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Computerization 2000.

Computerization never stands still. As you read this, property management software publishers are considering several new technologies and applications to change and upgrade current systems. Here are a few of the new technologies and applications you may be encountering a few years from now.


Some of the current technologies that may eventually find their way into property management are already common in other types of software.

* Bar coding, which puts computer-readable identification labels on objects, is very useful for inventorying and tracking physical objects. You may be familiar with bar coding from your grocery check-out line.

In property management, one current use is coding such documents as rent payment coupons to speed processing. Another maintenance program uses bar code labels to identify apartment units and their contents.

(See the March/April 1993 issue of JPM for a feature article on bar coding.)

* Digitized photos. Two methods of incorporating still photographs into software are scanners and digitized cameras or videos. The latter provides higher quality than the former.

The ability to store photos enables managers to include photos anywhere--for example, in reports to owners, presentations to prospective tenants, or maintenance documentation--at minimal cost or time. Photos are becoming much more common in residential brokerage software; even some agent programs incorporate them. One property management program currently includes them.

* Imaging. This is becoming a very popular and fast-advancing technology. It allows you to capture scanned images of documents, forms, and virtually anything else on paper. With this kind of technology, you can view lease documents, forms, or substantial paper-files directly within the software.

The current applications are generally for very high volume paperwork--for example, an RTC auction with 45,000 documents. Two or three property management software publishers are moving ahead on imaging capabilities.

* Multi-media. This term signifies the combination of video, animation, voice in computer programs. This seems a bit far fetched for property management, but at least one publisher is working on it now. Currently, its primary use is in education, but multi-media could be used for training and for leasing presentations.

* Virtual reality. You have probably seen the entertainment applications of this technology reported on television. A complex combination of sensors and programs create the illusion of being in another environment. With the proper setup, you could explore a property in another city as though you were really walking around it. If this technology becomes widely available, it could be an interesting leasing and sales tool.

Software applications

Most property management software, to date, has been devoted to helping managers do familiar work faster and easier on computer. Currently, there is substantial focus among software publishers on helping managers do work that was not previously feasible.

The applications mentioned here are not particularly the most-needed next steps in property management software, but they will eventually be found in many programs. One caution is that the claims will precede the substance in some cases.

* Contact management. If tenanting were easier to manage, more attention could be given to it. Also, as property managers seek to achieve a preferred tenant mix, for example in retail malls, more resources must be devoted to it.

Contact management software includes databases of individuals, tickler systems, mail merge and autodial features, and contact history files, all of which can be very useful in maintaining ongoing contacts with prospects and clients.

Contact management software is common in many industries, but has been most highly developed for salespeople. If you sell or lease and want a power tool, consider this.

* Computer-aided design (CAD). This type of program helps you produce and maintain drawings, floor plans, and similar documents. Unlike imaging, which allows you only to view the images, CAD is a graphics technology that enables users to work on graphics files just as you work with word processing or data files. CAD systems in property management can be useful in leasing, maintenance, and interior space planning.

* Facilities management. These systems, often using CAD technology, are used by facilities managers in many real-estate related jobs, including stacking and blocking of interior space, planning for moves, inventories, maintenance, and so on. If you need to reconfigure spaces or do other design-related work, these programs are worth considering.

* Executive information system (EIS). This system is designed specifically for top executives and their information needs. EISs are based on extraordinary interactive capability for random inquiries into a database system. An EIS produces this accessed information in an easy-to-understand, business-graphics style. Two property management software publishers currently have very impressive EISs.

* Decision support system (DSS). This system may or may not be associated with an EIS. A DSS consists primarily of analysis tools, including statistical and often financial methods.

* Expert system. An expert, whether using a DSS or not, makes decisions. An expert system is a technology designed to allow other people to more easily access the simulated decision-making of an expert.

Such a program is not needed merely for content knowledge, which can be stored easily in a database. Instead, the expert system gives users the benefit of the expert's thought processes and judgments. Expert systems are designed to handle such things as fuzzy logic and other elements of judgment and uncertainty. The term "expert system" is commonly abused, but the real thing has exciting possibilities for managers.

* Artificial intelligence (AI). Apart from expert systems, two other branches of AI are sensing and robotics. Intelligent sensing, as in artificial vision and hearing, is finding some use in alert systems. Robots may eventually be worth considering for use in building maintenance. They can already get your coffee and deliver the mail.

Underlying Technical Advances

Interfacing: This usually refers to interprogram interfacing, which allows data to be transferred intact from one program to another. Most publishers treat it with secondary interest, but it is vital to many users.

Client-server computing: This is a broad term for a new generation of hardware/software configurations allowing more power for expansion in PCs and lower cost, equal power, and greater user friendliness for minicomputer users.

Structured-query language (SQL): This has become a de facto standard language for working with large databases. It is usually used at large installations with a database administrator.

Object orientation: This is an orientation to programming that has significant impact for users. It is a shift from the traditional "procedural" orientation to programming. Its use allows for more advanced applications.

Michael J. Hanrahan is president of Real Estate Software Advisors in San Francisco. He has been a real estate software reviewer and consultant since 1983. He has independently evaluated more than 150 real estate software programs.

Mr. Hanrahan has been in the real estate business for more than 25 years. He holds B.A. and M.B.A. degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to focusing on real estate software, he was vice president and director of research of Questor Associates, the predecessor company to Roulac Real Estate Consulting Group of Deloitte & Touche.
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Title Annotation:Computers; property management technologies and software applications
Author:Hanrahan, Michael J.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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