Technology Solutions

Digital Transformation Requires a Multifaceted Approach

If they haven't done so already, many commercial real estate companies are considering the transition from a paper-based operation to a digital process. However, creating a digital office entails more than implementing new technology; it means evaluating all business processes to determine which ones are still necessary and how a company can remake those operations as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The most fundamental requirement in the re-engineering process is the vision communicated by a company's top executive. If a leader understands the need for change, embraces it, and creates a vision to carry it out, the company has a very good chance of succeeding. If this individual doesn't want to change, doesn't possess the skills to effect change, or views technology and the new business processes that result from it as tactical, very little chance for a true digital transformation exists.

Researching the Plan Once a company decides to move forward, the next step is gathering resources. First, a team consisting of the top executive, key management staff, and a respected company leader should be organized to help guide the company through the transition. The team legitimately must support the project or no one else will embrace it.

Once the team is in place, the company should enlist the services of an outside consultant, as managing change without an unbiased perspective is difficult. When hiring a consultant, a company must stress that technology is the tool and enhanced business processes and cultural re-engineering are the goals. It also is important that the consultant sets realistic expectations for the duration of the project.

The next step is to interview and evaluate executives, management, and employees to gauge their skill levels, support for the plan, and willingness to change. The No. 1 challenge in transforming a company is getting employees to use the new technology. Old habits are very hard to break, and in many cases change is not possible. Carefully crafted questionnaires and personal interviews are excellent methods to determine employee resistance or consent.

The next phase of the plan is taking inventory of the company's existing tools and systems. Ideally, the information gathered from the inventory process should include the types and models of equipment on hand, who is using the equipment, date of purchase, and condition. A careful assessment will quantify the tools and technologies currently being used, identify wasted dollars that can be used to finance the new plan, and act as a foundation to determine what new resources are needed.

Rolling Out the Plan After evaluating personnel and assessing inventory, it is time to create the plan. Establishing goals, priorities, and a budget are three critical components of a re-engineering plan.

The team and consultant can determine the company's goals for the digital transition, which may include lower costs, improved profitability, more-effective client service, and increased revenues. Executive leadership should be very involved in this stage.

Determining a realistic budget is essential to make the project come to life. At the end of the inventory process, many companies discover funds that can be reallocated from previous business processes that no longer may be needed. These may include express mail service, the amount of space per employee, fax communication charges, and travel budgets.

Once the brainstorming begins, a number of business-enhancing products should be considered — digital cameras, a new intranet, contact management software, better data, or new servers. Yet, establishing priorities is simple: Gather requests from all employees, determine the costs, and compare them to the budget. Then quantify the most-requested items, determine which work within the budget, and choose the ones that are most closely aligned with the company's goals and objectives.

Phasing in the new technology is by far the most stressful period of the transformation and one that requires strong executive leadership. Some employees may complain and go back to the old way of doing things. The top executive must stand up to these pressures for the plan to succeed.

This part of the plan also may involve hiring new people and replacing some individuals who could not embrace the change. Letting people go is the most difficult step; however, if these individuals stay, productivity may drop and the company may experience negative impacts.

The most important part of any re-engineering plan is the one that is usually the most neglected — training. For a digital strategy to take hold, a company's employees must want to change and be empowered to do so with new skills. A structured training program on topics ranging from Internet researching to e-mail use should be implemented. The level of training should be tailored to individual employees' needs, and they should be held accountable for using their new equipment and skills.

Moving new technology into an operation can be simple; first create a vision, then develop a plan. With proper implementation and training, commercial real estate companies can work more efficiently and effectively in a digital environment.

Jim Young

Jim Young is founder of the Jamesan Group, a real estate technology service company in Carlsbad, Calif.; CEO of REApplications, an application service provider; and co-producer of te Realcomm conference. Contact him at (760) 729-4111 or [email protected]

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