Voices of Digital Transformation: Expert Insights Series

Denis Leane, Chief Financial Officer, Cygnet West

Our expert insights series is based on outreach conducted by MRI Software for its national research report for the commercial property sector – Voices of Digital Transformation Report.

About Cygnet West

Cygnet West is Western Australia’s biggest independently-owned commercial real estate firm, and one of the largest in Australia. The business delivers sales and marketing, leasing, valuation, property and facilities management services across all real estate sectors including office, industrial, retail, residential project marketing, strata and communities, hotel, retirement living and land.

Denis Leane is Cygnet West’s CFO, and has had an instrumental role in supporting the business in its journey to adopting flexible cloud-based solutions to better serve its clients. We spoke to Denis about the role of proptech in delivering measurable improvements across data visibility, client reporting, and operational efficiency, and how effective change management and employee empowerment has been a key part of the process.

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Navigating business challenges

In the lead-up to embarking on its recent digital transformation projects, Denis explained that Cygnet West faced some significant challenges, and had a wish-list of improvements that it was hoping to make.

Our heavily-customised on-premise property management systems were clunky and inflexible. In fact, exit interviews revealed they were a common source of dissatisfaction among staff. Updating them was a chore, and we were unable to tap into exciting new cloud-based features like dashboards and automatic bank reconciliations.

– Denis Leane, Cygnet West.

“Compatibility issues with in-house software compounded the problem, leading to data bottlenecks and double handling,” Denis added. “As a result, manual tasks consumed significant time for our property managers, leaving them with less capacity to add value to clients’ assets.”

“We reached out to the best software providers in the market to request presentations and evaluated each solution against criteria such as costs, alignment with organisational values, fitness for purpose, and reputation. Independent, third-party testimonials played an important part in the final selection process, and helped us feel confident that we were choosing the ideal software for our needs.”

Implementing new solutions

The team at Cygnet West were working with a tight time frame. “We had just five months to transition from our franchisor’s system to our new MRI PMX system,” Denis said. “The project timeline was especially challenging, since we had to continue serving our management clients throughout the process.”

“COVID threw us a curveball, preventing face-to-face meetings and forcing a pivot to virtual training to get things up and running. But initial feedback was that these sessions were too long and detailed. This eventually led to the perfect solution in the form of shorter and more focused ‘flash trainings’ which were much better at sparking enthusiasm and promoting ownership.”

“After implementation, we launched an engagement and adoption strategy with the help of third-party consultants Loci Solutions (now part of MRI). We created a clear roadmap – including a staggered transition plan, a plan for staff training and support, and a go-live date with a buffer before the franchisor’s systems were switched off.

Mapping all of our processes into a single source of truth using our new systems was a game changer, as was hiring a full-time business process analyst to guide us through such an unprecedented period of change.

– Denis Leane, Cygnet West.

Managing change and measuring success

“Change management is key when rolling out new systems or software – it’s a journey that never ends. To this day we continue to roll out refresher trainings to our staff on how best to use our systems.

According to Denis, clear communication with clients and staff is a key factor in the success of technology implementations.

After going live, our systems engagement and adoption strategy became a cornerstone for everyone. We also held proptech presentations for our clients so they understood the benefits, such as access to real time information on dashboards and the ability to print reports on demand.

– Denis Leane, Cygnet West.

“Monthly KPIs are reviewed to ensure accountability. Among the things we measure are login statistics, process views, training completion rates, the number of client presentations and conversion rates.”

Dealing with data security

“Our approach to data security when using new technology is, at a high level, to review the providers privacy policy and T&Cs before signing, especially with a focus on sharing information with affiliates and partners,” Denis said.

“We also confirm data storage locations and compliance with the Australian Privacy Principles (from OAIC). Depending on the data held, we may seek information about access control systems put in place by the vendor (physical and electronic).”

Lessons and best practices

When it comes to ushering in new technologies, effective change management is of utmost importance and it should always take centre stage for any organisation gearing up to introduce new systems. A fundamental part of the process is consistently communicating with staff and stakeholders – there’s no such thing as going overboard with this.

– Denis Leane, Cygnet West.

Denis also believes that the success of new software hinges on effective training. “We quickly learned to steer clear of lengthy and complex sessions which ran the risk of disengaging staff,” he said.

“On reflection, we realised that training was rolled out before people were able to get truly acquainted with the new systems. My advice is to take a more pragmatic approach and encourage staff to familiarise themselves with the new technology beforehand. This way training is more tailored, and staff can come armed with relevant questions.”

Proptech trends to watch

AI, such as Chat GPT, will allow us to automate repetitive tasks, repackage existing content and help process vast amounts of financial data to recognise patterns and trends.

– Denis Leane, Cygnet West.

“Although AI is unlikely to replace humans anytime soon, I see it becoming a valuable tool for agents and property managers to automate menial and manual tasks and focus on value-added services.”

Download a copy of the Voices of Digital Transformation Report here and learn more about how Australian real estate businesses are embracing proptech best practices to help achieve strategic goals.

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