Do you have an Apple or an Android in your pocket? It’s a simple question but one that could speak to the way you like to use your technology. User friendliness or customizability, both approaches have their strengths. This is a strategic distinction that property companies need to make as well, as they plan out the systems that will comprise their portfolio tech stacks.
It might be tempting to take a shotgun approach to the property software search. There are plenty of listicles out there giving their recommendations for the best at X, be it marketing, operational optimization, energy efficiency, or tenant experience improvement. There’s a catch, though. Based on the property management software you’ve chosen to run with, many of your tech choices might already be made up for you.
Many properties already have some sort of management solution that helps streamline basic business functions like accounting, payroll, and maintenance requests. These functions are likely fulfilled by one of the few large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software suites for the real estate industry, familiar PropTech giants like Yardi, Entrata, RealPage, and Appfolio.
For businesses in other industries, ERP software is provided by big names like SAP, Oracle, and Sage. These systems serve as the backbone of the digital processes for thousands of companies, and so end up being responsible for vast amounts of company data and assets. In the real estate world, these systems have also become one of the most important cogs in the operations of countless properties, and thus have created an enormous amount of what economists call “lock-in.” While the number of discrete tools and management systems out there are practically endless, the amount of money and effort it takes to move all of your digital assets to another system of record is often more than most are willing to spend.
This puts these ERP companies in the driver’s seat when it comes to tech stack integrations. Without these integrations, managers would need to constantly be shifting between different websites and interfaces, manually importing data, only ever able to capture a glimpse of the overall business situation at any given time. So, before considering the plethora of new technologies that a property can deploy, managers must first understand which ones will be able to integrate with their ERP.
For their part, different property management companies have taken a variety of approaches to integrating with other software providers. In many cases this is a balancing act. Software companies often need to choose between being an all-in-one or a best-in-class solution. Will a given provider try to do it all, or stick to what they do best and outsource or integrate with the rest? Will they take the Apple walled garden approach, where integrations are limited and potentially much more quality-controlled, or will they take the Android-style, open market approach?
The answer to that question will determine a big part of the integration strategy each company chooses. Users typically want lots of integrations, to keep things flexible and allow for a lot of creative software uses. Property ERP companies want to fill that need, but if they are trying to be an all-in-one solution, may not want to integrate with outside tools that could drive business away from their own platforms. For these companies, the Apple approach might resonate a little more.
Look at the example of AppFolio, a major property management/ERP company that focuses on building software integrations with listing sites, but not other types of tech providers. According to Stacy Holden, Industry Principal and Director at AppFolio, “If an identified set of functionality is part of core property management functions and contributes meaningfully to the user experience, we build it into our software platform. At times, if a technology integration and partnership better serve a customer need, we seek to identify an optimal solution and may decide to integrate it into a seamless workflow. A recent example is our enhanced integration with Blue Moon Software, which gives customers a more streamlined lease renewal and online lease signing capability to help facilitate a great experience for renters.” This is a much more ad hoc, yet controlled approach to integrations than some other companies like Entrata, which provide a laundry list of integrations and a clear pathway for other companies to launch their own with the system. Keeping with the mobile OS dichotomy, Entrata’s approach is Android-like by comparison.
Neither of these approaches are necessarily better or worse. Streamlined usability versus customization? One approach will work better for some owners, while the latter will appeal more to others. What this does mean, actionably, is that property companies should carefully consider the existing integration partners and philosophy of the property management suite they currently use, as well as the alternatives. Perhaps they will find that they want that Apple-style approach, yet their existing provider takes a very Android, customize-heavy, integrations galore mindset with things.
In order to help property teams determine their tech stack sweet spot, we published a new report, The Universe of Multifamily Property Software Integrations, that explores the native functionality and integration lists of four of the largest property ERPs out there: Yardi, RealPage, Appfolio and Entrata.
Making this decision will go a very long way to helping property teams decide on other tech tools to pursue, since some will play nicely with the chosen property ERP system and some won’t, or will be rendered irrelevant by the ERP’s functionality itself. Cherry picking tech tools can be fun, but spending too much time deciding on one-offs could result in a tech stack full of tools that don’t talk to each other.