules;
* integrated solutions have been implemented by specific clients combining J.D. Edwards with CTI, The McCosker System with Skyline, and Skyline with Realwise; and
* American Computer Software integrates their property management offering with Great Plains accounting products.
Today, many industry vendors are actively seeking strategic alliances as they try to accommodate expanding automation needs on a timely basis. Examples include the recent alliances established between EXECUDATA and Project Data Systems to service properties with government-assisted rental programs. Alliances with consultants, generic software vendors and accounting firms are also gaining acceptance as vendors strive to be "solution" rather than software providers. Mergers and acquisitions are also starting to take place such as the Melson Technologies acquisition of Softa (Skyline) and Financial Automation (Pro-Ject). Faced with many man years of effort just to convert existing modules, vendors are exploring a variety of options to remain competitive.
The establishment of strategic alliances and the linkage and mapping of software products developed by different vendors adds a dimension to the software vendor's system integration duties and responsibilities. These responsibilities are likely to be assumed more often in the future as more and more modules are designed to operate in a shared data base environment and disparate applications are forced to communicate.
Client Power Inc. has established a national network including consultants, software implementors and software developers serving the real estate industry to promote the exchange of information and provide clients with more sophisticated and comprehensive state-of-the-art automation solutions. Client Power also encourages collaborative software integration efforts with leading real estate companies to develop, adapt and implement software solutions to achieve a competitive advantage.
Vendor system integration efforts will be abetted by the establishment of industrywide programming, presentation, data base and operating system standards. Most real estate-oriented vendors would probably "piggy back" industry-specific standards on top of generic software and data base standards promoted by industry leaders such as IBM, Microsoft, Lotus Development, Oracle and Sybase. Organizations specializing in adapting, customizing and integrating state-of-the-art products to meet specific company needs will work with software developers in bringing the next generation of products to market.
User's appetite growing
In the real estate industry the user's appetite for state-of-the-art software is growing due to the combination of:
* consolidations within the industry resulting in the establishment of larger, more sophisticated user organizations placing greater emphasis on operations rather than trading properties;
* the introduction to graphical user interface concepts in the spreadsheet and word processing application areas whetting appetites for graphical software in other areas;
* recognition by users of a need to improve productivity and efficiency through the re-engineering of work flows and introduction of automation techniques throughout the company;
* recognition that information can be used to competitive advantage particularly when properly controlled and managed enterprisewide; and
* increased computer proficiency in all areas of the company resulting in a demand for state-of-the-art industry-oriented products for space management, leasing support, facilities management and performance monitoring/ measurement activities.
While individual users throughout an organization may recognize the need and have the desire to upgrade automation services, they are often constrained by a lack of available software, a lack of time and resources to support a conversion effort, political obstacles favoring a status quo or the lack of a champion to promote change.
The last time users in great numbers embraced a major technological advance was the introduction of personal computer systems. In many instances the personal computer revolution was accomplished without the cooperation or participation of the formal management information systems organization resulting in many redundancies and inefficiencies.
Today, many companies including real estate-oriented organizations hope to re-establish control over automation services by integrating software and data bases on an enterprisewide basis. The deployment of graphical user interfaces and client/server technologies provides key technical components that make enterprisewide integration feasible. These technological advances however must be coupled with organizational changes such as re-engineering existing work flows and processing procedures and often revising individual roles and responsibilities. Successful implementation of these changes also requires a well thought out training program for all users.
Systems integration techniques provide the controls necessary to ensure that individual users are productive in their new environment so that corporatewide goals can be achieved.
