Voices of Digital Transformation: Expert Insights Series

Mark Cohen, Vice President of Product - APAC, MRI Software

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 MRI Software

As a global leader in innovative real estate software solutions, MRI Software is one of the most trusted names in the industry. It offers a comprehensive suite of technology and services that help clients manage and optimise their property portfolios and make data-driven decisions in increasingly competitive property markets.

Mark Cohen is MRI Sofware’s VP of Product – APAC, and has an impressive track record as an innovation leader within Australia’s top real estate, media, and technology enterprises. His previous roles include serving as the CTO and CIO at Domain and as the General Manager – Product Solutions at Fairfax Media. Mark is a strong believer in teamwork and putting customers first when it comes to driving digital transformation.

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PropTech best practices for commercial real estate from now to 2028.

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Navigating business challenges

According to Mark, a common business challenge in the property industry is how to avoid replicating outdated procedures when introducing more modern tools, particularly during the transition from traditional paper-based legacy systems.

“The thinking is that if a process worked in the old world, it doesn’t need to change for a new digital environment,” he said. “This risks missing out on the benefits of the new medium.”

In his view, a better approach is to take a given workflow and thoroughly visualise and map the processes to figure out what steps are essential and what should change – or go.

With an understanding of what the new technology can do, you may find you can remove five or ten steps, gain efficiencies and save on operating costs. You can actually often make a project cashflow positive and it can pay for itself relatively quickly.

– Mark Cohen, MRI Software.

Failing to undertake this sort of planning can lead to a situation where new technology coexists with outdated processes or practices.

“For example, despite the availability of advanced reporting tools, employees might still cling to old methods, like manually compiling data from various systems and sending it via email. These ‘process artifacts’ are going to create unnecessary work that impedes progress.” Mark added.

Implementing new solutions

When it comes to selecting new solutions, word of mouth has the most significant impact on the decision-making process in Mark’s opinion. This is especially the case with smaller property businesses, but it’s become increasingly common in larger, ASX 200 companies that typically run formal RFPs and tender processes.

When a colleague that you trust in a similar role, or at a similar company, tells you that they’ve had a great experience with a provider or partner, you’re very inclined to trust that partner enough to initiate a conversation. That sort of door-opener is probably worth more than anything else you can do as a software provider.

– Mark Cohen, MRI Software.

Mark also notes that frontline workers can wield significant influence in the decision-making process, despite the assumption that the executive team or project leadership are typically the key decision-makers.

“In the context of a property management business, for example, the input from property managers can carry substantial weight. If they disapprove of a particular software, and become disengaged as a result, the project could be doomed to fail.”

To avoid common pitfalls associated with proptech implementations, Mark suggests that businesses should take steps to fully appreciate the potential benefits of a solution and proactively redesign their operations to leverage it effectively.

I think (successful implementation) is two sides of the same coin. Understanding the benefits of your new technology, and then making sure that you reengineer your business to take advantage of it.

– Mark Cohen, MRI Software.

Managing change and measuring success

“Having a ‘champion’ who can help you drive change, who’s enthusiastic and buys into the project, is really the distinction between a make or break,” Mark notes.

A client organisation that has no internal project management may meander its way to success – if it’s lucky. Whereas having a person who’s dedicated to managing the transition and who wants to see the project succeed? It’s going to be a winner.

– Mark Cohen, MRI Software.

Mark explains that when reviewing its suite of products and setting KPIs, MRI Software asks which metrics make up a client’s “north star”.

“Key metrics for our clients include the growth in the number of properties managed and active user engagement. Regardless of the current statistics, the real measure lies in how the numbers evolve over time, indicating overall progress,” he said.

He added that “Assessing efficiency gains and highlighting improved productivity is equally crucial, particularly in terms of managing more properties with the same number of people. Net promoter scores, where we use unobtrusive prompts to gauge user satisfaction during product usage, are also becoming valuable measurement tools.”

Dealing with data security

Earlier this year, the residential rental sector faced a surge in phishing attacks, targeting deposits, rent rolls and trust accounts.

“To bolster security, amongst other things we implemented security challenges which would introduce friction in appropriate places, and this has worked well in mitigating a lot of risk,” Mark said.

“Having a local presence also helps,” he added. “Having to comply with local laws and being subject to Australian Privacy Commission rules and best practices, as well as the general ISO27001 and similar standards that apply in the marketplaces, all combine to give people more confidence.”

Contractual commitments are another important factor in providing comfort around data security. If a system fails, Mark said, you need to know you’ll be adequately covered.

“I’ve seen cases where customers are told to sign contracts that say the provider will make every effort to ensure that nothing goes wrong, but if it does, you’re on your own. That’s not really acceptable. Your contracts need to cover appropriate obligations on both sides.”

Lessons and best practices

Mark believes that in a software-rich environment, where you have a wide range of technology providers to choose from, understanding product compatibility is crucial. “Consider whether you need a specific point solution that easily integrates into your existing system or an end-to-end product that will function as an all-encompassing solution,” he said.

He also emphasises the importance of looking for a provider you can count on when entrusting them with critical aspects of your operations.

Having a local presence, strong leadership, a reputable brand, and trusted references are factors that should significantly weigh into the decision-making process.

– Mark Cohen, MRI Software.

In Mark’s view, you should identify efficiencies and tailor your solutions accordingly, letting business processes rather than technology take the lead.

“After that, break your projects down into the smallest possible units and ship as often as you can,” he said.

“Don’t do a multi-year project and then have a big review. Rather do a series of, say, three month increments, and get business feedback as quickly as possible. Minimise the time between starting a project and putting value into the hands of the users and iterate from there.”

Proptech trends to watch

The evolution of AI is an obvious trend, according to Mark.

It’s not just AI’s flashy ‘eye candy’ capabilities, but its practical applications that deserve attention. These include things like image recognition for assessing property damages through to using AI applications for data processing, forms reading and generating property listings.

– Mark Cohen, MRI Software.

He believes AI-led automation in many forms, particularly customised workflows and even simpler event-based tasks, is set to boost productivity.

“Input and salary costs are going up and our clients are feeling it,” he noted. “Technologies that facilitate decision-making and reduce repetitive manual interventions are becoming crucial to managing budgets and ensuring business success.”

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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