Like many sectors of the economy, the real estate industry has experienced massive disruptions over the past year. Rapidly changing occupancy patterns, volatility in the economy, and tightening liquidity are forcing real estate professionals to remain agile – keeping a close watch on cash flow, maintaining good relationships with lenders, and closely monitoring external factors that impact the real estate market.
At times like this, having the right technology is critical. More than ever, managers must maintain clear visibility to what is happening in the business, in real time. If your organization is using Yardi to run your real estate business, then you already have effective systems in place for managing operations, sales and marketing, and core accounting functions. Having the right visibility to all of the information within Yardi, however, can be a challenge. Yardi offers a variety of different tools for reporting; unfortunately, each has its own unique shortcomings.
Reporting in Yardi: the Default Options
Yardi has transitioned away from using Crystal Reports as its reporting tool of choice, so if you have relied upon Crystal in the past, you will need to look for different options as you upgrade to a newer version of Yardi. The company provides several out-of-the-box options from which to choose. Let’s review these tools and discuss the pros and cons of each one:
Screen-Based SQL Reports within Yardi: In some respects, the traditional on-screen reports within Yardi provide the fastest and most economical way of getting information from the system. Unfortunately, this option generally provides a very limited view. There are no options for modifying the format of these reports, and in many cases, they may only provide a subset of results. If your report contains more than 3,000 rows, Yardi will cut off the report and omit any results that exceed that number. It is possible to report on larger datasets than that, but only if you export the results to Microsoft Excel. Strangely, Yardi does not provide a means for printing these screen-based reports. Instead, you’ll need to export the information to a PDF and then print it or export the data to Excel. That limitation, combined with the lack of formatting options and the 3,000-row limit, render screen-based reporting unsuitable for most purposes other than rudimentary research functions.
Yardi Spreadsheet Reporting (YSR): Yardi’s YSR tool provides some useful capabilities, especially when members of your team need to manipulate data for analysis. With its ability to add formulas, sort information, and automatically generate pivot tables, YSR offers significantly greater flexibility than screen-based reports. Unfortunately, though, for finance teams, it still falls short of the mark in several respects.
Although YSR can provide a nicely formatted report for a given level of detail, it doesn’t do so well when you need to drill down and explore information at a more granular level. YSR’s drill-down capabilities are limited to other screen-based reports. By default, YSR presents information on-screen in PDF format. To further manipulate the data, users must export the PDFto Excel, which breaks the link to the live Yardi data.
SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS): If you require beautifully formatted reports printable at all stages, then SSRS is the way to go. However, that beauty comes at a cost. SSRS reports are the most time-consuming, and therefore expensive, to develop. They require significant levels of technical expertise as well. That consumes valuable time from your IT staff, not only to perform the work, but to get trained on Yardi’s underlying database structure. If you don’t have resources on staff who have the right skills, then you will need to hire outside consultants to do the job. Whichever approach you take, this can get very expensive.
Microsoft SSRS is also limited in its capacity to generate meaningful financial reports. At its core, SSRS is geared toward retrieving tabular information (that is, data that you would normally present in rows and columns) and presenting that as a list of records along with subtotals and other aggregates.
SSRS is a complex tool designed for database experts. It relies on proprietary languages to build the queries needed for Yardi reports. These are difficult and time-consuming to design, and you must update and maintain them as you upgrade to new versions of Yardi.
What About a Modern BI Solution?
In a quest to gain better access to information about their business, many real estate managers have sought out general-purpose business intelligence products like Microsoft Power BI or Tableau. Unfortunately, those products do not adequately address most of the financial and operational reporting requirements for the real estate industry.
Modern BI tools are generally geared toward data science and visualization. In other words, they are designed to slice and dice very large datasets and to present the information in an intuitive, easily digestible way. That serves an important purpose, but it fails to address the fundamental tasks that most finance teams must complete on a regular basis. That’s because modern BI tools were not designed to work with the unique challenges of finance data. They prefer nicely structured data, and they don’t work so well with the ragged hierarchies of your typical chart of accounts. They don’t understand credit and debit balances, so you need to set up rules to ensure your data are presented correctly. This requires advanced skills and isn’t self-service for the average finance user. Tableau and Power BI, for example, have developer certification programs, which underscores the fact that these are complicated, highly technical tools.
