Pretty vs Process: Why Workflow Apps Beat Dashboards In Real Estate Tech

“If I hear the word ‘dashboard’ one more time…” said one executive at a large Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). We were discussing the state of real estate technology. The executive’s optimism for what the latest crop of real estate apps could achieve was tempered only by her disdain for their all-too-common assumption that if an app simply showed a portfolio-wide compendium of trends and charts, her team would automatically know what action to take and how to get it done.

“They couldn’t be more wrong”, she went on to say while staring at a website of one company extolling the virtues of its building energy dashboards.

“What I want when I login to software is not to be dazzled, but to get something done.”

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Figure 1: Dashboards, dashboards everywhere...

Commercial real estate is a complex beast. The stack of services that goes into siting, financing, building, managing, and transacting on a single asset is dizzying. Meanwhile the multitude of service providers working across each niche have invented an array of tools – from manual processes to proprietary software – to give them an edge at any given level in the stack. As technologists our intuitive reaction to complexity is to “bring it all together” into a single view. After all seeing is believing, right? But commercial real estate execs need not be convinced their operational challenges are real. Rather, they need technology that solves their problems in a fashion superior to the (mostly) manual status quo.

But if the industry is not asking for a way to “see” it all in the literal sense, what is it asking for? In my experience, it’s asking for a way to navigate through specific tasks from start to finish. Dashboards create a visceral, satisfying sense of control. But process – from plugging data into an app through generating outcomes – is the real requirement. In other words, the industry is not merely asking to “see it all” but also for a simple, reproducible way to “do it all”. The former is a dashboard, the latter a workflow. One looks nice. The other gets the job done.

An overburdened, complex industry sorely needs to get work done. In two surveys of real estate teams creating and filing reports to the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), Measurabl found they were spending 400 hours compiling a single report on average. This is inclusive of internal resources, consultants, and property-level contributions. Rationalizing a process that siphons hundreds of hours from key team members is not a matter of glancing at a speedometer, but knowing how to read a map.

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Figure 2: Checking off steps in a reporting workflow.

The absurd level of resources required to synthesize and disclose real estate information is not unique to sustainability reporting. So how did real estate tech end up with its dashboard fixation as opposed to more workflows?

The answer may lie in the rearview mirror. Look at the legacy property management solutions from Yardi, MRI or RealPage and you’ll see dashboards are baked into the industry’s DNA. The caption greeting you on RealPage’s website is “One property management solution that brings it all together.” Yardi welcomes visitors to its webpage with the question “What if you could run your entire business with a single software platform using any device?” The accompanying product screenshot? A dashboard... A picture is worth a thousand words.

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Figure 3: What will we solve with this picture?

While dashboards are an essential component of any enterprise software they are not, in and of themselves, a solution any more than staring at your fuel gauge is a good way to find a gas station.

Workflows are important because the interdependencies among different layers of the real estate service stack are deeply interconnected. Accomplishing virtually any task means your software must navigate you through the entire data collection, analysis, and decision making process (collectively the “requirement”) in one seamless user experience. Measurabl, for example, utilizes two different Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to exchange data with third parties when creating buildings in its database. It's not uncommon for any given building to take advantage of five different API's at any one time. The result is harmony between the US EPA’s Portfolio Manager, USGBC’s GBIG, utility companies, and your property management software. The user, though, is blissfully removed from this complexity. Instead, the experience is of a single integrated workflow.

Workflows are not unique to Measurabl. Virtually any real estate app will have them to one degree or another. What matters is the balance between workflows and dashboards: the distance between acquisition of data and creating a tangible outcome from that same data. An application becomes truly useful when it tackles the entire lifecycle of a single real estate requirement start to finish. So by all means, lets occasionally stop to enjoy the view, but never forget where we’re going...

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Measurabl empowers any company, regardless of size or type, to achieve sustainability using software to measure, manage, and act upon data. Our online software that lets you quickly and accurately file sustainability reports such as GRESB, CDP and GRI. Learn more, or get started with a free trial.