Digital Asset Management for Real Estate Agency (Case Study)

This case study teaches you how to inventory your digital assets and use your business objectives to identify the most critical points for improvement.

Modern businesses are excelling at managing most aspects of their operations. There is inventory management, asset management and receivables management. To name just a few. One area receiving less attention is the management of digital assets. This is surprising given the potential for cost savings and performance improvements well-aligned digital assets can provide.

This case study will apply digital asset management to a non-tech real estate business. The reader will learn four actionable steps that can be applied to any business. The idea for digital asset management comes from Alexander Rauser1, who uses it as basis for digital strategy creation. At Peakford, we regard digital assets as important basis for digital strategy creation, but prefer to include other areas, like customers, value chains and competition as well.

Background

The object of our analysis shall be a fictional real estate agency based in Vienna, called Peakproperty Real Estate. The company has an office in the heart of Vienna and is specialized in mid- to high end real estate. The average object is around $500,000 and more expensive objects can go as high as $7 million. The company has 7 employees and is run by a founder-CEO. Two employees work full time as office manager and technical project manager. The rest are independent real estate agents, paid based on sales volume.

Currently most leads are acquired by word of mouth and personal referrals. All available objects are also featured on the company website. Online requests account for about 25% of leads.

It’s important to note that Peakproperty is not a technology company or an internet startup, yet you will see how many digital assets support its operations.

Step 1: Define Business Objectives

Without a destination it’s difficult to know the direction. This is true for travelling, as well as for business. So the first step in digital asset management should be a definition of the firm’s objectives. Without them, it won’t be possible to assess the fit of existing assets. To make objectives more tangible, they should be tied to specific performance indicators (KPI). This makes performance tracking in optimization much easier.

In Peakpropery’s case, the CEO is already tracking the following high-level variables:

  • Transaction volume per quarter
  • Total cost of operation

It will be difficult to attribute any digital asset directly to these high level objectives. So it can make sense to define lower-level KPIs that directly track asset performance, e.g. website visitors or website leads.

 

Step 2: Initial Digital Asset Inventory

This step requires a detailed look at the company’s processes and systems. Any digital asset contributing to them should be added to the inventory. For better overview, assets are categorized into systems and modules. This is a way of splitting up assets providing very different functionality. E.g. a groupware application will deliver email, contacts and calendar modules. While they are part of the same system, these modules have different stakeholders and KPIs.

Table 1: Initial digital asset inventory
System Module Purpose KPI Owner
Groupware EMail Exchange emails with internal and external parties. Availability
Delivery incidents
Secretariat
Calendar Share and coordinate appointments Availability Secretariat
File server Internal CIFS file share Share common files with users inside the office Availability Secretariat
External access to files via VPN Access files remotely via VPN Uptime
Speed
Secretariat
Property Management System Data entry Input and manage objects Ease of use Sales Director
Publishing Publish objects to relevant public websites Leads generated Sales Director
Website High-value developments Present Peakproperty’s own developments in more detail Leads generated Sales Director
Import Display other objects on sale, imported from property mgmt software. Leads generated Sales Director
Office Equipment iMac 1 Workstation for secretariat to answer emails, write marketing material, manage website, respond to inquiries, manage properties. Support incidents per month Secretariat
iMac 2 Workstation for technical project manager. Edit plans, communicate with contractors Support incidents per month Secretariat
Networked Printer Print marketing folders, offers, contracts, invoices and internal documents Support incidents per month  Secretariat

The “Purpose” column gives a short non-technical description of the benefit provided to the company. KPIs are critical performance measure of the asset from a pure end user perspective. IT engineers will have different KPIs in mind. This is legitimate of course, but often their KPIs are not adding much to user satisfaction.

The “owner“ column shows the internal party responsible for maintaining the asset and asset performance. For added detail, one could add a “supplier” column, “priority” column and overall “status” column. To summarize all above mentioned digital asset attributes:

Table 2: Asset attributes
Attribute Description
System Business system the asset is part of.
Module Functional module inside a greater system that can be managed and evaluated with KPIs.
Purpose Short job description of asset.
KPI Performance measure from end user perspective.
Owner Party inside company responsible for asset maintenance and performance.
Supplier External party providing the asset. Could be a SaaS company or other service provider.
Priority Relative importance asset has in the business.
High: Considerable business disruption and loss of revenue.
Low: Minimal impact in the short term.

 

Step 3: Asset SWOT

With all relevant assets collected in one place, it becomes possible to define their strengths, weaknesses, threats and future opportunities. This is a general brainstorming exercise and requires a degree of technical understanding and experience. Many issues found may be irrelevant to the firm’s objectives. Since strengths don’t provide much value when looking for improvements, we’ll skip them in this part. They are more useful when evaluating potential new assets.


Table 3: Digital Asset SWOT
Asset Weaknesses Threats Opportunities
Groupware Manual email conversations needed for viewing appointments Data loss Provide self-service calendar for viewings
Property Management System Slow data entry Data loss by Saas provider Regular data export for backup
Create templates for faster data entry
Website Big file size, many big pictures Hacking, defacement Improve onsite SEO
Improve conversion rate by placing call to actions
Improve loading time
Automatic security updates
Harden website against hackers
Office equipment Needs occasional support Data loss through user error
Data loss through viruses
Automatic updates
Move essential files to central server
Document frequent user issues in wiki
File Server Needs occasional updates Technical failure Protect data by taking snapshots
Protect against fatal failure with offsite backups
Remote updates
Direct file sharing to clients

As shown in table 3, we are writing down weaknesses and threats for each digital asset and address those in the opportunities column together with other opportunities. This process can take a lot of time and needs excellent market knowledge of existing solutions. When done properly and on a regular basis, it can make a business more competitive compared to competitors. Any proposed solutions should be presented to users and stakeholders to confirm their fit.

Step 4: Align Digital Asset with Business Objectives

In step 3 we collected weaknesses, threats and opportunities for each digital asset. Step 4 will align opportunities to business objectives. This helps to determine priorities and expected ROI.

Table 4: Connect business objectives to assets
Business Objective Asset Measure Impact
Increase transaction volume per quarter Groupware Newsletter to spread new objects !
Website Improve onsite SEO !!
Improve conversion rate by placing call to actions !
Improve loading time !
Property Management Platform Improve property presentation with better images and blueprints !!
Low operating cost Groupware Provide self-service calendar for viewings !!
Property Management Platform Create templates for faster data entry !
Regular data export for backup !
Website Automatic security updates

Harden website against hackers
!
Office equipment Automatic updates on workstations !
Move essential files to central server !!
Document frequent user issues in wiki !!

As you can see, we were able to identify quite a few areas of improvement that will directly impact business objectives. Further research could probably find even more opportunities. Many of them may have a small impact, but by implementing the 20% with the highest impact and by redoing the process every few months.

Recommendations and Conclusion

This case study clearly shows the value of digital asset management to technical, as well as non-technical companies alike. Even a business operating outside a classic IT-driven field can greatly profit from managing its digital assets. While the initial inventory could be done by someone inside the company, opportunities and threats are better assessed by someone outside the company with a good overview of current trends and possible solutions to weaknesses.

The next step after digital asset management is the evaluation and introduction of new digital assets to improve business success. This topic will be discussed in a future case study.

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