Now more than ever, real-estate businesses must keep a close watch on revenue and liquidity. Significant shifts in the commercial real-estate market, the recent flow of populations toward less densely populated areas, and increased government regulation have led to disruption for the industry on a broad scale.
In the midst of all this change, managers must deal with the challenges of fluctuating occupancy rates, tightening credit, and new headwinds that make collections more difficult than ever before. To keep a closer eye on the state of the business, many leaders in the real-estate sector are looking to shrink their budgeting and planning cycles, or even moving to continuous planning and rolling forecasts. Such approaches are gaining popularity as economic uncertainty and volatility are prevalent. Fast access to information ensures that managers can spot problems and opportunities quickly when they arise and then address them in a timely manner. In this post-COVID environment, business agility is essential.
Many real-estate businesses start out planning with simple spreadsheets, but as their portfolio grows, things change. More people become involved in the planning process, multiple versions of spreadsheets begin to emerge, and someone must coordinate input from multiple stakeholders. For growing real-estate businesses, these factors make financial planning and analysis (FP&A) processes too complex over time, especially as their businesses expand and the need for timely information becomes more pressing than ever. As they grow, real-estate businesses need budgeting, planning, and forecasting tools that save time, increase accuracy, and streamline their FP&A processes. It can be difficult to increase the frequency of those processes due to the overhead involved with gathering and reporting information, soliciting input from stakeholders, and compiling revisions to the forecasts and the budget plan.
FP&A Challenges in the Real-Estate Industry
Unfortunately, many of the most popular software systems for managing real-estate businesses simply do not support the kind of agility required to survive and thrive in the current market, nor do they allow you to plan at the level of granularity you need to create accurate plans and forecasts. Although packages like MRI and Yardi do an excellent job managing rent rolls, marketing, operations, and financial data, they fall short when it comes to most budgeting, planning, and forecasting tasks.
Planning and budgeting tools in these systems tend to be far too rigid for most finance professionals. They lack the power and flexibility of tools like Microsoft Excel, and they don’t provide the kind of collaboration capabilities that most organizations’ budget processes typically require. The workaround in many organizations is to build out budgets in spreadsheets, email information back-and-forth between department managers, and struggle to keep various versions of the budget spreadsheets in sync with one another.
Comments are often embedded in spreadsheets or buried within long email threads where it is difficult to find them and virtually impossible to come back to them at a later date to clarify questions about the budget. If different versions of a spreadsheet are out of sync, changes may be lost, which results in re-working some of those changes.
Very often, teams exchange Excel spreadsheets via email and frequently store them on individual users’ hard drives. That creates a security issue, as you may lose the data (in the event that a hard drive fails) or end up with compromised data (for example, if someone hacks a user’s computer).
These kinds of limitations can be problematic even when planning and budgeting occur on an annual or quarterly cycle. For real-estate businesses that want to increase the frequency of planning cycles, they are generally too cumbersome to be effective. For continuous planning, rolling forecasts, and agile real-estate management, you need a purpose-built solution for planning, budgeting, and forecasting.
Once you have the ability to create accurate, timely plans and forecasts, however, the decisions you make are only as good as the information you are able to get out of your systems. The reports that MRI and Yardi produce out of the box offer limited flexibility and do not lend themselves easily to detailed analysis and research. Business leaders often want information that spans multiple modules or systems, and they typically require data in formats that aren’t available from existing real-estate management software off the shelf. Keeping up with FASB and SEC rules, for example, often requires specialized reporting that can change frequently. For most organizations, that means building out custom reports in Excel by extracting data from Yardi or MRI, copying and pasting them into a spreadsheet, and formatting and manipulating them there.
Those kinds of manual processes are tedious, consuming a significant amount of time that you could better utilize elsewhere. With each report produced, even including when you update a report with newer information, the business incurs unnecessary overhead expense. When it is time to close the books at the end of the month, you must run many of these reports multiple times, as you make adjusting entries to the general ledger, or as you make corrections and updates to subledgers. Without any kind of automation, these copy-and-paste reports are a poor use of valuable staff time.
Such manual processes also tend to introduce errors. Even a small change in the format of source data may lead to inaccuracies when you transfer that information to an Excel spreadsheet. If a new row appears in the data you copy from Yardi or MRI, you may have to adjust formulas or the placement of cells within Excel. It is easy to overlook such details. The result is a report that gives your management team inaccurate information.
Manually constructed reports also lack a very important feature for financial analysis—they do not allow a user to drill down to subledger details. Drill-down is a critical feature that helps members of your finance team quickly and easily get answers to the questions that arise from a report. If an expense line-item looks unusually high for the current month, for example, drill-down enables the user to double-click on the number and immediately see the detail behind it.
The lack of drill-down capabilities in manually generated Excel reports is a significant limitation. This is especially the case with month-end closing, when the finance team is working long hours to finalize the numbers for the month and produce accurate financial statements.
How Can Real-Estate Businesses Become More Agile?
In an ideal world, your finance team should have the extreme flexibility of a spreadsheet, without the need to manually copy and paste information from MRI or Yardi reports into a spreadsheet. There should be an automatic link between your real-estate management software and your spreadsheet-based planning, budgeting, and reporting tool, giving your finance team the ability to directly access your important business data.
This would give your finance team the best of both worlds, with immediate access to live information from your business management software for 100 percent accurate, up-to-date reports that reflect what is happening in real time, and the ability to design and modify reports with all the power and flexibility of a spreadsheet. Bizview from insightsoftware provides all of that.
Bizview is much more than a reporting tool, though; it provides a foundation for collaborative planning and forecasting, streamlining the budgeting process, and enabling real-estate businesses to increase the frequency of planning and forecasting cycles. Bizview helps finance teams simplify processes to drive smarter decisions from more accurate data.
Bizview is a browser-based tool, so you can roll it out to any user in your organization without the need for local installation. That’s ideal for situations in which some members of your team (or potentially all of them) must work remotely. Bizview allows for the easy configuration of planning forms, reports, and dashboards, making it easy to extend planning well beyond the finance department.
Collaboration is paramount in Bizview’s design. Its powerful workflows, automated emails, and multi-level approvals enable real-estate businesses to shrink planning cycles and enable continuous planning and rolling forecasts. Out-of-the-box content and connectors for Yardi, MRI, and other software systems (including multiple ERP packages) ensure a fast time to value.
The familiar spreadsheet-like interface in Bizview offers anytime-anywhere access on any device, without having to manage multiple spreadsheets and versions. Planning, budgeting, and forecasting data remain in sync for the entire organization. Because of the central location and management of information, data are not compromised or lost when someone damages or hacks into an individual user’s computer.
Bizview enables real-estate businesses to spend less time tracking down information, consolidating data from multiple sources, and validating numbers. That allows your finance team to focus on the higher value activities involving analysis and strategic planning. As planning cycles shrink to provide a clearer view of the road ahead, technology tools are making it possible for businesses to scale and adapt in ways that previously were not possible.
If your organization is hitting the wall with manual processes and workarounds, if you are seeking to extend budgeting, planning, and forecasting processes to a wider group of stakeholders within your real-estate organization, or if you are struggling with the chaos that inevitably arises from manual budgeting and forecasting processes, insightsoftware can help. Contact us today to arrange a free demo, or download our free guide, Real Estate and Property Management: 2020 Industry Outlook for F&A Professionals.