London-based property managing agent, Lee Baron, manages over 9,000 tenancies. Working with commercial, residential and mixed use developments, Lee Baron provide exemplary day-to-day property and financial management; mitigation of associated risk; asset protection and enhancement.
They are a long-standing client of MRI, having been using MRI products for nearly 30 years. In fact, they were the first customers of Qube PM software when it was developed.
The team at Lee Baron have recently added MRI Contract Intelligence to their technology stack, continuing their relationship and taking advantage of the evolving technology solutions MRI develop. We asked Tim Love, IT Systems manager at Lee Baron, about the business’s approach to technology in the industry.
What is the role of technology at Lee Baron?
At Lee Baron, we use a fairly standard installation for a management agency; we have Qube PM, with the core products we use being the Property Management module and the Purchase Ledger. Together they manage all of our property data and tenant information.
The truth is, we couldn’t run a business without a system like this. You’ve got to have the data easily available so you can report on it, access it, do bulk processing of transactions etc. There’s no way we could efficiently be invoicing tenants in bulk and calculating service charges without a robust management system.
MRI Contract Intelligence
We decided to add MRI Contract Intelligence to our technology stack because it’s a clever solution for the scanning and extraction of data. We’re currently using it to scrape data of incoming portfolios and extract data from leases. With the variation in leases you get across the industry, having a tool that can read and extract data from any document has allowed us to automate a portion of the work we do, which gives our teams more time to do more valuable work.
It also means our data is of a better quality and is stored in a format that is more accessible and more reportable.
As a smaller business, this automation is not about cutting costs, because we don’t have teams of people whose sole job is to read leases. Rather, we’re looking to increase productivity and improve our customer service by retargeting people to more valuable tasks. It’s about applying staff to more key roles and lessening the proportion of administrative activities in their workloads.
When it comes to third-party products, integration is absolutely essential. It was one of the key aspects we focussed on when building our technology infrastructure. There isn’t one single all-singing-all-dancing solution in the space, and it isn’t a case of going to one supplier or product for all our tech needs – that’s very limiting. For us, it’s about building a stack of products that do what we need them to do, and the ability for the products we choose to integrate, therefore, is essential, not only because we can’t have people rekeying information or duplicating data – it’s a waste of time – but also because it reduces the overall quality of the data.
As a small business, we’re always looking for products with pre-built integrations as we can’t hire a developer to work with APIs in order to fully integrate the product. Instead, we need products that you can pull off the shelf and that slot into our stack straight away. That’s one of the reasons we’ve stayed with MRI for so long, because they have those relationships with other suppliers within their partnership programme, which means you can find a range of solutions from multiple companies that interlock together, which for us is incredibly helpful.
Technology through COVID-19
We were fortunate, in one sense, in that we’d been running a lot of our infrastructure from the cloud long before the pandemic hit. All of our telephony, desktops, and systems were hosted both on site and on the cloud, so unlike a lot of companies we haven’t had to rush and scramble to allow for remote working. We could just send everyone home and continue working as normal.
Of course, the pandemic has affected the property industry in a more general manner. We’ve found that it’s been more difficult for tenants to pay their rent, which has made it more difficult for us to collect the rent for our clients, so the work we’ve been doing has been altered in that sense.
As well, we’ve taken the opportunity to downsize our office to about a quarter of the space. Remote working has been a success for many of our team members so we’re not intending to have the whole team based in the office full time again. Instead, we’re embracing the “new normal” that COVID-19 has brought about.
I think it’s accelerated an existing trend, in that we were already on the road to creating more flexible workplaces, but the restrictions put in place to counter the pandemic have pushed that forward. It’s now become something that staff will expect from their workplace, and the best candidates are going to want to work for companies that offer flexibility, so in that sense I think getting systems onto a cloud-based infrastructure is vital for a lot of companies’ survival.
MRI as a partner
MRI continually develop or acquire software that we use – it’s an ever-changing field of software and tools that needs to continue to improve and develop and MRI do a good job of keeping pace with that. It’s really helpful for us to collaborate with a company who are moving in the right direction, not least because we can take advantage of the improvements they’re making. MRI are at the forefront of technology in the property sector, which means that we can leverage developments they’re doing and find excellent support on the stuff we’ve already got.