Tim Molloy is no stranger to growing businesses, knowing as he does how almost any industry can be transformed through technology. Now, as the CEO of Console, he is taking a close look at how to make the role of the property manager more productive and efficient using the ‘new’ Console as a vehicle for change. Samantha McLean spoke exclusively to Tim to find out more about the company’s accelerated plans to move Console to the cloud and onto more desks in 2017.
There is no doubt that Console has undergone some change in the past twelve months, most notably the ownership and leadership changes that took place late last year.
Tim Molloy, Console’s new CEO, says he is immensely enjoying both his new role and being a part of the real estate industry. He sees great opportunity for real estate to use tools that are available now in other sectors but have not been brought to bear in the property industry so far – either through lack of funding or lack of vision. “I guess you could say most of the suppliers are niche suppliers or cottage industries,” says Molloy. “Cottage industries are usually constrained in two ways: by capital – in other words how much they can do – and they are typically constrained in strategy, where perhaps the shareholders don’t have a deep understanding of the marketplace.”
Right now, Console does not have either of those issues. The new ownership includes CoreLogic, Macquarie, and Michael and Patrick Dempsey (who previously owned Ezidebit). These new shareholders are long-term players in the real estate industry who know Console well, deeply understand the marketplace, and have access to the right amount of capital to effect the change that much of the industry would like to see.
Molloy is the first to admit that Console has been somewhat late to market with a cloud-based trust accounting offering, but also says that is not necessarily a negative now that the right management and backing are in place. “What property managers are increasingly wanting is the ‘next generation’ of product. But it’s not enough to pick up the current features that are sitting on an existing system like Console and just put all that up on the cloud.
“However, in moving to the cloud we are almost starting over, and the real objective in our new Console product will be making property management more efficient and effective.”
Molloy says there are plenty of examples in other industries where property can adopt successful processes, learning from the way in which they service customers. “Insurance is is just one example,” says Molloy. “Let’s say while on a bus you get a notification on your phone to say your insurance is due. By the time you get to the office, you might have already paid it. Everyone in the insurance ecosystem has visibility of what’s going on.
“Now, in the case of property management, landlords might have to physically phone a property manager to find out what is going on, as opposed to being much more in control and deciding what level of information they want pushed to them.”
Molloy does not believe this has the potential to cut the property managers from the relationship by having technology taking care of some of the more mundane tasks; but more asserts it’s an advantage and can be used to create more value in existing relationships, particularly where the admin levels are high. “At Console, Property Managers are at the centre of our universe,’ says Molloy.
“But say you’re a landlord with 20 rental properties; you probably want to be able to be able to look at the state of play on your properties without necessarily always having a person-to-person discussion.
“So, I think that having many of these conversations taken care of by technology goes towards making the property manager more effective. Instead of needing to make dozens of phone calls reacting to cycles of, for example, rental payments, the property manager becomes more like the orchestra manager, delivering direction to the participants – whether it’s the tenant, whether it’s the trades, the movers, the landlord. That’s our dream.”
The first stage of achieving the dream is obviously to get Console into the cloud, and Molloy says it’s not far away. “We’ve had a team of 22 people working on doing that for six months. We’ve recently hired another 24 people into that team. The first edition of the product will be out to a select group at the end of March.
“We’re moving at a rapid pace because we can. Our key message right now is that Console has a new beginning. We used to be known for producing stuff that no one else was producing. We’re going to be that again.”
Joining some dots of my own, the thought of where this consortium could take Console is pretty interesting. With the owners of the company now comprising a banking powerhouse in Macquarie, Australia’s largest property data analytics provider CoreLogic and the Dempsey brothers, who as previous owners of Ezidebit have some experience in transactional models similar to rental payments, it appears that many of the pieces of the property management puzzle are coming together under close to one roof.
But while not giving away specifics to do with his future strategy, Molloy says, “This is the way the world’s going with these sorts of products, to a transaction-based kind of environment. Increasingly in other industries it works, and breeds efficiency because you start joining all the people that need the data from the various systems that create the transactions.”
Molloy points towards the number of technology apps that a property manager uses today as one of the reasons for a lack of efficiency in some property management businesses. “Whether it’s maintenance apps or inspection apps, form providers, utility connections or others, the challenge is while each of these appear to offer enhanced efficiencies, they are actually complicating the process and duplicating data everywhere. We take the view that these are the sorts of things that have to come onto one platform to make things simple, effective, efficient.”
So the ‘end game’ of efficiencies that we were discussing earlier may not be too far away. But Molloy also points out that sometimes for the people that are deep into the everyday of disparate systems and inefficiencies, it can be hard to see how good something could be.
“My view is that most of the actors in the ecosystem are currently ‘happily dissatisfied’,” says Molloy. “Owners, because they have to make phone calls to know what’s going on. Tenants, because the process of getting into a property then maintaining it is quite a manual process. Property managers, because they know their work interactions could be supported much better by technology. The current reality appears to be what everyone has accepted as the norm. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
And this will be what leads to value for the agency principal. “Property managers are really important. They are the enablers at the centre of a very large industry,” says Molloy.
“There should be a strong motivation by agency principals to make sure that the rent roll management process is as effective and efficient as possible. We think we can be a big part of the solution to that.”
Apart from launching the first version of the cloud product in March, Molloy says his other primary goal as a business is to get more in touch with current clients and the marketplace, as well as helping the market to understand where the product is headed. And some of the work, he says, has already been done.
“It’s a bit like building a very large building. Thirty percent of that work is under the ground, in the foundation work. We’ve virtually completed all of that work, and we are now well into the feature development part.”
Molloy is exceptionally upbeat in his conclusion. “Our job in the next 12 months is to elaborate on the roadmap for our clients and the industry to get confidence that we are on track. And we are excited about the opportunities that we can grab hold of as a reinvigorated and innovative company.”
We say – watch this space.
Journey to the cloud: a brief history of Console
Console is launched and quickly becomes popular with property management businesses for its ease of use, and quickly earns significant market share.
Onthehouse (with a minor interest in Residex) prepares to float, with the target IPO of $55.1 million to be used to purchase Portplus and Console. The valuation of the company after listing (June 2011) is $81m.
CEO Michael Fredericks is stood aside while the board investigates a private civil legal dispute he was having in the Queensland Supreme Court.
A Macquarie Consortium offers 75.5c per share for Onthehouse holdings. The offer is rejected.
Onthehouse sells website onthehouse.com.au to CoreLogic RPData for $3million, while Macquarie completes due diligence on the rest of the software business. The sale of the website includes Residex and the Real estate Ad Network; meaning the primary business for Onthehouse is now purely the Console software package.
Onthehouse board enters into a takeover agreement with Macquarie for 85c per share, kicking off the process of transitioning Console to a cloud-based offering.
As a result of offloading the onthehouse.com.au website, Onthehouse holdings posts a positive operating profit in the year to 30 June, 2016.
The Macquarie consortium clears the last hurdle in winning control of Onthehouse. The consortium includes firms owned by Michael and Daniel Dempsey (prior owners of Ezidebit) and CoreLogic. The transaction values the business at $70m.
The business is rebranded to simply Console. Tim Molloy (previously GM of Corp Development and deeply involved as an executive in the transformation of at MYOB) is appointed CEO and given the remit to accelerate development of Console in the cloud, with the backing of additional investment from their new shareholders. The first version of the cloud software is to be made available to selected users in March 2017.