In the real estate industry, time is money — and customized products can pave the road to riches. Across the industry, real estate companies are stepping up demand for customized portfolio management software as they realize the cost and time efficiencies personalization yields. In this vein, Boston-based consulting firm REsolve Technology has developed its Web-based portfolio management software REquest to meet the growing need for customized data systems. REsolve Technology president Eric Forman took a few minutes to discuss how his decade-old company's new product aims to keep the real estate industry ahead of the technology curve.
RETech: Tell me about REquest software and its uses for portfolio management.
Eric Forman: REquest software is not a procurement system, a listing service or a sales tool. It's based on the premise that a company uses an underlying core application to run its business, and reports produced by these products do not meet the company's requirements, such as property management accounting or Microsoft Excel.
For example, accounting software might produce a rent roll, but the rent roll is not in the format that an end-user wants to see it in. So an analyst then takes the report and retypes it into Excel, formats it and presents it to someone higher.
Or, if someone in management needs to retrieve information within the package, that person calls an analyst to ask for the information directly. Perhaps they want to know what exposure their portfolio has to the Gap or IBM, or the termination rights of a particular tenant. Instead of manual information retrieval through an analyst, REquest electronically imports the information out of the underlying applications. Then we work with clients to customize the information in a format usable for their purposes.
RETech: How do you define the target audience for REquest within the industry and within the company?
Forman: I honestly think REquest is a common-sense solution for midsize to large real estate companies. TrizecHahn Office Properties, Boston Properties, Kimco Realty and Principle Financial Group all currently use it. But not everyone goes for it for a couple of reasons: one, because it's not on their agenda to have something like this, and two, I think some companies have begun implementing their own solutions.
Within the company, it's completely up to management how to use the software. REsolve has one client that takes information out of its accounting system for analysis before every quarter. Several employees are removed from their regular jobs just to type in data.
REquest, however, compiles data from the company's spreadsheets, eliminating the need for manual data entry and potential inaccuracies that could result. All you do is log in instead of having to e-mail around, so REquest streamlines the business process of collecting, formatting, calculating, aggregating and disseminating the data.
However, REquest allows any employee to log on and retrieve the report. We don't ask clients to change their underlying applications or the reports they're used to seeing. All REquest does is change everything in the middle, between the underlying application and the reports that they use. Instead of having manual creation, we automate that whole process.
RETech: What inspired you to create REquest?
Forman: The REquest product was created in early 2000 and implemented in August 2000. I started the organization in 1990 as a consulting company that specialized in applications expertise, but customers began requesting customization for reports. We realized there was a lot lacking in the delivery of information to the end-user, and we ultimately came up with this product.
For example, each of our clients must create a business plan, and sometimes that plan could be a 20-page document that includes an expenditure plan for the year, cash flow or property values.
These packages get approved internally, which is a very reiterative process. Someone creates a package and it moves up the food chain and a correction is made, so it moves back down the chain and that one correction might affect five different reports. We automated that whole thing.
RETech: How would you define REquest's current place in the industry, and what plans do you have for future versions or spin-off products?
Forman: Because we are selling an enterprise-wide solution — in other words, we sell a company-wide user license — the users that log onto our system all have different needs. What we really are becoming is an information portal internally for a lot of companies. As they roll out this product internally, these different users are realizing what could be done, and they're asking to expand the use of the product to incorporate other areas of information that they need.
RETech: So it's conceivable that a company itself may expand the product in a way that REsolve Technology hasn't necessarily defined yet?
Forman: Yes. All of our clients are extremely proactive in driving this product. The product is able to be customized for each client, which means just because Client A is using it this way, Client B doesn't have to use it that way at all. We see our clients driving the direction of this product quite a bit.
REquest also is being used to disseminate information to people outside of the company. For instance, the intent of one of our clients, who I can't name, is to give their investors limited usage of the database.
So now REsolve Technology is revolutionizing the way investors get real estate information. It is no longer the investor reading the Wall Street Journal and seeing that [retailer] Ames is in trouble, then freaking out, calling up the real estate company to find out the company's personal exposure to that tenant and then waiting a week to get the answer. With REquest, the investor goes online and queries his portfolio. It's that simple.
Again, putting the power of these tools into the hands of the end-users of this information is really the goal. Rather than keeping the information trapped inside the difficult-to-use specialty applications, we're opening up the box to make the information available.
It applies even to investors. A Wall Street analyst can use REquest to calculate funds from operations (FFO), something that Wall Street scrutinizes. What does that mean for Wall Street to be able to go in and see what a company's FFO is online instead of having to wait for an earnings report or paper being sent to them?
RETech: Is the current economy a catalyst or a deterrent to this type of technology?
Forman: The real estate industry has lagged behind the economy, and now it's catching up. There have been a lot of mergers, and real estate companies are getting larger, not smaller. And in order to operate efficiently, larger companies need technology to keep costs down because there's so much data to deal with, despite the economic slowdown over the last 12 months. Part of REquest is a database, a critical function in running a company, and that has become a requirement for the larger real estate companies. How do you handle the massive flow of information? It's through technology, not bodies.