Implementation requires planning
Since the majority of potential users of the next generation of systems may have been subjected to more than one unpleasant conversion experience and are carrying significant workloads as a result of downsizing during the latest recession, it is important that implementations be carefully planned and executed for new systems to gain acceptance. Generally, the plan requires a coordinated approach where users can phase into the new processing environment. Issues to be addressed in this regard include:
* carefully evaluate and select an appropriate platform and suite of compatible products (some companies are standardizing on the "Microsoft Suite" or "Lotus Suite" to simplify training and ongoing support efforts);
* select a popular open architecture and software vendors who can potentially command sufficient market share to support future research and development efforts and continue to enhance their products;
* re-engineer roles and responsibilities and remove barriers that inhibit or disrupt enterprisewide processing;
* select application areas where critical business needs are addressed, benefits in relation to costs are substantial and rapid deployment is feasible;
* provide adequate training for development and user personnel;
* establish suitable access controls and clearly define ownership and usage of data base segments;
* develop a formal well-documented implementation plan and schedule delineating milestone goals and roles and responsibilities of all participants; and
* include personnel familiar with the latest technologies.
The typical approach for successful system integration involves assembling a project team representing all necessary skill sets. The team can include company personnel, vendors, consultants and auditors. The team should be led by a respected champion (chief information officer, chief operations officer, chief financial officer, project manager or head of the primary user area to be served) and commitments obtained from all participants to accomplish their assigned tasks. The successful introduction of enterprisewide solutions requires trust and teamwork from all participants.
Users can also significantly improve their ability to benefit from state-of-the-art software by participating in real estate association projects sponsored by not-for-profit groups focusing on establishing industrywide standards for data collection, computations and reporting to facilitate the development of industry-oriented solutions on a timely basis. Organizations including NAREIM, BOMA, ULI and NCREIF have conducted workshops, seminars and software conferences and issued guidelines to aid in the development of new software products. Industry-oriented periodicals have provided software updates and shared case study experiences with users as a means of promoting advances in real estate software development.
New paradigms provide opportunity
The new processing paradigms made possible by the introduction of technological advances such as graphical user interfaces and client/server systems provide an opportunity to develop and introduce real estate-oriented, enterprisewide shared information systems. These new systems have the potential to impact every area of the company including accounting, operational, analytical and performance measurement/monitoring activities. A key facet impacting the effectiveness of this new generation of systems is the integration of all modules so that information is timely, accurate, consistent, properly formatted and accessible to users throughout the organization. Systems integration efforts encompassing coordinated manual and automated activities will play a vital role in establishing this new generation of systems in a specific company environment.
Software vendors will be motivated to support and promote system integration from a technical perspective enabling their software to become a component of successful solutions. Vendor system integration practices will range from establishing strategic alliances to adopting the latest industrywide technical standards and arranging joint software development and support activities. Vendors have a vested interest in convincing users to embrace the latest technological innovations since these technological innovations enable the expansion of automation to new areas, activities and users, thus increasing the demand for software products.
The nature of the next generation of software suggests that users must assume the primary role and responsibilities for system integration if they are to benefit from the latest technological advances. Real estate organizations should be prepared to upgrade their software selection standards to effectively consider the latest technological advances, identify and evaluate new products and as appropriate incorporate them into their processing environments. Successful introduction will likely involve re-engineering work flows and processes and re-assigning responsibilities to optimize the benefits of introducing new technology.
When real estate professionals make their next significant outlay for hardware, software or automation services, they should consider emphasizing proper systems integration practices. The introduction of appropriate software in a proper manner can serve as the foundation for maintaining effective automation services for many years to come.
Software Vendors Comment
American Computer Software, Boston, Tim Schaefer: The entire software world is changing. Users are becoming more knowledgeable about the software products that they need to run successful businesses. Property managers and other real estate professions are using computers at a record pace. Companies like Microsoft and Lotus have been providing products for word processing, spreadsheets and other business tasks that take advantage of the graphical capabilities of today's computers.
The accounting industry has been one of the last to accept graphical products. In part this is because most accounting applications are still entered using the keyboard and not a pointing device. Since a large part of any property management software product is involved with accounting tasks, this industry is also behind most other businesses in the use of graphical products. Economics play a large part of going to graphical software since new computer purchases are usually required to successfully implement this type of software.
