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Dipping a Toe in the Data Lake

Posted by Brendan Canny in: industry news, Real Estate, innovation, Emerging Technology, COVID-19, ERP, microsoft platform

Data is constantly produced by every organization, but the question we all face is how to convert that data into actionable information. A popular analogy likens data to crude oil, in that the true value is only realized once it’s mined and refined. It’s a clever comparison on the surface, but it creates the impression of data as less valuable without expensive and complex infrastructure to extract the real product. This pervasive impression, backed up by horror stories of the old approach of million-dollar BI projects, has meant that many companies have forgone the value of their data, assuming there’s no point even starting unless you have the capital to invest in a years-long project.

Data is more like a lake of water that you can choose to sip from or swim in

The truth is that this is no longer the case. With modern tools and approaches, data is more like a lake of water that you can choose to sip from or swim in, depending on your needs. The widespread availability of low-cost, relatively easy-to-implement data transformation and connector tools like Azure Data Factory or Snap Logic, combined with the drive within PropTech to move towards open, API-enabled systems, has completely changed the game. Flexible visualization tools like Power BI and Tableau allow rapid deployment of that data to drive insight and action. Even these old-school powerhouses of the BI industry are now more reasonably priced and scalable than ever before, as they find themselves being chased by many up-and-coming contenders like Qlikview and FusionCharts.

A recent project of ours proves this point dramatically, showing how the current COVID-19 pandemic led to a large retail REIT leveraging the power of their data to enable their management team to quickly assess and regularly monitor the risk status of tenants… in just 2 weeks.

Faced with the sudden need for daily updates on tenant risk, the leasing and accounting departments were running daily reports out of their ERP, then manipulating them in Excel. Issues were inevitable: the report was often out of date before it was even delivered to decision-makers; human error crept in; drill-down questions required new files to be created; and the management team could not always access the reports from home, or on mobile devices.

Do something to progress the use of data within your company

The flexibility of Microsoft’s Power BI platform allowed them to use APIs to connect key data points from their ERP: base rent, additional charges, NNN data, occupancy costs, sqft. calculations, billing and payment analysis, lease details and options. Power BI was also able to incorporate a subjective but often more reliable data source: a risk score that quantified the educated opinions of the veteran team members who engaged with the tenants daily.

The combination of objective and subjective data into a Power BI dashboard now provides a real time overview of key metrics, where decision makers can dynamically hone in on areas of interest. Splitting revenue by risk category, filtering by region or asset class, or drilling down into specific tenants can all be done on the fly, with a few clicks of the mouse or taps of the screen. The insights gained from these visualizations now assist the business in adjusting planning and operations to ensure that revenue risk is mitigated, by identifying and working with riskier tenants, being first in line to negotiate alternative revenue arrangements if needed, and identifying expenses that may be reduced or deferred.

So, if there’s one take-away from this article, let it be this: take action. No matter how small a move you make, do something to progress the use of data within your company, department or even just your specific focus area. The lake is there, the water is perfect… just dip a toe in and see.

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