Covid Has Helped Industry Become More Tech Savvy


The pandemic enabled many businesses to identify where technology could be adopted to improve efficiency

The impact of the global pandemic has dominated conversations over the last 12 to 24 months and not just in the property industry. During the early stages of the pandemic, we, like everyone else, didn’t know how the world would adapt to seismic overnight changes such as home working. How would clients manage this shift and what impact would it have on their investments and operations?

Throughout the pandemic, our focus has been on helping to guide our clients through this process. As a result, as a business we have emerged from this period stronger and the relationship that we have with our clients has also strengthened.

What Covid helped many businesses do was identify areas where technology was absent and where there were too many manual processes that created friction and inefficiencies. Investing in technology has enabled our clients to gain a better insight and understanding of their own customers and how they need to differentiate themselves to grow their business.

The demand for physical real estate is not going away any time soon. Yes, the shape and form may change, but those changes present opportunities

Neal Gemassmer, vice president of international, Yardi Systems

One area where we have seen significant investment in technology has been in the residential and the PBSA space. Here, the rapid adoption and deployment of technological tools made it easier for potential residents to do virtual viewings to find suitable units, sign leases and make payments. Thanks to technology, all of this could be done remotely at a time when many people were locked down in their own homes.

Another good example of where technology has come to the rescue for many clients is in the area of manual back-office functions such as the ‘procure to pay’ process, which historically has been largely done via post.

Our platform, VendorCafe, enables our clients to create a vendor self-portal where users can update their personal details as well as any compliance, insurance or health and safety documents. They can then submit invoices electronically to the Yardi client, which allows them to make faster payments and vendors can easily access status updates on invoices.

We are not quite at the stage where paper will completely disappear, but the digitisation of invoicing and payments creates a more effective and efficient system – and of course using less paper is better for the environment.

As a business, we’ve always been focused on giving our clients insights into how efficiently their properties operate in terms of the consumption of utilities such as water, gas and electricity. By accurately measuring current levels of consumption, a baseline can be established and then a reduction strategy can be created and implemented.
Companies too often focus on ‘what is the solution’ rather than understanding ‘what is the baseline’ and to come up with the former, you first need to do the latter.

Our platform Pulse helps users understand their utility consumption levels. In North America, Pulse users are already able to take advantage of real time meter reading, so in addition to the monthly statements they receive from utility providers, they can see what’s happening within their buildings at any given moment. We haven’t rolled out the entire Pulse platform to all international markets we are active in just yet, but it is something we are striving to do in 2022.

Flexible workspace focus
Another major area of focus for us over the last two years has been the flexible workspace sector. We have acquired two companies – one in the UK and one in North America – so that we can provide an end-to-end flexible workspace platform. Our investment in this area has in part been driven by the growing popularity of the flexible workspace sector, with a number of operators expanding within their own domestic markets and internationally, in addition to traditional office landlords entering the sector for the first time.

We still don’t know what impact the pandemic will have on occupiers in the longer term, but in the short term it has had a significant impact on the relationship between corporate occupiers and office landlords. Rather than signing 10- to 15-year leases for office space, many corporate occupiers are now looking to sign shorter leases and they want less space, but they also want more flexible space.

The challenge – particularly for traditional landlords – is how can they pivot existing office space that might have historically been leased to a single occupier on a long-term lease and offer it on a flexible basis to multiple occupiers. Unless you have the right platform in place, managing this shift is fraught with difficulties.

Another key challenge is managing lots of different types of space in one building. We’re increasingly seeing landlords try to offer a blend of uses – so potentially a little bit of retail and F&B, flexible workspace, co-working space and traditional office space.

Overseeing this mix places an additional burden on landlords who need to implement a single technology platform that’s capable of managing the diverse needs of these different tenants.

Our goal is to be able to provide a platform that does this, while also managing other aspects such as governance, personal data privacy and more.

In the next few years, a key area of focus for us will be to help clients to create a pan-European PBSA and residential platform. A growing number of operators in the PBSA and BTR space currently handle portfolios that span numerous European countries, which presents a host of challenges.

The aim for many of these operators is to build a relationship with customers for their entire real estate journey. So, the customer may start out as a student in PBSA space, then when they become a young professional, they move into co-living or micro-apartments and eventually they start a family and look for a BTR space. One day they might even downsize from BTR to senior living accommodation. Technology can help operators maintain a strong relationship with the customer as they move through this life journey.

Evolving business
As a company we continue to evolve to meet the changing demands of our clients and their customers. We do this partly through acquisitions. This year we bought the small Bristol-based team, We Are Forge, which is now fully integrated into Yardi.

We don’t rule out buying other firms in the future, but as a business Yardi continues to grow organically at a rate of around 15% to 20%. Today, we employ just under 8,000 employees and I would say that we are one of the largest, if not the largest, proptech business in the world. So, when we acquire companies, we don’t acquire them for revenue – we acquire them for the technology and the people who will help us develop and grow as a business.

Going forward we are optimistic about the future for the property industry because despite the changes that have been brought about and accelerated by the pandemic, the demand for physical real estate is not going away any time soon. Yes, the shape and form may change, but those changes present opportunities.