EPMEPM: BD & Growth

Onshore, automate or offshore? : Brock Fisher

Brock Fisher looks at the options for off shoring and automation and how you can decide which one is right for you.

Most businesses could do with saving a few dollars, a good way to do that is to review your systems and find more cost-effective solutions.

The proliferation of rideshare options is a simple and excellent example of how paying more for a service doesn’t mean that you have a better experience or get better value.

Does paying more for the creaky and stinky Prius that has done 800,000 kilometres result in a better journey?

Changes in technology and process management mean we now live in a time when you can get a superior customer experience and at a lower cost than some others may offer for the same type of service.

The problem for those of us in property management is this. Management fees will never increase from where they are today and are only likely to go down over time.

That is not the most popular point I will ever make, but it is the stone-cold reality.

There is stuff we do that is really ‘impactful’ and delivers a lot of value for clients. On the flip side, there is a whole lot of other stuff we do that is really ‘necessary’ to get the job done, but clients couldn’t care less about.

The combination of a market saturated with competition, which all looks awfully similar to each other in the customer’s eyes. With improvements in technology that make it easier for customers to simply DIY, meaning customers end up shopping on the one variable they can understand – price.

Make no mistake – there are some companies who do a great job and justify a higher fee than many others charge. But there are also instances of complete service being given despite it.

Equally, there are some people getting flawless service on a low management fee, and some people who regret having gone this way because they were disappointed.

The crux of the argument here is that poor property management experiences happen at all price points. Not just the cheaper end of the scale, although those are the experiences that we tend to fixate on due to our own confirmation bias.

Consequently, as the cost of doing business continues to increase, fees charged are reducing.  We all need to find greater economic efficiency in a business model that is quite labour intensive.

I have spent a lot of time over the last six years working with both offshoring and software/automation. Below, I’ve outlined some of the pros and cons for each of the three options you should be working through – onshoring, offshoring and automation.

Onshore

I look at property management through a really simple lens. There is stuff we do that is really ‘impactful’ and delivers a lot of value for clients. On the flip side, there is a whole lot of other stuff we do that is really ‘necessary’ to get the job done, but clients couldn’t care less about.

The ideal business model, in my view, is one where property managers can stay in that high-value space as much as possible, while that ‘other stuff’ that clients couldn’t care less about is not bogging them down but still getting done.

Automate or offshore?

Increasingly popular as business options, these are not mutually exclusive. You don’t need to have one or the other, and in most businesses, a combination of both can be ideal and work together in a harmonious way.

My view on a hybrid approach here is that this provides the property manager with the support they need to work more efficiently and spend as much time as possible being that expert communicator, relationship builder and investment optimiser.

Interestingly, the formative stages of both are very similar, where you are committing to a uniform way of doing a particular process in your business. In my experience, most businesses think they have uniformity of process until they embark on an exercise like this – and very quickly find out how many different ways their team are performing the same process.

Automate – pros & cons

There can be no doubt that good automation is by far the most cost-effective tool for doing business. Seamless automation humming away, doing the work while no one is watching, is a beautiful thing to behold.

However, it is also not without its challenges. In automating, you are effectively committing to performing tasks in the same or a very similar way to any other business using the same platform. This does impact your unique service proposition (why should the customer choose you over someone else?) and makes it more difficult to establish a genuine point of difference.

Furthermore, depending on your provider, having changes and enhancements performed on an automated process can take considerable time and money if you wish to make alterations or improvements to the way that software performs a function.

In addition, all stakeholders also need to be consulted; so if other users have alternative views, your improvement may not be able to occur at all or may become a ‘custom’ solution at considerable additional cost.

Presently, automation technology tends to focus on several core functions within a property management department. With the combination of other outlying tasks also having a big impact on efficiency and the economy of resources. It may not yet be economically viable, or processes may not yet be uniform enough to be able to program a piece of software to adequately handle those other tasks.

Customer experience is also a key point here. Be under no illusions that automation is primarily a tool to assist business and property managers; however, customers hate being on the receiving end of clunky or poorly programmed automated systems.

Offshore – upside and downside

Offshoring can be done quickly and allows you to have a specific, bespoke solution that suits your business, rather than just needing to accept a mass market solution.

The agility of this approach is also important. Making tweaks or improvements to your processes is fast and simple because you are teaching and interacting with a person, not trying to perform complex coding and programming tasks.

From a customer experience perspective, you are also able to achieve a level of interaction with customers that have more flexibility than system-generated correspondence and actions which can quickly become repetitive and lose impact.

However, if you are offshoring things that technology can do, then you are effectively in no better place than if those tasks were still getting done onshore. You are still paying people to do what technology can achieve more efficiently and at a lower cost.

Successful offshoring also presents a range of data management, IT and people management challenges that need to be carefully thought through. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly, despite myself and many others advocating it so strongly.

In summary

The ideal modern property management business needs to use all the tools available to remain relevant to their customers, competitive and profitable. The time for understanding one and not the others is quickly running out in this hypercompetitive environment we are now in.

Onshoring, offshoring and automation each have a variety of pros and cons that should be understood, but at a high level. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Use automation for the big, chunky, repetitive core tasks in your business.
  • Use offshoring in part to watch and monitor your automation, but also for those outlying, time-consuming tasks and labour-intensive jobs that technology doesn’t yet cater for – like assisting with break leases, tenant transfers and things like file creation, data maintenance, setups and compliance checking.
  • Keep property managers in that high-value, relationship-building, results-delivering space as much as possible by freeing them from all the stuff that stops them doing that.

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