Firms like ACS are investing in graphical, open architecture software. ACS is doing this by partnering with Great Plains Software, who has been providing their graphical, cross-platform accounting software, "Dynamics," to clients for more than two years. Our clients can install the graphical accounting software today and have it interface to our characterbased property management software. This provides a transition to the graphical world without replacing all of your hardware at one time. In addition, a "Graphical Report Writer" is available to users who want to quickly lay out professional reports at a moment's notice. As our customers are ready, they will be able to convert to a complete graphical environment.
The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) Foundation answered requests from their members by recently forming a committee to update the "Minimum Standards for Property Management Software." The new standards have been proposed by our committee and will be approved by the governing board and published in the near future. These new standards will benefit software users and developers alike by assuring that open architecture graphical products will be the wave of the near future.
AMSI, Houston, Kathleen Bowley: Within the property management industry, we see a definite trend in companies toward systems integration as they realize the increased efficiency and improved bottom line that can result from automating their operations. In an effort to meet the evolving needs of property management organizations, AMSI has forged several strategic alliances, including a business partnership with PlanData Systems that resulted in our recently released space planning application, as well as development projects with both MicroHUD and HUD Manager to develop a HUD interface. In forming these alliances, we were able to incorporate the specialized expertise that these companies offer into our existing product line to provide comprehensive and integrated property management solutions, thus reducing the need for property management companies to spend time putting together piecemeal solutions, which can absorb significant resources both in time and money.
We realize that it is imperative that we utilize a graphical interface in developing our software. We have already started developing several of our products in Windows and are in the process of migrating our entire product line to the Windows environment. Although some property management organizations still do not see the benefits of migrating from their existing system to the Windows environment, we believe most companies will eventually make the switch due in a large part to the intuitive, user-friendly nature of Windows as well as the added flexibility provided. Because we realize that most property management companies will have to re-engineer their internal operations in order to effectively convert their existing systems, we plan to implement our Windows-based software in phases to ensure a smoother transition for these companies.
Since the inception of the company in 1980, AMSI has considered the needs and input of users when developing our software. In response to user demand, we have introduced such capabilities as document imaging, space planning and partnership accounting as well as applications for budget control and MICR check generation. It is no longer enough to provide a good basic system -- property management software vendors must offer industry-standard, integratable software with the enhanced capabilities users expect if they are to remain competitive in the marketplace.
Attack Systems Inc., San Francisco, John McCrocklin: The point that most software searches in the past "focused disproportionately on software to support the company's basic financial accounting requirements" is extremely accurate. However, many of the accounting software packages in the past such as Skyline, MRI, AMSI and others have allowed the end users to track many of the fields that Rothberg describes for "automation support of leasing." The distinction that I would draw both as a technologist and a real estate professional is that the information was designed from a software standpoint, to be gathered by the wrong user. Typically, the individual who is inputting accounting or general ledger data is not the individual who should be tracking or inputting collateral-based information. Most firms that we have consulted and installed with acknowledge that their accounting software has allowed them to input respective collateral-based data, but the user interface and the means of collecting the information for input are extremely limited.
We have found that most real estate professionals are more interested in not only taking advantage of new and existing technology features such as dynamic data exchange (DDE), object linking and embedding (OLE) and field exchange (FX), but in putting information into a work flow environment. Work flowing the real estate process is what saves companies manpower and capital.
This process must also involve system integration with both third-party software as well as existing legacy systems. When Lotus ATTACK[R] software was initially designed, the graphical interface was the primary consideration that was used in determining the environment. There is a major stumbling block to userfriendly environments such as Microsoft Windows, OS/2 and Macintosh. A recent study conducted by a major national real estate organization found that less than 30% of those real estate professionals surveyed operated or were familiar with Microsoft Windows or OS/2. Additionally, the migration of Microsoft Windows and OS/2 has been slowed by the reluctance of the real estate professional to "learn a new operating environment."
