“Guess what, team?! We’re implementing a new software solution…a CRE asset management platform!”
If you’ve ever gone into a team meeting excited to announce something similar, chances are you’ve been greeted with reactions ranging from blank stares to skeptical groans. Despite the ultimate efficiencies many PropTech platforms provide, war stories abound about the blood, sweat, and tears involved in onboarding those platforms and reaching the promised land.
The truth is that the right commercial real estate (CRE) asset management software can significantly increase productivity, efficiency, and returns.
Unfortunately, scar tissue from botched implementations leads some firms to believe that onboarding is just too hard. The outcome is that they avoid new software altogether, lag their peers on innovation, and turn down competitive advantage out of fear.
The choice needn’t be that stark. With the right partner and process, onboarding a SaaS product doesn’t have to be a headache. At WorkSpace, we’ve learned – alongside our clients – some universal lessons about how to drive an effective CRE asset management onboarding process.
Onboarding is Key to a Successful Asset Management Software Implementation
Onboarding a new platform, like WorkSpace, involves two phases:
- A company acquires, implements, and integrates with a new solution, software, product, etc.
- Stakeholders and employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and training to effectively use that solution to provide a return on investment
The first part of this process is difficult because it involves convincing a whole team of people that they both need and want another platform integrated into their workstreams. There are a ton of reasons why people are averse to change, from loss of control to concerns about their own relevance, so educating them on how something will improve their work will be key here.
The second critical part, once you’ve got the team on board, is training. Teaching individual team members how to extract the most value from their new CRE platform is essential for the individual to adopt the tool, and for the company to achieve the highest ROI possible.
Tips for a Successful CRE Platform Onboarding
To break it down a little further, the key to achieving a successful implementation lies in thoughtfully managing two areas: people operations and process operations. Here are a few tips for optimizing both to ensure a virtually painless implementation.
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Tip #1: Get Buy-in
Before asking team members to dedicate time to new software, anticipate concerns, and explain the value proposition from their point of view.
Colleagues will resist facilitating implementations of software that feels threatening (“reduce back-office headcount!”) and embrace projects that make their work more rewarding (“you can use this tool to automate report compilation!”).
To ease these concerns and demonstrate the value the product will bring to their daily work life, ask the vendor to share user stories for each audience. Another way to integrate the product faster is to connect the vendor to relevant team members before kickoff which helps to build alliances.
At WorkSpace, we walk asset managers through built-in performance variance calculators, property managers through automated escalations for tenant work orders, and accounting teams through paperless invoice approval processes. Each audience can then rest assured that our software enhances their work product and improves their quality of life – rather than replacing them.
Tip #2: Be Prepared to Roll Up Your Sleeves
It can be tempting – for both the vendor and for you – to suggest no meaningful engagement from the client team will be required. Don’t fall for it. Perpetuating that myth is a recipe for frustration and inadequate attentiveness that prolongs the process and compromises quality. To get the results that excited you in the first place, you’re going to have to put in some elbow grease.
To elicit an honest depiction of requirements from the vendor up front, explain that internal resources are not a barrier to the sale and that you need a complete understanding of what’s required to establish trust and plan correctly. Request the vendor include a detailed project plan, with dates, in your order form.
Once you understand the process, be equally clear with your internal team about commitments needed to ensure success.
Tip #3: Designate a Dedicated Project Team
On their end, your vendor will assemble an onboarding team that likely includes an executive sponsor, project manager, and technical resources. The team you assemble should mirror theirs, and will usually include:
- Executive champion: committed to ensuring successful deployment and adoption overall
- Daily point person: drives continually progress and ensures things keep moving
- Subject matter experts: contribute at key junctures to push the project past important milestones
By sharing a roster with the entire team, you’ll ensure that each individual contributor understands their responsibilities in the success of the onboarding, as well as their relationship to the vendor team.
While people are the most important key to success, creating a clear and manageable process for onboarding is also critical. Here are a few things to consider including in your onboarding process.
Tip #1: Organize Upfront
Most onboarding processes involve client “homework,” such as the provision of existing data, records, or reports. At WorkSpace, this may include demographic information about each asset, a schedule of preventative maintenance tasks, or sample income statements, balance sheets, and rent rolls. Invest the time to collect, organize, and check this information at the outset. Doing so will minimize downstream complications.
Tip #2: Leverage a Project Management Tool
Expect your vendor to calendar and track the onboarding process in a centralized project management tool. If they don’t, ask why. These tools provide all parties with transparency on where things stand, who’s on tap, and any barriers to progress.
Doing so will minimize back-and-forth “update emails” and time-guzzling “check-in calls.” Great project management tools abound; choose one that fits your company size and budget. With shared docs, Smartsheets, and Trello on the simple end, and products like Asana, Monday.com, and Tallyfy offering more sophisticated dashboards and communication hubs, you can definitely find something that meets your needs.
Tip #3: Parallel Process with Intent
Many well-meaning clients suggest running parts of an implementation process in parallel to “save time.” This approach makes sense for workstreams that are truly independent of one another. In cases where downstream outcomes are contingent on the accuracy or completeness of a previous step, however, think linearly.
For example, if poor data quality would compromise the ultimate utility of the software, complete the data clean-up step first. Since the ultimate utility of a CRE asset and property management platform lies in identifying and revealing opportunities to drive financial performance, you’ll want to ensure that the source data is accurate before feeding it into your new system.
Bottom line: If one step piggybacks off another, get the first one right!
Tip #4: Preserve Successful Existing Processes
With the ultimate goal of driving adoption of your new software, enlist the vendor in brainstorming ways to minimize disruption to your team’s existing processes, both during onboarding and after launch. Leverage their experience with other clients.
With a little creativity, you may discover that existing workflows can be tweaked to incorporate the new solution, rather than prescribing a complete revamp of existing behaviors.
Onboarding a CRE Asset Management Platform Simply Takes Planning
While unique products and systems require nuanced approaches, during our 100+ implementations here at WorkSpace, we’ve found these lessons broadly applicable in improving the onboarding experience and reducing client time to value.
With the right approach to people operations and process operations, clients and vendors can collaborate efficiently and enjoyably to deliver the ultimate goal (a solution, not an onboarding process!) in a predictable timeframe.