Testing times

The tech challenges keeping property execs up at night

Brian Devlin, Industry General Manager, TechnologyOne

Each year advisory firm KPMG Australia surveys C-level executives across Australia to better understand the key issues being faced by business leaders, with the results released in the Keeping us up at night report.

The 2019 issue demonstrated that – for the third year running – digital transformation remains the number one concern for Australian business leaders. According to KPMG “this indicates that Australian leaders are acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the transformative change that technologies like big data, the internet of things (IoT), and artificial intelligence will bring”.

While many organisations are quick to embrace and adopt new technologies, the State of Enterprise Software report from leading research firm IBRS suggests that the property industry lags well behind other sectors when it comes to committing investment and devising plans for digital transformation.

According to UDIA Queensland CEO Kirsty Chessher-Brown, while change comes easier for some organisations than others, awareness levels around new business methods and approaches may also contribute to a slower uptake.

“As with any industry, we have members at the coalface embracing technological change and those who are slower to transform. The Institute is grappling with technology and making a massive investment in our own digital future currently so that we can better serve our members for years to come. We are also doing our part to expose members to new ideas and ways of doing business through events like our annual Developers Conference,” she said.

While this research and analysis occurred before COVID-19, the global pandemic has turbocharged some sub-trends and will force radical changes in human behaviour, government regulation, corporate strategy and stakeholder expectations.

Operationally, it has greatly accelerated the adoption of new business and work models, and will force organisations to be more digital, data-driven, accessible and in the cloud; to have stronger, autonomous work cultures; to have variable cost structures, operational agility and automation embedded into everyday business; all while creating stronger capabilities in online service delivery, eCommerce and security.

Something for everyone

The IBRS report found that technology procurement is increasingly business led, so it’s common for property companies to employ multiple disjointed IT systems that meet the needs of separate business functions like finance, HR and development management.

While employing separate solutions may adequately meet the demands of each silo, it’s an inefficient and time-consuming approach that generates a poorer overall result.

The use of multiple solutions usually leads to replication of processes multiple inputs across separate functions, effectively increasing potential for inconsistencies that bring reporting accuracy and validity into question. In effect, the bigger picture is lost.

No single source of truth

In the not too distant past, ‘gut feel’ may have been enough to go on when it came to business decisions, but the world has changed. Availability of – and reliable access to – vast amounts of real time data is the very thing that underpins business success in the 21st century, especially in complex environments like property. As we move into the ‘data decade’, Chessher-Brown sees access to accurate and up-to-date information as imperative for every business.

“I believe that real-time business information is critical for all companies. That being said, you need to be able to decipher the data inputs you are receiving. With so much data at our fingertips it becomes more of an issue understanding what is important and what can be ignored. I think there also needs to be an emphasis on the quality of data being collected,” she said.

From feasibility modelling through to cash flow forecasting, the entire development process demands visibility of accurate information in real time. While each business unit owns its inherent function, typical industry undertakings – like provision of accurate costing, estimation and project scheduling – require data drawn from multiple sources.

Integration between disparate business-led solutions can be onerous and, if the resulting extracted information lacks integrity and currency, it leads to poor business decisions that threaten every stage in the development cycle.

The key to delivering accurate, consistent and transparent data available at any time, on any device, is the adoption of a single organisation-wide ERP solution.

Manual manipulation

For many the humble spreadsheet still remains the tool of choice in business functions tasked with managing complex projects and budgets.

Seen as a ‘one size fits all’ solution, spreadsheets are used across a full spectrum of responsibilities including; contract management, cost estimating, scheduling, project management, subcontractor management, supply, cost control, health and safety, quality management and compliance. That’s a lot of faith to put into a solution that is primed for human error through manually mis-keyed information, incorrect formula creation or cut-and-paste mistakes.

Not only error-prone, carrying out manual processes is time-consuming, costly and an ineffective use of valuable resources, so you’ll wait longer for information that may not even be accurate or current when you get it.

Chessher-Brown thinks businesses will eventually learn to move on from using manual tools including spreadsheets, provided they can learn to trust that newer systems are working.

“I think the spreadsheet is always going to be a backstop for many businesses and it will take time for people to move on. There is an adjustment when you move to more sophisticated business tools and what I would describe as a “leap of faith”, trusting that the tools are working and that you can make decisions based on the information,” she said.

Adding insult to injury

Digital transformation is an evolutionary process, and an inevitable one for businesses hoping to realise the potential improvements offered by today’s technology trends.

For example, some businesses look for a quick fix and employ proprietary business intelligence add-on solutions designed to extract and collate data from siloed applications. This may serve in short-to medium-term, but for organisations with serious digital transformation aspirations, there is no substitute for the solid foundation that an enterprise solution delivers.

If manual processes, disparate systems and gut feel decision-making are still the norm in your organisation, it may be time to investigate better options.

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Publish date

05 Oct 2020

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