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By Kristjan Byfield

Co-Founder, base property specialists

TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

PropTech Today - open APIs, not the plug and go that you may think

Do you have an 'open API'?

We use 'X' who have an 'open API' so we would need you to integrate with them.

We are only interested in products that are integrated with x, y & z.

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These are probably some of the most common comments/questions faced by suppliers when presenting to agents. First and foremost, this is a good sign. It shows agents are starting to embed an array of tech across their business. It also means that they are looking to achieve the most integrated and streamlined solution possible.

However, these questions can often strike fear into even some of the most established suppliers as the reality of integration is far more complicated than most agents realise.

Most agents don't actually understand what is involved with delivering a seamless and quality API product integration - that's ok, most suppliers out there don't understand every aspect of what goes on within your agency operations to deliver the external result.

If your understanding of an 'open API' is that two products/platforms can simply exchange an 'api key', input a username and password and, alakazam, there are two integrated products, then you're grossly mistaken! That's akin to saying all an agent does is stick a property on a portal and open the door - it's a long way from the reality of selling or letting.

Open API akin to a blueprint

Think of an API like a property blueprint. You have all the details and specifications to build the property you want, but you still have to build it.

Every integration, like property, is unique

Keeping the property analogy, thinking all integrations are the same is like saying every property is the same. Just as a property can be anything from a micro-studio to a 30 bedroom castle, likewise, an integration can capture a couple of simple data fields (e.g. contact details) at a single point or can transfer any and every piece of data at multiple trigger points and even have these processes trigger other actions (e.g. workflows and ledger reading). As such, each integration project is unique and, depending on the products involved, can take hours or months to develop and implement.

Integrations take time and money

Like building a property, building out integrations, especially more complex ones, can take time and, with that, a considerable amount of money. Whilst every agent should expect their supplier to have a 'partner api' strategy- expecting an array of quality partner integrations, especially early in a products life, is unrealistic. When working with younger products you will need to allow time for an API ecosystem to develop.v Even a s company matures, they can only develop so many each year and some products won't be financially viable to integrate with.

CRM integrations most in-demand but most complex

It makes sense - the core of almost every agents' business is run by their CRM of choice. As such, it is only logical that agents want as many products as possible to integrate there. It removes most if not all data entry duplication and retains the CRM as the central operations platform.

However, these can be the most complex and costly to deliver. What is more, they might not actually deliver the best efficiencies on offer. With over 30 CRMs prevalent in the marketplace and with an array of both attitudes and architecture to accommodate integrations, this alone is a complex maze for suppliers to navigate.

Our integration journey to date

To date, we have delivered six partner integrations at The Depositary - TDS Insured, TDS Custodial, Please Connect Me, Inventory Hive, InventoryBase & No Letting Go (Kaptur). On average, these integrations have taken about one month of planning and one month of development and testing before being deployed. Our inventory partner integrations will almost certainly deliver our member agents the greatest time-saving of all, on average, saving 30 minutes per tenancy.

We are just about to complete and deploy our first CRM integration. This is currently under an NDA and, as such, I cannot name who it is with - however, this has been a fascinating journey to date. We have developed an incredibly complex integration that not only captures and populates applications in our platform with documents, it also passes amended data back, triggers bespoke workflows and even reads tenant ledgers to automate reconciliation.

The reality of this project is around three months of planning and then three months of development. I don't mind saying that the cost to us to deliver this is somewhere in the region of £40,000. When you consider our client rates start at just £75+VAT per month, this is a huge commitment from us, both in terms of finance but also development resources. Having our developers work on a project of this scale has meant we have been unable to deploy other features and innovations within the platform as early as we would have liked.

So...

Should you ask about API's? Absolutely! Should your supplier have an API/integration partner strategy? Of course! Are you going to wake up tomorrow to find every product talking to each other and every CRM? I don't think that will ever happen.

Absolutely make this part of your assessment but also be real about why you need it. If a product saves you an hour per transaction then five minutes of data entry, whilst you await an integration, it is time well spent. Remember, your agency didn't open its doors delivering the same quality of service and offerings it does now- so be realistic of what you expect from your suppliers. Like you, they are on a journey and want to deliver their clients the best product experience they can.