Our assessment would be that with the new releases that Microsoft, Lotus and Borland have scheduled for the next 12 months that the real estate professional will be literally forced into a newer and more dynamic operating environment. In contrast to the survey conducted by CTI, we have found management to be much more aggressive in seeking a client/server architecture so long as they can still "talk" with their other existing operating systems, including mainframes and midrange computers. The client/server environment allows greater and more flexible distribution of information both internally and externally.
We have received feedback from companies such as Spieker Properties, a California-based REIT, that while the accounting information maintained on CTI or other general ledger systems is important, the collateral-based information contained within the leases itself can be much more critical. Most accounting systems are reactive rather than proactive.
Proactivity is acknowledging that the user is the one who should be in charge. Therefore, the need to be able to integrate not only with a legacy environment but with third-aprty software vendors, as well, is the most critical issue in deciding an operating platform for property, portfolio, asset or facilities management. Further, the one area that Rothberg seems to miss entirely is that many real estate professionals are driven to operating in multiple software environments because of their clients' specifications.
The only point I feel Rothberg omitted that is more of a driving force than any of the technology is cost and off the shelf. The end user must see short-term capitalization of their investment or even the most productive and creative software program in the world wouldn't be implemented. Attack Systems decided that this was the second most critical factor behind the technology and access to multiple operating systems and existing legacy systems. By using Lotus Notes[R], Attack Systems allows its customers to leverage on the items that Rothberg pointed out were critical for the future: add elements to the data base; change the look of particular screens; generate responses to queries; create new forms or reports; and perform on-line analytical processing. We too feel that the vendor perspective is important, and that is why Attack Systems created an alliance with Lotus Development.
DYNA Software and Consulting, Clearwater, Fla., Jeff Wells: DYNA Software and Consulting's customers are telling us that they have two high-priority needs: an easy-to-use graphical interface for our highly successful existing products and the ability for our products to perform in a client/server technology environment. DYNA will continue to be a leader in real estate technology solutions by providing both capabilities in 1995.
DYNABase is our newest product and our first true Windows application. It allows users to link to their existing DYNA data and perform unlimited query operations to create useful reports and graphs on a portfolio level, or property level, very quickly. Our users' response to DYNABase has been very favorable. Since it is so easy to use, many real estate executives are using it to analyze their portfolios and properties strategically; before DYNABase, these executives depended on a technician to do the analysis.
Our Windows versions of DYNALEASE and DYNAMIS will operate from an open client/server environment. For many years we have provided the ability to import tenant and accounting data from other related applications and to export calculated results and other data. Prudential Insurance, Wells Fargo Bank, First Interstate Bank, Marathon Realty, Olympia & York USA and others share or import information from our systems. We provide these same solutions to smaller companies as well.
Our products are generally considered the most comprehensive and sophisticated analytical tools on the market. We accommodate any type of real estate, at any state in its life cycle, under any debt or equity structure. We also prepare projections on a cash, tax and GAAP basis. Our GUI interface will make it easy to work with your information in our advanced analytical application.
DYNA's analytical and technical core has improved, persevered and expanded for over 15 years. We are more excited than ever about the opportunities to utilize our real estate experience and advanced technology to meet the market's demands.
Management Reports Inc. (MRI), Cleveland, Ronald E. McComas: The statements contained in the section referring to the survey of the 50 top shopping center property management firms are misleading and are counter to MRI's experience with the retail sector. While it may be true that some retail (as well as other) management companies are still using legacy software on midrange systems, this is definitely not the trend. When given the choice, companies are preferring to move toward personal computer networks and distributed data bases rather than centralized processing on a less flexible platform with limited systems availability. We work with many companies who continue to use their midrange systems for other corporate functions and who choose THE SYSTEM[TM] to handle their property and asset management needs.
MRI's graphical front-ends are an interim solution to a larger technical issue. We are actively developing native client/server and Windows 95 versions of THE SYSTEM[TM] for release in 1995.
