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New technologies open doors for all firms.

The computer industry is one of today's most dynamic businesses, as volatile in many ways as the real estate industry, itself.

Vast changes in technology and applications are expanding the already indispensable role of the computer in the work place. This is particularly true for the property management industry, which has a multitude of systems and products at its disposal. Everything from spreadsheet packages to property assessment and valuation packages to comprehensive property management systems address the needs of small, mid-sized and large management companies in varying degrees.


or Customized Systems

Computer packages for the real estate industry fall into several categories, determined largely by the audience intended for their use. Pre-packaged off-the-shelf systems are typically targeted for PC users and designed for, mass distribution. They offer basic accounting and property management capabilities and are expected to be used independently, with limited training and implementation support. They are relatively inexpensive and ideal for small users.

However, off-the-shelf packages usually cannot be customized, and customer support is generally limited. As a result, off-the-shelf software rarely satisfies the more in-depth requirements of larger companies that need modifications to suit the nuances of their operations and substantial ongoing support for their many users.

At the other end of the spectrum, customized systems are targeted for the largest users, generally designed for mainframe equipment and customized to suit the user's precise needs. They normally include extensive training and support and are among the most costly, highest-risk alternatives to achieve automation. Somewhere in between off-the-shelf and customized packages is what amounts to a combined approach. Designed for mid-size and large real estate operations, the middle-level systems offer in-depth property management programs that can be modified at the user's request. They usually include consulting services, training, implementation assistance and a program of support on a continuing basis.

Mini- or Micro- Platforms

Computerized property management systems also differ according to the hardware utilized. A mini-computer based system consists of one very powerful processor capable of manipulating large amounts of data quickly and supporting many simultaneous tasks and users. They are designed for large multi-user organizations with extensive data processing requirements. PC's, in contrast, each have a separate processor intended for one user that is performing CPU-intensive "thinking" tasks such as word processing, spreadsheets and desk-top automation.

Networks and The Multi-User


Networking PC's has become a popular method for achieving office integration in a simulated multi-user environment. Although efficient in the right situation, PC's are less practical and cost effective than mini-computers in large multi-user operations.

Firstly, a PC network is more costly for a growing organization that plans to add users. The price to set up an additional PC on a network is approximately $1,500 to $2,000 ($1,200 for the PC plus associated connection costs to the network); the cost for a "dumb" minicomputer terminal is approximately $350 to $500.

Further, although networks allow data sharing among users, they are not legitimate multi-user systems. Therefore, networks must contend with certain performance and configuration problems in order to run as a multi-user system. The key is to determine whether or not networking is a requirement, given the vast multiuser choices in the marketplace.

The large real estate office usually has very extensive data-processing requirements which can drive a PC network beyond its limitations. One reason is the physical constraint of a limited data bandwidth (the size of the pipe through which data flows) from the drive to the processor of the file server and from the file server to each node of the network. The minicomputer has an enormous bandwidth, and it does not require data transfer from node to node because it is already a multi-user system. As a result, the mini computer is far more competent than a PC computer network for processing large amounts of data such as that of an accounting-like application.

The range of choices and the distinctions in hardware, software and service among computerized property management systems are important in the ultimate selection and success of property management software and hardware. The two most important determinants are the planned application and the support relationship offered by the company selling that application. AN

Industry in Transition

The distinctions in hardware typically utilized for property management systems are beginning to become less defined as a result of technological developments in the computer industry, an industry in transition. The high-end "386" and the "486" micro-processors are coming closer to matching the performance of mini-computers. In addition, the emergence of UNIX as a standard multi-user operating system for PC's, and further development of networking capabilities, will serve to close the gap between systems in the next decade.

UNIX is an operating system with tremendous capabilities. It provides a genuine multi-tasking, multi-user environment. While UNIX was slow to gain consumer acceptance in the 80's, its use is growing rapidly, and there are more UNIX applications being written today than ever before.

It is only a matter o time before UNIX takes a significant share of the PC market as the first truly comprehensive, powerful and sophisticated operating system for PC users. When used in conjunction with the new breed of PC hardware, it may completely eradicate the differences between mini-computer and micro-computer based systems. This will enable smaller users to afford systems comparable to today's most-sophisticated mini-computers. At the same time, we believe that there will always be a market for the more comprehensive service approach traditionally associated with mini-computer based systems.

We believe that many computer firms successfully servicing a specific segment of the property management industry in the next decade will need to expand their way of thinking in order to remain successful. Companies will need to offer both mini-computer based and micro-computer based platforms in the next decade, providing a variety of modifications to serve both ends of the marketplace.

Why Systems Fail: Reconciling

The Need for Service

Property management systems generally fail for a number of reasons. The lack of accountability in the computer industry remains a primary culprit. In addition, users still do not examine applications closely enough before a purchase to discern the nuances in terms of both the product and the service. This can lead to a mismatch of system and environment, such as a network in an office with large data processing requirements. This, in fact, is one of the most common scenarios for disaster. The situation is accentuated when the number of users increases or the amount of data increases. While both the network and the mini-computer work well in smaller, controlled environments, the levels of support provided may also determine success and failure.

We believe the biggest issue facing our industry is how to reconcile the continued, increasing need for service with the desire and trend towards "shrink-wrap" packages. It is difficult for a vendor creating and marketing a system for the masses to cost-justify significant amounts of training, implementation and after-installation support for the latter. Yet, a "hand-holding" approach is precisely what many users require.

Educating the marketplace is more important now than ever before. Consumers have become more computer literate in the 90's, particularly in terms of basic automated tasks, and they are more comfortable with technology. However, a little knowledge can be dangerous. End users need to know more.

They must be made aware of the differences in the "off-theshelf" independent approach to automation versus the turnkey philosophy. The latter implies a long-term commitment from the vendor which will cost more initially, but it is likely to produce far better results and save time for large organizations in the long run.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:evaluation of technological advances available for property management industry
Author:Entin, Robert
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 28, 1992
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