Software and Technology Use in the Real Estate Sector

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1 Software and Technology Use in the Real Estate Sector report 1: Investor Challenges research sponsors:

2 The increasing importance of environmental sustainability is a relatively new challenge Introduction The investment market is finally picking up pace. After a few years, in which the only activity seemed to take place in central London, more and more deals are taking place outside the south-east and at keener yields. But, of course, the property industry is always full of challenges. Some, like the increasing importance of environmental sustainability, are relatively new. Others, like providing the highest levels of customer service, have always been crucial. Increasingly, property firms turn to technology to help them manage these challenges. As a leading provider of software solutions to the property world, Property Week along with research sponsors Qube Global Software set out to examine the state of the industry and its relationship to technology. Property professionals working across the investment sector were asked about the challenges that they face and the way in which software can help companies compete in a crowded marketplace. Who we surveyed The survey attracted responses from property professionals at all levels across the industry, with a weighting towards those at a senior level. The most commonly cited job description was director used by almost one in four respondents. Seven percent described themselves as a manager. Just under one in 20 was the chief executive at their respective organisation. Around one in 10 respondents described themselves as an associate. As might be expected from a survey targeted at investors, the largest group of respondents described themselves as property developers, accounting for almost one in four respondents. Other participating entities included consultants, agents, law firms and finance companies. Small businesses accounted for almost half, with 46% citing a workforce of less than 50 people. The second largest group (17%) comprised firms with 100 to 499 employees, and 12% of respondents had more than 5,000 colleagues. 2

3 Investment challenges We chose five challenges that anyone involved in property investment faces, and asked respondents to rate them on a scale of one to five in importance. The options reflected a mix of commonly-found business challenges and those which have become more pertinent as the UK emerges from its economic downturn. Delivering high levels of customer service and gaining access to funding were ranked of the highest importance among respondents; both attracted an average rating of more than 3.5 (graph 1). Asked to elaborate on the challenges, one investor wished simply for lower customer expectations. Others could cope with their clients, but took issue with the banks. Increasing the amount of institutional lending, particularly on assets outside the south-east, emerged as a common desire among those who ranked access to funding as their biggest problem. One investor said: The top challenge is getting equity as we have a 15-year excellent track record, but are not one of the big boys. Compliance with legislation and professional standards and accuracy of information both also ranked highly with an average importance rating of around 3.5. In some cases, the two challenges were seen to be interlinked. One investor said: The amount of information available on the web is immense, however, much of it is contradictory and there seems no structured way that a lot of business is executed. But accessing information on specific assets and market-wide activity also emerged as a common theme. Other investors called for better reporting on market forecasts maybe using an average of the big individual forecasts, while another wanted quicker and easier analysis on income information relating to large-scale assets such as shopping centres. Perhaps surprisingly, debt collection was felt by most respondents to be a far less significant issue than any of the above. Comments from investors who ranked this as their biggest challenge ranged from those who wanted fairer and more transparent insolvency procedures to those who, rather optimistically, were waiting for a lottery windfall. Delivering high level of service/exceeding customer expectations Access to funding Compliance with legislation and professional standards Accuracy of information Debt collection GRAPH 1. There are a number of challenges associated with property investment. Please rate the challenges based on how much they impact your business 3

4 GRAPH 2. Do you believe software or technology could help you overcome your main challenge? 50% 50% No yes Greater accuracy and more analytical functions were common requests The role of software and technology To what extent do investors believe software or technology can help them tackle their biggest business challenge? A fraction over half of those surveyed believed technology could help them tackle their most pressing issues. (graph 2). Drilling deeper into the statistics reveals some interesting results. Inevitably, some business challenges will be outside the influence of software and technology. Accordingly, among investors whose biggest challenge was access to funding or providing high levels of customer service, the proportion who felt software could help them fell to around 40%. As one respondent noted: I don t believe that software or technology can impact on the poor bank lending climate. However, among those who believed access to accurate information or compliance with legislation was the greatest challenge, the proportion who felt software or technology could help them rose to 62% and 68% respectively. One investor noted that software can provide time savings in undertaking complex financial modelling and in the project management of a development. The results show that, where challenges fall within the scope of technology s influence, investors are largely positive about the role it can play. While many were indeed optimistic about the way in which software could help tackle business challenges, a number wished for more from their existing software. Greater accuracy and more analytical functions were common requests, which tallied with the challenges reported in the earlier part of the survey. Access to up-to-date market information, with companies across the industry sharing information, was another item on the wishlist. Databases of market information would help to ensure a level playing field based on good and reliable market knowledge, said one investor. Accuracy of market movements and recent transactions would assist with flexible, yet more accurate, appraisals, said another. Increased access to information on the move was also a frequently cited aspiration, with a feeling among some respondents that perhaps the property world is lagging behind other industries, in which detailed information is commonly available via a range of mobile devices. One investor said their role would be made easier by increased connectivity, adding that in an ideal world they would have all required information immediately available at your fingertips on all mobile devices. Another wanted mobile apps rather than desktop programmes or internet. 4