It's a complicated landscape out there but, together, we will get there!

*Kristjan Byfield is co-founder of base property specialists and the founder of PropTech solution The Depositary. Keep your eyes peeled for part 1 of a Property Natter video interview with Kristjan this weekend 

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    Well written, just because there is an API available doesn't mean that you can just connect product A to product B seamlessly.

    However, there are tools out there that will enable even non-technical people to connect different API's together, so long as the API provider has put in the effort.

    I'm talking about Zapier and Integrately (there are more, but these are two I have used).

    We're constantly developing our API's, it's not just lip service to the "OpenAPI" movement. Also, they are a core component of our platform, as such our customers can access the API keys themselves and even setup their own webhooks.

    I've had the misfortune of trying to connect to another proptech provider recently and it took over 2 weeks just to get a link to the API documentation, that wasn't a fun experience.


    Kristjan Byfield

    Thanks James. The likes of Zapier are great for fairly limited data fields and single point migrations but as soon as you get in to more complex matters these arent really fit for purpose- but definitely do help. Theres a lot happening in this space though so the next 2-3 years should see us all arrive at a far more integrated, seamless tech ecosystem- great for agents and suppliers alike.

     
    Charlie Lamdin

    James, thank you for not naming BestAgent as the provider who took two weeks to provide you with the API documentation you needed, but to be fair that was over Christmas and we had staff off! It is now publicly available. What you may not know is that BestAgent BackOffice was the first ever CRM system to provide an open API for both property and applicant records. It's been in existence since 2019 and yet..... see my comment below for the rest of that sentence!

     
  • Charlie Lamdin

    Kristjan, 1-to-1 integrations are (as you have explained in your article) costly. Never mind setting it up, just wait for the cost of maintaining it when 3rd parties make changes their end and the connection breaks. Then multiply it for each new integration.

    As you know, I built something that allowed ANY agent to connect ANY supplier to ANY crm system.

    We built BestAgent Supplier Marketplace which solved all the problems you're outlining, and did a live demo of 4 different systems communicating in real time, back in June 2019 at Bicester Park.

    Software developers who came told us they couldn't believe we'd done it.

    But guess what: the real problem turned out not to be a technical one.

    The CRM's didn't want to know, even though it solved a problem for them and their clients. They all want to make their own, not participate in anything open. And they won't work with each other.

    The entire resi property industry (and its suppliers) suffers from the worst protectionist culture of ANY industry.

    While that's still the case agents and small proptech suppliers who rely on openness and collaboration will remain stuck, along with the long suffering movers who have yet to see any big improvement from our industry, ever. Whoop 🙌

  • Andrew Stanton CEO Proptech-PR    Proptech Real Estate Influencer

    Now you know Kristjan why we are so busy helping estate agents plan how to digitally transform their businesses, we are not resellers we give wisdom, and the 32-years as an agent, and six years meeting 500 property technology founders and hundreds of CTO's and teams means that CEO's just ask me for an three line explanation of what they should do. You are 100% right, billions on the globe use a smartphone, who out of those knows how that technology works (or cares) it is what it does that is important. And increasingly property people are realising that software - powers change - powers leveraging efficincies - powers profitability. Each SME has a finite budget, software gives forward thinking, agile businesses an unfair edge. Agents are in a tearing hurry always, and are extroverts, they do not have typically a tech mindset, an application programming interface, is probably not even in their vocabularly, but as you point out - it will power all agents futures, just as Fintech now is maturing, that is why old fashioned banks are under pressure from just software plays like Revolut, which is not a bank, but just does bank like tasks, quick and fast. Real estate is increasingly going to be a a quick smash and grab landscape, with the hi-tech beasts hoovering up the client base, I see it already in America and Australia and increasingly in other areas. Residential agency sales and lettings is a tiny part of global real estate, but the rules are the same - adapt or become dinosaurs like Countrywide PLC. Yes it was lack of management from the C-suite, but great tech could have helped staunch those losses.

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