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‘Tremendous benefits’ – What the Rockend acquisition means for real estate

The Australian Rockend family last week became a lot larger, with the acquisition of the company by global real estate player MRI Software. For MRI Software, Rockend is their second largest acquisition in the company’s history. For family-owned company Rockend, it’s the end of an era but with much to look forward to. Elite Agent’s Editor, Samantha McLean, sat down with Rockend CEO, Alister Maple-Brown, and President and Head of International Operations at MRI Software, John Ensign to find out more about what the partnership means for the Australian real estate market.

There has been a lot to celebrate at Rockend over the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, the milestone of 40 years of operation, an extraordinarily proud moment in the company’s history.

Secondly, the acquisition of the company by global property software player MRI Software.

While MRI Software is a global company with enormous scale, both companies have much in common.

FAMILY TIES

Rockend and MRI Software were both family businesses founded in the 1970s before technology became such a big part of everyone’s lives. 

“We (MRI Software) started out as a services bureau,” says John.

“The founders had a couple of vans, we would drive to properties, pick up the financials, bring them back to our office, consolidate them and then drive them off to their headquarters.

“Then of course technology revolutionised that process and it grew from there.”

At last count MRI software has offices around the world in London, Cape Town, and Johannesburg. 

In the US, the company has served both the residential and commercial markets, but internationally the focus has been on commercial, retail and industrial.

“We’ve actually been here in Sydney for 24 years,” notes John. 

“But residential has been a big push for us globally. So we’ve been looking for a partner in Australia to help us make that jump into both.”

While Alister says that conversations have been ongoing between the two companies for the past couple of years it wasn’t until a recent alignment of the stars that the deal came together. 

Referring to the company’s founder Tony Maple-Brown, Alister says, “Tony will say that as a business we weren’t looking to sell.

“But when you’re respectfully approached by a genuine business that is interested in working with you, then it changes that sentiment.

“MRI have the same legacy as us; they understand the challenges we have, what it’s like to be an older business and the sensitivities around that. 

“We firmly believed, unlike other people who have tapped us on the shoulder over the years, there was a huge amount of alignment; and for our customers and people it made a lot of sense.” 

A SHARED VISION

John says that it was a shared vision that attracted the US multinational to Rockend – their approach to solving client problems, how Rockend had been thinking about the need for client portals and the need for technology to be “open and connected.”

And the prospect of having scale is something that is exciting for Alister.

“We just got a bigger kit bag with a whole lot more toys in it,” he grins.

“All of a sudden, we now have the ability to take and accelerate what our team is able to do.

“We can take technology that’s already been developed in other markets and bring it here, ensuring it is optimised for the Australian market.”

ACCELERATING INNOVATION

Along with innovation, MRI Software also bring experience in some uncharted waters and the ability to mitigate risk. 

“Every time you embark on a new engineering project, there is a genuine risk that it won’t work,” Alister says.

“But with MRI having built a global operation of businesses and products, the risk has been taken out because stuff is out in the market already working.”

The ‘kitbag’ looks to be quite full of new functionality to be delivered to the Australian market but both John and Alister agree that they need to choose wisely what to deploy and when.

Rockend is not MRI’s only recent acquisition.

One day before the company acquired Rockend they also purchased Leverton – an artificial intelligence developer that can dig into commercial leases, find complex information and distil it into useable, actionable information. 

There is also the much talked about area of tenant portals, whether they be pre-lease relationship-building portals or post-lease signing type portals. This looks to be a big focus.

Add to this electronic signature capabilities, document automation workflows, traditional general ledger financial engines, and more. 

“Over the next few weeks and months we will let the team here play with some of the new things to see what’s going to fit with this market and serve our clients both now and in the future,” says Alister.

“And we’ll spend a lot of time out with clients getting their feedback” 

REMAINING OPEN

With the Australian Property Management environment becoming more complex through consumers demanding choice, the goal will be to ensure that the developed platforms are able to service the high end of the market along with the online self-serve landlords.

“It’s about developing open software to be plug and play,” says Alister.

“Our mission has been to improve the way that people connect around property to allow them to become more efficient in what they’re doing.”

John says MRI’s philosophy has been built on being open and connected to allow all types of clients with all types of models to get the technology to support their business models, rather than making the business model fit the technology.

“We have hundreds of partners – both software and services partners,” he says.

“But it’s all about client choice. 

“We have everything they would need if they want to buy from us, but if they find something better that’s OK. 

“It’s not about us trying to impose our software and telling clients their business needs to change.

“That’s not the path to success,” concludes John. 

ADAPTING TO WORLD CONSUMER TRENDS

Along with the renting habits of consumers around the globe, agents in Australia also need to be ready to adopt new management styles, such as build to rent, subscription models and multi-purpose buildings. 

“Build to rent has long been a model in the US,” John says. 

“We do see it taking root with seed capital being deployed around the globe.

But he is quick to point out that they are not here to advocate for any particular model.

“We’re not here to change the model, we’re here to serve it.

“And so when the market makes a determination it’s ready for that, it’s another benefit given that we’ve been serving that model for many years in other markets.” 

In addition to this, there are a couple of trends where both John and Alister seeing MRI Software adding value.

“The biggest challenge for agents globally right now is the amount of data they capture and how to use that data. 

“This is the reason we’ve invested so much in artificial intelligence. 

Alister points out the greater complexities surrounding multi-use buildings that include residential, commercial and retail, or buildings that are designed for “Live, Work, Play”.

“We’re seeing that starting here and it’s very much part of our strata offering.

“But how can that evolve and expand to help our customers manage those complex environments?

“If you look back five to 10 years, the market was so split. There were people that did residential and there were people who did commercial. But that’s blending right now and developers are expanding across borders as they find a model that works and are looking to repeat it elsewhere.”

John says they are also ready for various subscription models that are likely to come about in the future and have a furniture package working in the US.

“We’ve partnered with a furniture rental company that has a button that you can pick a furniture package as part of the lease signup process.” 

WHAT’S NEXT

While there is no plan to combine the two Sydney offices right away, it is clear there is much opportunity for both companies, for Rockend with the addition of some global muscles, and for MRI Software a ready-made residential client base.

The development teams are already working together, looking for the quick wins that are easily deployable for the Australian market.

“I think there’s going to be just a tremendous amount of benefit that comes from the collective scale that we will both be able to bring to this market,” says Alister.

“I think it’s going to be a compelling story for the Australian Marketplace,” concludes John. 

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