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The Real Estate Innovator's Dilemma

Posted by Ian Saunder in: innovation

Various people, least of which is Henry Ford, are attributed with saying if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. How many companies have tried to apply the same thinking in addressing new challenges and failed - the unsuspecting victims of innovation’s relentless advance who now serve only as a warning to others who might not understand that change is the only constant.

Casting your gaze across the lists of organizations who worked themselves into positions of relative insignificance, it’s easy to overlook the fact that most, if not all, were once the archetypes of innovation. Their formative years were characterized by a keen ability to innovate by efficiently implementing new ideas that delivered the kind of value their clients needed and wanted. Innovation, however, is inherently transitory – the innovations of today are destined by their very nature to evolve to become the commoditised solutions of the future.

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As a real estate professional you no doubt have an arsenal of technology at your disposal that, if wielded correctly, serves to differentiate you from your competitors. What is key to recognize is that the constituents of your technical armoury are constantly subjected to an ever accelerating regression towards obsolescence. The bulky Motorola handset that kept you connected while on the move in the early 90’s was an innovation and a key competitive advantage for businesses, as was email and an Internet connection. Today, these once bleeding edge instruments of the modern professional that served the higher order needs of their businesses are now within reach of the majority of Earth’s seven billion inhabitants. Blockbuster’s ability to tailor each of its stores’ inventories to best serve its demographic was a key differentiator that helped it become a household name. Netflix made the video store a thing of memory. It’s clear that what differentiates your business today will be what likely leads to its demise in the future if you don’t strive to meet the ever changing needs of your customers. 

Your mobile device and Internet connection have evolved to bear little resemblance to their rudimentary predecessors, but now nevertheless likely form part of an assumed technology platform that reminds you of its presence only when it doesn’t work. There’s also a very good chance that you have outsourced the management of a large portion of this platform to specialists who leverage the Cloud to deliver these services more effectively and efficiently than your business could.

These lower order functions of your business are akin to the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and should be satisfied before higher order functions receive attention. The commoditisation of this technological foundation empowered most businesses to focus their attention and resources on leveraging technology to optimize key business processes. A decade ago this technology would probably have manifested itself as bespoke custom software solutions that didn’t necessarily revolutionise what your business did, but how it did it. Applications to automate leasing, budgeting, and tenant management were the flavour of the day. Today, services such as View This Space and Hightower have somewhat democratised this technological landscape by reducing the reliance on custom software to automate and enhance these non-differentiating business processes. What once occupied the middle tiers of your company’s hierarchy of technical needs has again been pushed downwards to overlap that which has been commoditized and ultimately outsourced.

The advent of the Cloud and proliferation of Software-as-a-Service solutions have allowed real estate companies to either reduce the resources they allocate to developing custom software or direct those resources towards developing software solutions that truly improve their capacity to innovate. It’s in the service of these high order needs – the activities and attributes that clearly separate businesses from their competition – that custom software solutions will find a renewed and reinvigorated sense of purpose.

As a software consultancy with an exclusive focus on the real estate industry, Open Box Software has been keenly aware of this change in dynamic. What remains fixed, however, is our mission to expertly deliver pragmatic solutions, and advise our clients on an approach that, above all, makes sense to them. Part of this is ensuring that we remain solution-oriented, and consider commoditised, off-the-shelf solutions and services to automate and improve non-strategic business processes ahead of developing custom software.

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Our commitment to providing the best solution for our clients is reflected in how our company is structured. Our Custom Software division remains a core competency that is best positioned to deliver cutting edge, innovative custom software, while our Enterprise Solutions division brings a wealth of experience in implementing off-the-shelf products and integrating with cloud-based solutions. Both divisions are supported by our Managed Services group who specialise in round-the-clock support and IT staff outsourcing.

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