Challenges for Reporting and Analysis
For finance and accounting teams and organizations that use Yardi, frustration resulting from limited visibility to information and the tedious workarounds required to get data into the needed format typically accompanies reporting and analysis. Many finance teams turn to YSR, as it provides greater flexibility than screen-based reports; they dump their data into Microsoft Excel and work with them there. Others turn to Microsoft SSRS for custom reports, but that can get very expensive and it doesn’t truly address many of the unique needs associated with financial reporting and analysis. Some turn to general-purpose BI tools, only to reach a dead end when they discover the cost and effort involved with that approach.
For many, the limitations of Yardi’s off-the-shelf reporting tools lead to manual workarounds. This typically involves exporting Yardi data and then importing them (or copying and pasting them) into spreadsheets, in which they can then manipulate and analyze them. That process consumes precious time, preventing top members of your team from performing higher value tasks. It also tends to introduce errors. A simple copy/paste error, a transposed number, or the addition of a new row in the source data can introduce anomalies to a pre-formatted spreadsheet. The result is a report that gives you bad information. That, in turn, can lead to bad decisions. If it is a report that you routinely provide to your lenders or investors, erroneous data can undermine your stakeholders’ confidence in your numbers.
Reports to lenders, in particular, can be a considerable burden for real estate management companies. You need to produce those on a routine basis, so if you have to go through cumbersome manual processes every time the bank requires a report, that creates an ongoing cost to your business. Because the business absorbs that cost as part of payroll expenses, many companies overlook it. But if managers consider the hours spent every month on the manual manipulation of data to produce reports for lenders and investors, the costs are considerable. Typically, highly skilled finance and accounting professionals perform those kinds of tasks, and those professionals could use their time more profitably by adding value to the business in other ways.
Routine research tasks also waste significant staff time, such as finding the answers to questions about certain lines on the financial statements, looking for a discrepancy in the rent rolls, or reconciling a general ledger balance against a loan statement from the bank. While such tasks might not consume a lot of time when you consider them one by one, the minor inconveniences involved with chasing down a balance or transaction add up.
This is where drill-down capabilities are essential. Yardi’s built-in reports allow users to see the next level of detail in screen-based reports, but do not provide any context beyond that. This lack of drill-down capability results in increased research time and effort on the part of your finance team, something that you want to avoid when possible.
Extending Yardi’s Capabilities
Considering the recent volatility of the economic environment, planning and forecasting is becoming more important than ever before. “Agility” is the new watchword for today’s small and midsize businesses, and many business leaders have responded by implementing more frequent planning and budgeting cycles. Real estate professionals have recognized the need to monitor events in real time and accelerate the pace of budgeting and planning. In the face of significant uncertainty, many have increased their use of scenario planning, exploring the “what if” questions that could profoundly affect their businesses.
Advanced planning and analysis requires access to historical information about the business, so that you can see the events of today in the context of longer-term trends. It also requires the flexibility to explore and manipulate data freely. Most users turn to Excel when they want to perform that kind of analysis. After all, Excel is extremely flexible and familiar to most users. However, when all of your data are not readily accessible within Microsoft Excel, in real time, it can be difficult to perform that kind of flexible analysis efficiently and accurately.
Most of the companies that use Yardi to manage their real estate businesses have some unique reporting needs, and must therefore design or customize many of their own reports. In many cases, however, property management businesses share a common set of needs that can be (and should be) addressed with out-of-the-box reports and templates. Whether you use such pre-built reports as is, or tailor them to meet your unique requirements, a library of purpose-built reports for the real estate industry gives you a substantial head start in meeting a wide range of your reporting and analysis needs.
We have seen many real estate management companies experiment with modern BI solutions, only to realize that they don’t address many of the fundamental needs of the finance and accounting department and that they require substantially greater investment than initially thought. Very often, finance teams revert to the same time-consuming and error-prone manual processes they used before.
Empower Your Team with the Right Tools
There is a better option available. Spreadsheet Server from insightsoftware solves these common reporting challenges for Yardi customers by automating manual processes and providing fast, flexible ad hoc inquiries, regular reports, exception reports, and visualizations.
With Spreadsheet Server, Yardi users get immediate access to key data. Easy-to-build reports and dashboards help teams quickly analyze and share financial and operational reporting, without the hassle of YSR or Excel data dumps. (Read this case study to learn how American Asset Corporation has reduced its report generation time by 90 percent since implementing Spreadsheet Server.)
Spreadsheet Server provides the ability to enable filtering and drill-down to journals, balances, and subledger accounting to speed up reconciliations and enable interim reporting to check status and outliers.
If your organization is seeking greater accuracy and efficiency in financial reporting and analysis, contact us today for a free demo of Spreadsheet Server.