How Cygnet West partnered with MRI to optimise data visibility, client reporting and operational efficiency within its extensive commercial real estate network

Cygnet West is Western Australia’s largest independent commercial real estate firm with over 90 years of experience in the local market and around 1.5 million square metres of commercial, retail, industrial and other assets under management across regional and metropolitan WA.

In 2021 Cygnet West ended its franchise relationship with a large global real estate service and investment management company and set out on a new and independent path.

After reviewing its existing technology platforms, the company partnered with MRI Software to successfully implement best-in-breed solutions for its property management portfolio.

Cygnet West’s CFO, Denis Leane, shares his insights into the project’s success and how it has led to the better use of data, a more efficient flow of communication and other practical benefits for its business and broader client base.

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Embracing independence and innovation

“We wanted to be a truly independent and innovative company. And we wanted to have the ability and the agility to focus on our customers and be responsive to their needs.” – Denis Leane, CFO, Cygnet West

With 15 service lines and over 140 employees, Cygnet West depends on technology to operate smoothly and maintain its leading position in the commercial real estate market.

As part of the restructuring, the company needed to quickly overhaul its legacy technology and begin the transition to systems that would support its new direction and better serve its clients. Enhancing data visibility, upgrading reporting systems and improving efficiency were all part of this process.

“With these aspirations in mind,” Denis says, “We identified that our current systems and our franchisors’ systems were holding us back. And we decided to make the move to a more fit-for-purpose cloud-based solution.”

Working with MRI Software and its professional services partner Loci Solutions, Cygnet West began upgrading from a less adaptable on-premise system to one that would enable it to successfully streamline and scale operations as required.

Best-in-breed technology focus

The leadership team at Cygnet West understood that a successful long-term strategy would involve leveraging quality proptech solutions and adopting a best-in-breed focus for itself and its clients.

After reviewing the range of property management and CRM solutions on the market, and needing to quickly make the move from on-premise to cloud, MRI’s PMX emerged as the frontrunner solution.

“We found PMX was the best fit for us because it was the most well-known and respected in the market,” Denis notes. “And when we offer services to our clients, we want to have the best tools available to us.”

Denis reveals that one of Cygnet West’s priorities was organising the vast amounts of data they collect and putting it in a concise form for effective decision-making. He says that having access to transparent data on the PMX dashboard has been a game changer for many investors and clients.

“The feedback has been very positive. Clients no longer have to wait for the month-end reports to get the information they need to make decisions. And they value being able to log in and print a report at any time on any day.”

Implementing change successfully in a short timeframe

As anyone who has managed an IT change management process knows, getting staff on board the “new technology train” can be an uphill battle.

“The biggest part of the project was the change management piece,” Denis explained. “And it’s still ongoing. I think change management and overcoming resistance to change is a process that can’t be just done over a (short) period and then let go.”

As part of its restructuring, Cygnet West ran a series of surveys and engagement exercises to uncover the things that staff valued most and wanted the business to be known for.

Denis says, “We asked the staff to rate what they saw as the values of the company (and) we ended up with five. It was to be authentic, dedicated, passionate, collaborative, and fun.”

These values served the business well throughout the tight timeframe for selecting and rolling out the new system, and training staff and stakeholders to use it.

As Denis says, “We set out a detailed roadmap of how to transition, which included staggered implementations and a number of parallel runs. It also detailed how we were going to train and support our staff through the process, and we also set a go-live date (which) gave us a buffer before our old systems were switched off.”

Training as the key to systems adoption and engagement

Once its staff became skilled in using the system, Cygnet West’s goal was to keep them actively involved. In order to overcome initial feelings about the platform’s complexity, it created accessible and bite-size training sessions to support staff’s ongoing engagement with the platform.

“We designed 15-minute flash training sessions that covered one particular topic. And staff found it easier to digest. In fact, most of these training sessions are anywhere from five to six minutes because people are busy. We’ve created about 60 flash training sessions now across our new systems.” Denis says.

As well as training new Cygnet West recruits, Denis emphasises the importance of task-specific training.

“We continue to roll out (training sessions) in onboarding for new staffers and also, for example, coming up to budget time, we rolled out a flash training just to give a refresher.”

Empowering clients with better data access and automation

Denis highlights how PMX has led to much better client service and communication, and has given them self-sufficiency options and real-time access.

“If an owner wants to wait for his monthly report, they’re still going to be sent. But it does save time because if you’ve got an accountant at the owner site, they can now go in and view an invoice and see where it’s been coded. They don’t have to email the property manager who then emails a trust accountant to give them that information. They can go straight to the source,” he says.

Cygnet West has also streamlined the tenant communication process by integrating its existing eConnect software with PMX. “One of the big efficiencies is that it automated our processes for sending tenant invoices,” Denis explains.

“eConnect has drastically reduced the time required to send tenant invoices, which has resulted in over 4,500 employee hours saved across the Retail and Commercial portfolios per annum. This time saving has allowed the team to focus on adding value to client assets.”

Time savings enable staff to refocus on value-added tasks for clients, such as growing the business, maintaining client assets and fostering tenant relationships. Automation plays a crucial role in achieving these efficiencies.

Metrics and performance: Beyond ROI

For Cygnet West, the benefits of the new software have included cost reductions and being able to add top-line revenue by attracting new clients.

Denis reports that since rolling out the new systems, “We found a large uptick in the number of submission requests from our management clients and from potential clients as well. And even though we’re in the early adoption stages of this new software, we’re seeing a large increase in our submission success rate.”

“Since January 2022 our management rent roll has increased by 18%. A large part of that is on the back of the new systems and I think this metric is particularly impressive because management income makes up over 50% of our total revenue,” he says.

And while Denis agrees, as a CFO, that numbers are important, he believes dollars shouldn’t be the only focus. Enabling staff to do their jobs more easily and building relationships are also key.

“When you’re looking at new software it shouldn’t be 100% on your return on investment,” he says. “I think you have to look at the less tangible benefits such as improved efficiencies, (and) also client satisfaction.”

“There are also considerable benefits to sustainability. So the paper saving, the postage, all those kinds of things need to be considered.”

Technology provides tools to adapt to the market

The scale and reach of Cygnet West’s operations (combined with services provided by the company’s dedicated research team) puts Denis in the perfect position to provide broad insights into the future of Australian and global real estate markets.

He acknowledges that forces like ESG, a post-pandemic “flight to quality” and housing scarcity are impacting the market and making real estate businesses more reliant on technology to keep pace and unlock new opportunities for stakeholders.

Cygnet West believes WA will be a critical player in the global supply chain for decades to come. And what’s good for the local economy is generally good for the local property market.

He says, “We’re seeing upward pressure on face rents, particularly in core CBD, industrial and distribution assets, and in inner suburban retail and residential. I think that’s on the back of the scarcity of quality supply in the market. And it’s definitely been seen in the office market, where there’s been a ‘flight to quality’.”

As for ESG, Denis says, “It’s becoming more and more a priority for owners. And again, what’s a priority for owners is a priority for us and we need to ensure that the buildings we manage are compliant and are getting smarter.”

You can also view the recording of the webinar, hosted by MRI Software – Discover how Cygnet West revolutionised data visibility, client reporting, and operational efficiency.

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Interested in discovering how MRI’s PMX property management solution can enhance your property management capabilities and drive success in your real estate operations? Get in touch to find out more and book a demo.

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