Information Management SolutionsUNDERSTANDING HOW TO USE THE INTERNET TO GREATEST EFFECTCanadian Property Management Magazine, January 2000by David A. Lewand"Though at heart most business problems are information problems, almost no one is usinginformation well....The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competitionis to do an outstanding job with information." Bill Gates, Business @ The Speed Of Thought.Todays Internet environment allows both CEOs and mailroom clerks the opportunity to becomeinformation gurus. The commercial real estate industry contains at least as much competitiveadvantage information as any other - although the high-tech transition within this industry haswitnessed some rocky roads.WHY SO ROCKY?1) Real estate professionals have benefited from face-to-face communication, and have thusavoided what they feel to be impersonal communication via computer.2) They have been historically inclined not to swap market information.3) Capital investment in information technology has been a low priority in many commercial realestate companiesMeanwhile, what have their clients demanded?1) Multiple channels of communication.2) Full access to information such as deal processes and lease specifics.3) Strengthened R&D in information technology.ADAPTING TO CLIENT NEEDSAs the commercial real estate industry begins to answer its clients requests for advancedinformation management, measurable returns on investment have given way to heightened high-tech spending. Clients are driving the technological advances of modern commercial real estate.Successful property managers can recognize client needs and build information freeways aroundthem. Information that was traditionally stored within databases on stand-alone (non-network)computers is now being drawn from multiple servers and databases of shared knowledge.Just as it has often become necessary for two separate individuals to view confidential propertydata for two separate reasons within a corporate intranet, it has, in many cases, become crucialthat 20 individuals from 20 separate companies share this same information on a corporateextranet. Taking this example a step further, property managers may want to market propertydata to an unlimited number of individuals via a corporate or property-specific Internet website.Before we go any further, let us stop to explain the differences:INTRANETThis is an in-house website that serves only the employees of the enterprise. Although intranetpages may link to the Internet, an intranet is not a site for general public access. Intranets oftenuse a "push technology" which automatically harnesses valuable information from the Internetthat is specific to the needs and interests of particular individuals within an organization, anddistributes the information to these individuals on a regular basis. For example, brokers whorepresent a Toronto apartment complex are regularly shown market reports that relate to theirproducts and market area.Brokers can request these reports via e-mail or a dedicated section of a corporateintranet/extranet and potentially view them on the road via a wireless Internet connection.EXTRANETAn extranet is a website for existing customers rather than the general public. It can provideaccess to paid research, current inventories and internal databases - virtually any information thatis not published for everyone. An extranet uses the public Internet as its transmission system but
requires passwords to gain access. In addition, an extensive extranet system allows clientsaccess to information related to their interests, including polls, lists, transaction data, calendars,discussion and live chat.INTERNETA large network made up of a number of smaller networks. The Internet is made up of more than100,000 interconnected networks in over 100 countries.Peter Pike maintains one of the most respected commercial real estate Internet websites in theindustry. His views on the future of the industry are stated on his web site at www.pikenet.com,and some of these are shown below.These are the five trends Pike feels will be continually evident in commercial real estate propertymanagement.1.The active use of e-mail.2.Using the Internet for research and to gain public information about competitors.3.Web-enabled reporting- where real estate companies place internal reports, managementreports, REIT information, due diligence information and physical plans on extranets.4.Online tenant relations using the Internet as the primary communication tool. Pike predicts thattenant/landlord sites will contain maintenance requests, areas to make payments and evennewsletters were new tenants are introduced and other property issues are discussed.5.E-transactions - Electronic commerce. Pike foresees that companies will begin to buy moresupplies online and bid for projects online as well.The three most important criteria for tenants are becoming location, bandwidth, location. Todaystenants want to know that they can have high-speed connections, and are demandingtelecommunications amenities that enable them to gain access to more information faster thantheir competitors. Where as four or five years ago this trend was only seen among fortune 500companies, now small and mid-sized tenants have started to voice the same demands. To meetthe needs of both small and large users, owners and property managers are in the unenviableposition of choosing how to equip their facilities to fulfill a range of telecom requirements.Fortunately, companies such as Winstar for Buildings, Allied Riser, Teligent Inc., Siteline andOnSite Access are willing and able to address the needs of small and mid-sized tenants throughcreative solutions.A future-proof fiber-optic backbone also provides tenants with online access in a matter of daysinstead of months. Thats another significant competitive advantage for the landlord.MARKETING YOUR PROPERTY WITHIN AN INTERNET LISTING SERVICEMany real estate firms across North America use listing services like LoopNet (www.loopnet.com)and CoStar (www.costargroup.com). Listing properties on these sites provides visibility and alsoacts as a backend database of properties within a full listing of the companys properties ratherthan highlighted buildings or deals. That is an important function for large companies, since itsimplifies the compilation of information on portfolios gained though acquisitions, mergers andjoint ventures. It also helps smaller companies become competitive by providing them with equalvisibility and database usage.If LoopNet is a marketing vehicle, then CoStar is an information system, prominent for its currentposition as the clearinghouse of commercial real estate communication. The site is responsiblefor 90 percent of all online inventory. CoStar has a research team whose goal is to document allthe commercial properties in the country and then make the information available to 20,000subscribers online. Information includes photographs, tenant statistics, neighborhood descriptionsand market information. Placing a listing is free, but subscribers must pay an annual fee to gainaccess to information on 300,000 buildings and 350,000 tenants.DEVELOPING YOUR OWN WEB PRESENCE: WEB SOFTWARETodays property manager has access to a variety of website development tools. Downloadableweb development software can be found on Internet sites such as www.download.com, whereyou can download the latest version of Netscape Communicator, one of the most commonly used
development tools. More sophisticated systems can be purchased on the web or over the counterat your local computer store. Some of the more popular lines include Microsoft FrontPage, AdobeGoLive and Macromedia Dreamweaver. These programs give the novice web page developer theadvantage of What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) technology, which requires lessknowledge of HTML. It is still advisable to get grounding in HTML if you hope to tackle morecomplicated functions on your page.Log analysis software is an essential accessory for anyone interested in having an effectivepresence on the web. This software allows you to study all visitors to your site. Where are theycoming from? What page do they visit last? Such analysis will help in the further development ofyour site.David A. Lewand, Senior Project Manager, is also the Webmaster of Newstar Solutions website.He has been using the most modern forms of interactive media to promote the Newstar suite ofreal estate management products. He has enacted, in conjunction with the Newstar website,permission e-mail marketing as a successful strategy in developing positive relationships withfuture Newstar clients.