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Current issues in property management software.

Do you want property management software that is much easier to use?

Do you want to be able to post to prior periods?

Do sound structure and good design in your software make a difference to you?

Does it make sense to tie property management modules to generic accounting programs?

These questions reflect some of the trends and current issues in property management software. The Property Manager by L&L Services (reviewed in the preceding article) typifies many of these new issues.

A new generation

The Property Manager is part of a new generation of property management software. Such programs, of which there are currently very few, are relatively new. Most are no more than two years old. There is not any one thing that characterizes the programs of this new generation, but some of the shared features include:

* They are not patched up or retrofitted editions of old programs, but new designs.

* They are specifically built to take advantage of the increased power of new hardware available. For example, the Medallion Gold program by Timberline runs under the OS/2 operating system. (See my review in the November/December 1989 issue of JPM.)

* They may be written in a language that can provide substantially more ease of use. For example, The Property Manager is written in a variation of the C" language.

* They are written to run in a modern and powerful environment. For example, many programs offer Windows 3.0, Presentation Manager, Windowing System Manager, or others.

The main advantage of these programs right now is that they are generally much easier to use and significantly faster than their old-generation competitors. Their main advantage for the future is that the new platforms they provide are the only ones which will be able to support the next generation of dramatically increased functionality in property management software.

The existence of these programs is not new. But now it is a trend; one in its early stages, but clearly observable.

Some property management software publishers will make it into the new generation. But the state of technology has reached the point where incremental upgrading will soon be a losing battle. in order to survive, a new-generation product will need to be produced. Many existing publishers will not have the resources to accomplish that. As a result, the overall number of property management programs will probably decrease.

Open or closed

Another clear trend in property management software is toward open books, specifically eliminating the need to close a month, or at least adding the ability to post to prior periods.

This is a trend that raises several issues-for example, convenience versus control or integrity of the books versus flexibility of operations. Regardless of the viewpoints about those issues, there are some underlying elements that will condition the outcome:

Publishers are offering many variations of closing and/or leaving open and/or posting to prior months. However, at this point, no one method dominates.

Whichever alternative is proposed in terms of open or closed months, it simultaneously creates and solves problems. For a smaller company, open books permit business to move forward without the need to stop everything and close. At the same time, the capacity to keep books open could lead to compounded accounting errors or even to fraud.

* The future is toward user-determinable choices, which are only beginning to show up in the software.

The solution will involve audit trails that appear to be currently too costly in money and time.

The method used in ACCPAC Plus General Ledger (used with The Property Manager) provides the user with choice and non-cumbersome flexibility.

Structure and design

In general, this issue only becomes clear after users gain more exposure to and experience with different software programs. For example, when you first entered the management field, a building was either "pretty" or "ugly." But with experience, you gradually see problems, concerns, deficiencies, strengths, superiorities, and so on. These things did not just happen. The source of much of what you find favorable and unfavorable about your properties is the specific structure and design elements which make it easier or harder to operate.

Similarly, the strengths and weaknesses in property management software often grow out of fundamental structure and design. The primary problem is that constantly evolving requirements outgrow the original design and the program develops a patchwork structure. You will not see the weaknesses or consequences of such a structure until you see sound alternatives.

There are many reasons to raise this issue. One is that, if you make it an issue, you will benefit. Another is that the software publishers who are building for your future instead of from their past will be better supported.

One test to evaluate structure and design is to consider a property management program from the point of view of "set-up" and "processing," with the former consisting of initially setting up the files, codes, and so forth and the latter consisting of everyday use of the program. Is the set-up designed and structured in such a way as to make it easy and clear? Or, do you find it necessary to go on side-trips and searches to perform the next logical steps? Generic accounting modules About five years ago, I suggested that property management software publishers could interface their property management software with generic accounting modules, instead of building their own general ledger and accounts payable programs. L&L Services is one of the very few publishers that has done it. However, evolutionary forces in the marketplace will probably produce more of these relationships in the future.

The advantage of this approach is that, in general, the generic accounting programs are superior to the modules produced for property management software programs. The generic programs have more advanced, refined, and sophisticated functionality; have more auxiliary modules such as payroll, job cost, and so forth; and have better report writers. In addition, these programs are usually easier to use, faster to operate, and have better manuals and lower price tags.

All these gains are possible, of course, because the generic programs have a much bigger market than the property management program.

The difficulty in implementing this strategy is that in every generic accounting program there is at least one weak or missing element of functionality that is desirable or needed in a property management setting. And, because it is probably not economically feasible, the publisher of the generic program does not often accommodate the need.

In summary

Of the items introduced this month, the new generation, which will shift the industry substantially, is slowly on the way. The move away from required hard closing is well underway. Structure and design is a foundation issue, while generic accounting modules is a secondary one.

There are many other trends and issues in property management software. If you want your favorite addressed, you can write to me at the Journal of Property Management.

-Michael J. Hanrahan
COPYRIGHT 1990 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hanrahan, Michael J.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Words:1153
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