By Lisa Stanley
2015 has seen significant consolidation in the real estate service provider and software sectors serving the corporate real estate market. CBRE has purchased Johnson Controls, DTZ merged with Cushman & Wakefield, and MRI Software acquired Cougar Software, among others. This industry consolidation is expanding the global footprints of these organizations and with it an increasing need for attention to compliance and regulatory oversight issues. Timeframes for due diligence are also getting shorter in some markets with evaluation and decision making on whether to proceed now required in days and weeks not months. As a result, data integrity is key to these transactions through the due diligence process and beyond.
With consolidation comes challenges — additional platforms that don’t communicate with each other for collecting and analyzing data, managers of these platforms who aren’t accustomed to communicating with each other, and an expanded client base that expects a consistently high level of service regardless of the internal issues that accompany consolidation for their vendors and business partners.
How can an organization manage the integration of the data effectively with the complexities of regulatory compliance? The first step of the transformational change is acknowledging the difference between information and data. Information is the key — it’s derived from the data collected and drives decision — making at all levels of the organization. An Information Strategy and Roadmap is needed that implements standards as a building block for the framework using the following steps:
- Incorporate standards requirements into RFPs for systems and services.
- Use a standards approach as core to systems integration with business partners.
- Design an information model built upon standards.
- Develop functional and systems requirements that are built on standards.
- Integrate corporate data governance procedures into all aspects of the plan.
The next step in the change process is to develop a clear value statement for standards that resonates with the C-suite. For some, this approach is a significant shift from one that has been focused on cost rather than value. Improved information quality builds a stronger data governance program, effectively addresses risk management and compliance issues, and improves benchmarking and performance. This value-based approach enables organizations to implement quickly and maintain agility, and makes on-boarding acquisitions faster not just locally, but globally.
Consistency and quality of information is integral to the process, starting with implementation of a data dictionary that ensures the use of common terms and definitions within the organization and with external business partners. Think of a data dictionary as a cohesive way to link outsourcing, systems, processes, and standards.
Once the framework is in place, the design and development phase offers an opportunity for constructive collaboration with key team members — maybe the first significant opportunity in an M&A environment to work towards a common goal. While a clear plan is important, it must also provide the flexibility to adjust throughout the project. Even well thought out plans can take longer than expected, and the decision-making pits speed of completion against value of information and cost. Knowing what’s most important to your corporate leadership team from the start will enable you to make the necessary adjustments as you move through the testing and implementation phases and the training and roll-out that follows.
A final word as you begin the planning process: it’s critical to remember that overhauling your firm’s information management strategy requires ongoing communication to all team members who will be affected by the change; too often it receives an inadequate amount of attention and resources. Questions to communicate include: What is the goal? Why is it important? How will this affect you? How long will it take? Each answer must be clearly messaged and reviewed throughout the testing and implementation process to achieve maximum success.
Stanley is the CEO of Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate (OSCRE International), a membership-based, not-for-profit organization committed to the collaborative development and implementation of global real estate data standards. She is also a member of the Real Street Tech advisory board.