To steer a successful course in today's competitive marketplace, property managers must continually deliver their services faster, better and at a lower cost than their competitors. Proactive real estate companies are discovering that Business Operations Assessments (BOAs) provide an excellent tool to save time and money while streamlining and upgrading operations.

What is a BOA?

A BOA, generally provided by a consulting firm, offers an objective analysis of business operations and procedures as well as the tools - forms, reports, automated systems and so forth - used to manage them. The analysis leads to recommendations for improvements that will enhance management operations and service quality.

How does it work?

The BOA process has six phases:

1. Project initiation. At the outset, consultant and client work together to establish an appropriate project management structure. The BOA team schedules interviews with staff and executives both in the property management offices and at the corporate level. A questionnaire distributed in advance of the interviews helps stimulate analytical thinking and organize ideas.

2. Data gathering. In the second phase, the project team conducts the interviews, focusing on present processes and perceived problems as well as anticipated future needs and challenges. Additionally, the team gathers relevant forms and reports and information on policies and procedures.

3. System review. The third phase examines information systems. Team members review available documentation, talk with software and hardware support personnel, and conduct a focus group of system users to gain a better understanding of the technologies currently in place.

4. Detailed process analysis. Upon reviewing and analyzing the interview results the BOA team defines and documents the current business processes and identifies those with the greatest opportunities for improvement.

5. Operations and procedures recommendations. Looking at both the short and long term, the BOA team recommends strategic changes, assigns priorities based on their expected impact and benefit, and develops a high-level implementation plan for the recommendations with the greatest pay-back potential.

6. Hardware and software recommendations. To support the changes in operations and procedures, the team develops short- and long-term technological recommendations and creates an action plan to implement the priority items.

What are the benefits?

A BOA results in effective, economical systems and procedures that not only improve upon current operations but address anticipated industry developments and business strategies. For a real estate firm, these results typically mean:

Eliminating unnecessary processes and activities. As a rule, the physical movement of paper, source documentation and reports from property site to corporate office adds no value, costs money and delays access to information. In many cases, these activities may be eliminated through technologies that let on-site property staff enter source data directly into the information system.

Improving accuracy and raising quality. Each step in every process opens the opportunity for error. Streamlining the process reduces those risks and enhances the quality of the final product. By objectively questioning existing procedures and evaluating the level of automation used in creating budgets and financial reporting packages, the effort involved can be greatly reduced.

Saying `no' to the naysayers

Before embarking on a BOA, property managers sometimes face a band of naysayers concerned with protecting their turf, preserving the status quo or preventing a less-than-ideal situation from growing worse. Fortunately, for every argument there's a counter-argument. For example:

It costs too much - and it's overhead. Overhead is the great bugaboo of property management, but no reputable BOA consultant will recommend a change that won't more than pay for itself - and save overhead.

The internal departments say everything's fine. They mean they're doing the best they know how. But no matter how professional they are and how hard they're working, most people cannot keep up with all the technological changes and industry trends along with their day-to-day work. An outside consultant can bring objectivity to the process, as well as knowledge of the approaches already proving effective at competing firms.

We're too busy bailing to fix the leak. Everyone is and always will be. That's why companies hire outside consultants whose job - whose only job @ is tofix the leaks." The sooner the leak is fixed, the sooner the company can stop bailing and start sailing.