Changes are not easy. However, at some point in your property-management business, someone may ask you, or you yourself will feel the question deep inside: “should we keep managing our properties with Excel, or is it time to switch to a more complex property-management software system?” You are not the only one asking this question. In this blog, I will list 7 circumstances in which it’s time to change your software from Excel to a more complex property-management system.
- Increased scope of operations. When your company grows and there are more employees dealing with various tasks, or the same employee needs to deal with a host of different daily routines, it is time to ensure that your core system covers all the company operations and allows your employees to work as fast and efficiently as possible. Is your Excel able to help manage hundreds or thousands of lease units and tenants, link accounting to other business operations and produce reports at a glance? If not, this could be the perfect time for you to think about new integrated software.
- One person knows it all. Usually, your Excel workbook has been developed by one person who knows it inside out, and used by other company employees. Alternatively – employees have their own Excel files. Can you imagine how hard it can be for a new employee to learn everything about different Excel files, know where different information is placed and who owns which data? The same situation applies to one-man in-house built software. Here’s an illustration: one of our customers, a property-management company, used software built by a man who is 70+ at the moment. This bright man programmed excellent software that had been used by the company for more than 20 years. The problems started when the man fell sick, was hospitalized, and no one else in the company knew how to develop the system further. Finally, it appeared that even data retrieval from the system was impossible – and this company had been working for more than 30 years in the property-management industry… Can you imagine what Herculean work the company employees had to do in order to move to new software?
My sincerest wish for you would be that no responsible system architect ever leaves your company unless he teaches someone else how to use the system, under what logic it was built, or helps to implement new software. Most serious property-management software solutions on the market have several providers in the region, or a well-developed partner network, so you have the possibility of choosing your system supporter or changing supporters at any time if you are disappointed with the current one, without changing the software.
- Integration. Imagine that you are using several systems: accounting software for managing financial operations, Excel for managing your properties, payroll software etc. and/or different devices, such as mobiles and tablets that help you to perform your daily property-management operations. Probably you would like to see and use the same data across all the systems and devices you are using. If your systems do not interact with each other, a lot of manual work is required to duplicate the information needed. Do you think there are more or less chances of missing some numbers and lines in a double or triple data-entry scenario? Advanced software systems, such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV, are ready to interact with web portals, work on various devices, can be used through your browser, use web services for data exchange with other systems, e.g. bank interfaces, and go hand in hand with Microsoft Office tools, so you can print a new agreement or invoice straight from the system.
- Customization. When you need to add a new feature or modify an existing feature in your Excel, you have to be very careful not to disrupt everything that has been already done and is working. If you have hundreds of spreadsheets and thousands of formulas, you need to change and check every cell used, or which has a connection to some other cells. You should look for a software platform that is flexible enough to allow modifications when your business needs and preferences change. In addition, any software provider should preferably be able to develop and support all the new features you request, not just one.
- You need to manage several companies. It becomes very hard to run a business with several unique legal entities when you use Excel. Especially if those different companies have different Excels! Because management requires reporting in the same format from each of the companies, it is very hard and time-consuming work to produce those reports. Another issue is on-boarding new system users and completing user training. I hope you won’t have an employee who needs to work for both companies…
- Data storing. Excel is not designed for storing data. It is good until you expand and have more data that you need to analyze later. It is a real challenge when you need to get results from tons of spreadsheets that are somehow connected to each other, but you don’t know how. Property-management software systems typically use databases that have useful ways of crunching data for analytical queries. Excel is still a good tool for the output of data for further analysis (making charts is quick and easy) but not as a data source.
- Accessibility. Employees are mobile; information needs to be, too. Yes, your smartphone may open the Excel workbook, but is it easy to use? It becomes hard to find the necessary spreadsheet, and enter or modify data among them. Many property-management and real-estate systems have apps for your phone, or at least you can connect to them through the web browser and use a simplified web client. Those apps are designed to provide users with accessibility to their daily activities and the exact data they need, without viewing system functionality that is not related to the daily routines of a particular property manager.
Buying new property-management software might look like an expensive project, though the gains from increased efficiency and improved operations are a good long-term investment. If you are not keen on investing much upfront, there are more and more cloud-based property-management systems available, offering software as a service for a monthly fee; these systems usually do not require large upfront investments. If you are in a small or medium-sized business and looking for a way to optimize your business process, this is the time to think about breaking free from Excel’s embrace, and start focusing on your profit growing decisions rather than on technological challenges.
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