Technology Solutions

Office Automation

Create an accurate, reliable comparables database by gaining buy-in into back office automation.

Buy-in is the most critical component to automating back-office operations. To ensure a smooth transition, staff must be convinced of the positive attributes for converting from a system they have known and become comfortable with to another with more benefits.

That sounds easy enough, but speaking from experience in running a 15-person brokerage operation for over a decade, it isn't as simple as it sounds. The reality is that most people don't like change, and the problem is compounded by administrative staff members wearing multiple hats in most small and midsize brokerage operations. Staff often feel they don't have time to learn anything new - even if it ultimately will save them time and increase productivity.

Gaining Buy-In

Best practices suggest that creating a plan that includes automation occurring in phases will increase acceptance. In addition, going live at the beginning of a new fiscal quarter often will minimize disruption and workflow as your business continues to operate and generate revenue.

Running legacy systems and new systems for at least one pay period, if not two, also is suggested to easily spot and remedy any inconsistencies. Regardless of your thoroughness, you will discover some inconsistencies that need to be resolved.

A good first step is to automate and map your current operational workflow and then compare it to industry best practices. You may determine it's an ideal time to change old operational bottlenecks for a more streamlined and efficient process.

Start with a process for tracking agents' pipeline revenue for deals with at least 50 percent likelihood of completion. The key to success here is recognizing that this does not require agents to share their clients' detailed communications before a transaction is completed.

In our experience, most agents pushed back on any new processes if they felt they were losing control or ownership of their private client communications and information. Keep the pipeline requests simple, but powerful enough to aid in forecasting and budgeting.

To automate back-office operations, create a strong process around structuring and submitting deals. An effective deal-submission structure also should include an approval process for agents, administrative personnel, and, if required, the managing broker.

Lastly, part of a complete end-to-end automated solution is automation built into invoicing. The solution should utilize notifications to all involved parties in a transaction, with easily accessible reports for agents, administrative personnel, and principals.

Acceptance of new processes and procedures will be easier if you focus on simplicity in the application, along with transparency for everyone to understand and track their commissions.

Next Steps

Ask several questions once an acceptable process roadmap is complete, keeping in mind that the tracking and transparency required for reporting back to agents is significantly different than the reporting required by a lender or partners for the entire brokerage and property management operation. And while brokerage revenue is just one piece of the puzzle, it's also the most complicated to track due to agent split plans.

First, should you create a customized system or utilize one of the commission-centric products currently available in the market?

Regardless of your choice, best practice encourages use of an open architecture software versus a closed software architecture. Open architecture allows a more efficient and cost-effective migration of your data with Quickbooks and customer relationship management systems utilized by your agents.

That's due to open architecture API's (application programming interfaces') ability to isolate and migrate only the transaction-specific information from your agents' private customer-relationship management system to the company's commission-tracking platform. Saving them time and avoiding double data entry is another sure way to increase adoption and reduce mistakes.

Second, should you use a desktop application or a cloud-server application? Cost and security typically are the factors that dictate these decisions.

Cloud-based systems primarily are offered on a monthly subscription basis versus purchasing the software. Knowing the security protocol of a cloud-based system is critically important, but they typically have a higher degree of security than the typical brokerage operations firewall system implemented by local internet technology providers.

Financial software, such as Intuit's Quickbooks, Sage 50/Peachtree Accounting, and Oracle-based solutions, offers both desktop and cloud-based platforms.

Cloud-based options for commission-centric software include Delius, CommissionTrac, RealtyBackOffice, BrokerMint, and BrokerSumo. Costar Brokerages Applications and Crichlow Software Development's Leascom are desktop-only applications. Check online resources such as www.cretech.com for other solutions.

Building a Database

The byproduct of implementing and automating your back-office operations will be an incredibly accurate sale and lease comparables system for your brokerage operation.

Comparables information is generated from worksheets your agents complete immediately after a deal is done, while all the relevant details, such as free rent and tenant improvement cost, are still fresh in their minds.

It's valuable information that your firm owns that's created alongside your back-office productivity and transparency optimization initiatives. Feeding two birds with one seed: operational efficiency and growing an internal comps database.

Over time, as data builds, you may even be able to get by without a full-blown comparables subscription when working in local markets.

Daniel Levison, CCIM, SIOR

Daniel Levison, CCIM, SIOR, is CEO of CRE Holdings in Atlanta. Contact him at dl@aipbuzz.com.

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