5 Property developers emerged as the most unlikely to use software or technology to assess performance Technology and measuring KPIs While technology was revealed to play a significant role in doing property deals, the investment world was less enthusiastic about the role that software plays in measuring performance. Just under 44% of those surveyed said technology or software influenced their success of measuring performance against KPIs. One respondent drily noted: We use digital forms with paper forms to good effect. But there were still those with a more optimistic view about the role that technology could play. One investor observed: Efficient use of software will considerably reduce hours spent and hence increase productivity, competitiveness and profitability. The low proportion of investors using technology would suggest something of a dated approach to measuring performance in the property industry. Property investors are often characterised by their willingness to act on gut instinct and an ability to call the market rather than relying on reams of statistics. A deeper analysis of the statistics suggests that the capacity for technology to help in this regard is much more widely accepted at the larger firms. Perhaps those at smaller businesses are given freer reign to act on instinct than investors working at larger companies with more stringent risk management procedures. The survey revealed that larger companies are far more likely to use a technology-led approach to measuring performance. Thirty-eight percent of companies with less than 100 employees used software or technology to assess KPIs. This figure fell to 36% when looking at companies with a workforce of less than 50. By contrast, 60% of companies which employ 100 people or more used software or technology to measure performance. Other discrepancies were uncovered when looking at the results by company sector. Property developers emerged as the most unlikely to use software or technology to assess performance less than 29% reported this was the case. More than half of those working in consultancy said software helped measure KPIs. One respondent noted that using software in this way provided a costeffective evidence base. 5

6 Smaller businesses tend to rank sustainability lower Technology and sustainability The property world has sometimes been accused of being slow to adapt to the sustainability agenda. But investors have made big strides in recent years, in part driven by the greater demands being made in this area by occupiers. This trend was reflected in our survey. Despite 7% of investors still rating environmental sustainability s importance as only one out of 10, more than half of those surveyed ranked it between seven and 10. The most common response was eight out of 10, an answer chosen by nearly one in five respondents (graph 3). Smaller businesses tended to rank environmental sustainability lower than larger firms. The mean average rating from companies with fewer than 50 employees ranked environmental sustainability was 5.4 out of 10, compared to a survey average of Given the importance attached to the issue, it came as some surprise to find that of the companies which managed a property portfolio, only 40% had systems in place to monitor environmental sustainability. In addition, of those who had no system in place, only one in three said their company had plans to invest in such a system within the next five years. In keeping with the trend which emerged from asking about the importance attached to sustainability, smaller firms were far less likely to have monitoring systems in place. Of those companies with fewer than 50 employees, only 24% kept track of environmental sustainability. At companies with more than 50 staff members, this figure rose to 56%. GRAPH 3. How important is environmental sustainability considered within your business? % 5% 9% 6% 13% % Rating Responses were rated on a scale of = high impact, and 1 = no impact. The above graph shows the average rating for each topic. 13% 18% 10% 7% 6

7 Software compatibility Compatibility between the range of different software packages on the market emerged as a key issue. More than one in three of those surveyed said they believed systems compatibility or the ease with which data could be transferred was an issue within the investment sector (graph 4). Some found this an issue within their own firm, citing problems with different versions of the same software that do not talk to each other. Another wanted software, which would allow more efficient sharing of data across the company, for example between teams and divisions. Others advocated the establishment of industry standards, which would make it much easier for firms to share information. One investor said they would like compatibility or interfaces between different data stored by the valuers, property managers and fund managers. The survey identified a major issue in this regard. One in five respondents said they felt their technology was so unique that they had difficulties to find other people who were familiar with the system (graph 5). Such situations pose obvious barriers to doing business, or at least the ease with which it can be carried out. GRAPH 4. Do you think systems compatibility (i.e. Transfer of data) in your business / across the industry is an issue? 65% 35% No yes GRAPH 5. Our systems and technology are so unique, we find it hard to find people that know it. True or false? 78% False True 22% 7

8 25 24% We urge these companies to push their suppliers to derive maximum benefit from their initial investment John Cuppello, Qube Global Software % 21% 20% 18% Conclusion Our survey findings suggest many firms may not be aware of the capabilities of their existing software. John Cuppello, chief executive of Qube Global Software, says: Many companies purchase software to improve one set of business processes and move on, in time their people, markets and their software change, and they soon need to fix another set of processes. This is often achievable through their existing solution. These companies are not following up on their initial investment by re-training staff or simply engaging with their suppliers. We urge these companies to push their suppliers to derive the maximum benefit from their initial investment. The investors we spoke to were often optimistic about technology s capacity to help tackle business challenges, but were less likely to use it in practice or expressed frustration with its perceived lack of flexibility. Our survey suggests many are preparing to invest in new solutions more than half of those who took part in this survey intend to make a significant investment in software or technology within the next five years, while more than one in three will make that investment within the next two years (graph 6). Investors should be prepared to work at getting the most out of their technology, if these investments are not to be wasted. Within the next year 1-2 years 2-5 years We have recently made a significant investment We are not planning to make a significant investment in new technology or software GRAPH 6. Over what period of time do you think your company will be making a signifcant investment within new technology or software? Trusted by real estate people. 8

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