Minicom Data Corp., Markham, Ontario, Howard Honickman: We are at that awkward time on the technology curve when the new paradigms that Rothberg describes force real estate enterprises to make the choice between evolution and revolution, forward thinking or leading edge (or "bleeding edge" as it has been aptly called). While it is straightforward to describe the features and benefits of these new technologies, the business implications of revolutionary approaches that require re-engineering workflows and staff responsibilities are not for the faint of heart, or the enterprise without deep pockets. As Rothberg notes, technology providers to the real estate industry are in the early days of turning out products that effectively utilize these new technologies. The industry has not yet sorted out what the interface standards are, and so the early adopters are forced to choose what standards they think will win out. Across many industries there are both successes and failures in implementations of client/server and business re-engineering. Where there has been success, it is usually due to highly motivated organizations who are willing to take risks and make significant investments.
We are fortunate in the property management market that we have many technology providers who offer functional, proven and stable products. The sophisticated user understands that a product's reliability, usability and functionality are more important than the technology. A real estate enterprise can mitigate its risks and move into the new technology paradigm in a planned manner with a vendor who has a commitment and vision to the evolutionary approach.
At Minicom we have evolved our Property Management System (over the past 17 years) to include open access to information in the relational world, Windows-based query and reporting capability, and a working on ODNC support and a graphical front-end. This was a deliberate decision on our part. Our customers told us that a step-by-step approach to implementing the new technologies is what they want to protect their investment and reduce their exposure.
Other newer applications such as Asset and Portfolio Management do not have the same richness of time-tested products because they have become feasible only with the advent of the new technology paradigms. Here is a case of neither evolution nor revolution, but rather creation. Emerging technologies have become enabling technologies, allowing solution providers such as Minicom to build new applications to meet the progressive requirements of real estate enterprises.
At the same time as Minicom has chosen to evolve our Property Management systems, we have built a unique Asset and Portfolio Management System from the ground up that is relational and open, multilingual, client/server and graphical.
Technological advances continue to broaden our choices. However, as business managers, the key choice is not the technology. The critical choice is the application solution-provider who will be your partner to exploit the technology. If you choose the solution provider wisely, the technology will fall into place for you with little risk and major rewards.
Rent Roll Inc., Dallas, Natalie Tefft: Rent Roll is working on a product that works in a Windows environment, called Executive Information Systems, which is being developed for the corporate executive or asset manager. This program is expected to be available in the early summer of 1995 and is being developed from input provided by multifamily companies and their "wish lists" of product features.
Due to a recent strategic alliance between Rent Roll and Melson Technologies, Rent Roll's full line of property management software is now available through Melson Technologies' direct and authorized reseller channels, and Rent Roll seamlessly integrates with Skyline, Melson's commercial property management software.
Yardi Systems, Santa Barbara, Calif., Hans Pedersen: As the article indicates, vendors such as Yardi Systems have a strong interest in promoting the latest technological innovations to users. The viability of a software company is highly dependent upon both expanding its client base and providing new products and services to existing clients. Software developers must carefully weigh the cost of research and development against the potential return. The danger is that, given the high cost of transitioning to a new generation of systems, the new technology will not be quickly embraced by users. If the user base is scared off by their past experiences and does not make the leap, many software companies investing heavily in R&D could be hurt. There is, of course, also a danger to users in this scenario. If the users have invested in the products of companies that are damaged by overextension or, conversely, cannot afford to bring their products into the new environment, they could be making costly replacements of systems.
To protect themselves, users should select a popular open data-base architecture. By following this advice, they will always have access to their data and will not be in danger of losing their records. They will also be able to add value to their system through data-base access with third-party development tools and report generators.
Users would also be well-served to follow another of his recommendations and select a software vendor who can command sufficient market share to support future development projects. This involves researching the individual companies to determine the size of their client base and current marketing strategies, as well as product development and upgrade track record.
For its part, Yardi Systems has been aggressively pursuing a product development strategy that has resulted in our Windows[TM] Compatible Property Management product that is ready for release as of this publication. This product is based on an open data base that allows for both data-base modification and access with third-party tools. Keeping with the direction of the industry, we intend to follow up this release with multiplatform client/server implementation.