Whiff of revolution for real estate technology

Copyright: David Lawson

Published: Property Week 2007

A whiff of revolution is in the air as the property world prepares for its annual techfest. Every year geeks mingle with property managers and millionaires at London PCS Expo, hoping they will leave drunk with excitement over the way computers are transforming bricks and mortar. And every year many come away underwhelmed.

   Glaciers can progress faster than property software, which is probably inevitable in a deeply conservative sector where substantial investment has to be recouped from maybe a few dozen users. The sector was once a laughing stock over tentative moves into computers when seven-year-olds were already writing their own games, then suffered similar jibes adopting Windows a decade ago.

  Today, it is the internet that is taken for granted by the wider world  but property has elbowed to the front of the pack, flaunting terms like ‘interactive’, ‘hands-on’ and the execrable ‘Web 2.0’.   Applications are increasingly being ‘web enabled’. In other words they can be accessed via browsers, allowing interaction between a huge range of agents, managers, investors and occupiers. Uses range from finding a new home to analysing portfolios and checking the condition of boilers 200 miles away.

   But the software is still not quite there, says Steve Vatidis, group managing director of Raindrop Information Systems.  Running via Windows on remote servers enables interaction and remote access and reduces the amount of software on personal computers, saving the cost of memory and processors.  Around 80% of property applications run this way, but they have a downside. They soak up bandwidth, which is difficult for smaller firms with insufficient network and phone line capacity.

  ‘Web enabled’ software running in a browser is a step up. Programs like Yardi Voyager have been online for years and more than 100 companies use Raindrop’s Manhattan over the web. But again there are drawbacks. Some software still has to be carried on each PC and  an intermediate program like Citrix is necessary. Most importantly, working online is slower, says Vatidis.

   He claims a new version of Manhattan being launched at PCS Expo will take the final step. Raindrop has spent five years rebuilding as an integral web tool rather than something merely accessed online. The key aim is not just speed but a ‘zero footprint’: no software on each user PC.  That saves updating and maintaining distributed programs, which make up  more than 40% of IT costs, plus the licence for an intermediary like Citrix.

  But Philip Evans, whose firm Pex specialises in enterprise systems for property agents and companies, warns that embracing the web must go further.  It should also change the way businesses are run.  A maintenance worker reporting the cost of a tin of paint in the same way as a paper invoice adds work for clerks separating the VAT. An extra process to allow for VAT frees finance departments from drudgery to do their real function of analysis, says Evans.   


Research into the impact of e-procurement on property management will be one of the highlights of PCS Expo at London’s Business Design Centre. Others include advances in web-based software and mapping technology, and new developments for property including:  

ECS, the property and facilities management software group, is announcing the merger of Estate Computer Systems, Fraser Williams Commercial Systems and FDS Advanced Systems and changing name to Qube Global, after one of its most popular products. The group, which also markets Horizon and Planet, is seeking a more co-ordinated approach to drive expansion.

Blom Aerofilms is launching web tools and a downloadable image library for high-resolution, oblique aerial photographs being taken of every town and city in the country. Side views give more information than conventional vertical ones.

BOE Information Systems will be giving away free three-month licenses to demonstrate the new interface for its valuation software.

Business Functions, the financial modelling software with a specialist property section, is also being promoted as a free package.

Caldes has created entry level software for smaller firms called Express Agent built around a new web-based interface and using features of the version for larger enterprises.

Cashfac Virtual Bank Technology, a cash management system normally provided through big banks, is being released to property managers and has already been adopted by four of the top ten firms.

Estateman has upgraded its property management and accounting software system to include easier navigation, a contacts register, diary, workflow and graph reports. It will also launch the 2007 Estateman Health and Safety Register, including condition surveys, disabled access, risk assessment and asbestos and legionella registers..

GVAS, the software from Financial Objects, has incorporated advanced web collaboration for integrated property and maintenance management to automate repetitive tasks and allow focus on strategic development

 FOCUS has developed a 3D map interface and single-click building search facility and is adding more than 5,000 properties a month.

Intuit Real Estate Solutions has created a portfolio modelling and analysis tool called Impact designed in collaboration with clients to replace spreadsheets in evaluating multiple property investment scenarios.

Yardi APB has won contracts with Bank of Ireland, Colliers International and Teesland iOG, making inroads into Europe with its browser-based Voyager asset and property management software.