No two commercial real estate firms are the same. That might seem obvious but it becomes painfully so when companies try to purchase software. No matter how well thought out an off-the-shelf piece of software is, there is no way that it can satisfy the needs of every property company that uses it. That means that companies putting together their tech stacks usually have to hire software developers to cobble together different solutions using APIs, data warehouses, and custom code. With the current price of a good developer, real estate companies can find themselves paying more to tailor a tech stack to meet their unique needs than they do for the software itself.
According to Statista, the average company across all industries used 110 SaaS applications in 2021, up from just eight in 2015. In the commercial real estate industry this includes specialized software for accounting, ERP, CMMS, CRM, lease administration, portfolio management, market research, energy management, and so much more. Oftentimes workflows and processes don’t work together well, if at all, resulting in confusion and data silos throughout the organization. You end up with underutilized software and a mess of difficult to find and inaccurate data. The bottom line is this approach wastes resources and causes teams to miss business opportunities.
Other industries like healthcare, education, retail, and e-commerce have struggled with similar problems related to software integration and customization. Many of them have successfully embraced “no-code” software solutions to enable their team to make these changes without the need for an entire development team, or often no development team at all. The commercial real estate industry has an opportunity to use the same strategy of adopting flexible low-code and no-code software applications to equip real estate business experts with practical IT capabilities.
There is no set definition for “no-code” since the term can mean different things to different people, but broadly speaking, no-code programming refers to using software or platforms that do not require coding knowledge in order to create or customize applications, websites, or other digital tools. This could include drag-and-drop builders, workflow automation platforms, or even simple Excel macros. The appeal of no-code solutions is that they can often be used by people with no technical background, which can make them faster and easier to implement than traditional coding solutions.
Perhaps contrary to your instincts, the first step in integrating and customizing a property firm’s IT systems is accepting the chaos inherent in disparate software products. Your team could waste a lot of time and resources trying to reinvent the tech stack. But by adopting a central no-code platform and creating a trusted data layer these systems can begin to work together and you can create solutions that meld with your own workflows. Managers can feed historical data into this new analytical framework. There, algorithms can enrich the information with contextual metadata and conform the data to an architecture that can prevent inaccuracies. If configured correctly, this layer also enables data-chain governance (ie., allowing sensor data to inform building controls systems) and monitoring plus support functionality.
As promising as that sounds, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to getting started with no-code solutions or building a trusted data layer. Before the technology can be created the problem that it needs to fix should be clearly defined. Then a person or team must be tasked with researching the different no-code software platforms available since they all are a bit different and have their own strengths and weaknesses. Once a platform is selected a training program needs to be designed and implemented. Even though there is no coding involved, these platforms can be difficult and intimidating for team members. Only by easing the transition to a new software system can organizations be sure that these investments will actually be used.
Which no-code platforms you should test depends on the complexity of your organization’s needs. There are some pretty simple ones that you may already be familiar with that have very robust functionality such as Salesforce and Airtable. These types of platforms usually provide hundreds of pre-built solutions and templates for a variety of use cases such as sales, project management, human resources, expense and vendor management, and service requests. Unfortunately, there are not many commercial real estate specific no-code platforms to choose from but that is starting to change and in the meantime, with a bit of research, industry agnostic solutions may already offer the capabilities your firm requires.
MRI Software, one of the commercial real estate industry’s largest software providers, has recently launched a no-code/low-code product that promises to help property firms bring together all of their software into one customizable dashboard. MRI’s suite of software solutions already encompasses investment management, property management, facilities and workplace management, and payments, and can be customized to be useful for almost any other organizational process. The new offering is called MRI Agora Insights and it allows for advanced analytics across MRI and non-MRI data sources. Its ability to bring together structured and unstructured data, IoT data, and APIs has the potential to help property organizations more easily build a trusted data layer using a no-code approach.
MRI’s Chief Product Officer Saurabh Abhyankar, told me, “Right now, innovation outweighs adoption in real estate. Our clients’ ability to absorb and stack on is slower than the pace of innovation.” Abhyankar believes that every industry eventually matures from using multiple disconnected point solutions to a go-to platform of choice. He explained that the battle between operating systems is common, but short lived elsewhere. “The OS wars ended with MacOS and Windows, the CRM wars ended with Salesforce.com, and the cloud wars ended with Azure and AWS,” Abhyankar noted. “It’s time for the entire PropTech industry to adopt a platform that is smart, open, and hyper-connected, where technology from any provider, including MRI, our partners, third parties, and even our competitors can connect together to enable innovation.”
While trying to force users into one operating system might be a way for tech companies to create a moat, it can backfire. As users struggle to adapt the system to their needs the critical problem of interoperability becomes more important. Eventually, users will prefer an operating system that allows them to customize its use to their needs, even if it means playing nice with a competitor. From an efficiency standpoint, it is much easier for tech companies to find a way to work with other programs and data schemas than for each company to create its own work around.
Property companies that fail to prioritize integration of their IT-systems will struggle to ever make a return on their digital investments. No code and low-code platforms may be the solution that will allow real estate organizations to quickly develop and deploy applications that integrate with their tech stack without having to invest in costly development resources. In addition, low-code software can be easily customized to fit into existing workflows making it a versatile solution for a complex industry.