Property manager MAPP, with £15bn of assets under management, has for years been using off-the-shelf software to create efficiencies that differentiate it from corporate rivals. PlaceTech sat down with founder Nigel Mapp and digital strategist Rob Stark to unpack their approach.
At a glance
- Partner with software firms, you will waste millions of pounds and hours doing it yourself
- Automate tasks like supplier invoicing – efficiencies seems boring but your teams will thank you
- Clients are waking up to the potential for monetising data
- MAPP works “hand in glove” with tech service partners such as Envisi, Leverton, Demand Logic, Locale and Coyote
Nigel Mapp | We didn’t jump on the bandwagon of ‘We need to have all our own systems and we’re going to build our own systems. And we’re going to spend millions of pounds and millions of hours on them.’ We didn’t do that – a little bit by luck, but more by judgment. We just paused thinking that the world might change. And actually would develop in the way it did which is everything in the cloud. There’s some great apps out there. You can buy pretty much everything you want, fairly cheaply. And it’s much better because you’ve got specialists developing it rather than an in-house tech team trying to deliver it.
That was probably the most important decision because we are not anchored to a dinosaur system. There’s so many of these things at other companies that never get off the ground because they were in so deep and it wasn’t delivering what the clients wanted or what the supplier wanted, what the occupier wanted and for me that was probably the most important decision we ever made.
Rob Stark | It sounds really simple, but actually, at the very start of Covid when it kicked off really badly and everyone thought the world was going to end – and the government said everything was shutting, no one’s going anywhere and the senior teams were looking at each other – for us nothing changed. On everything we were running – all our tech meant that everyone could work wherever they were, exactly as they were, as if we had 500 people in an office. That’s business resilience. That’s the point at which you realise you have actually got something that’s not going to fall over.
None of our buildings closed. All our people could do what they needed for those sites, everything, on day one of the pandemic.
NM | I try and sum up MAPP in three words: ‘dependability with spark’. And the dependability piece is absolutely crucial because we manage £15bn of real estate, we’ve got hundreds of millions of pounds in rent coming through our client account each year. Risk, compliance, governance, health and safety – it’s a big grown-up responsible job, quasi bank territory – you have to be dependable. So we had invested in systems before the pandemic thinking ‘what if this happens, we need to be able to transfer £25m from our client account to a client if we’re not in the office, our systems are not working or someone’s not available’. We invested a lot in getting to a point where we couldn’t fall over. We have to be shock proof.
NM | As we grew and as we matured, as clients grew and matured, it just became essential to do more [tech] each year. I think the reality sadly is that you couldn’t do what I did 24 years ago and set up a business that manages real estate and be able to grow it to this point. I think we were one of the last entrants to the market – the barriers to entry are so high now. Because of that quasi banking dependable piece, as soon as you talk to any fund, they want to know what happens if another pandemic comes.
Client doesn’t care
RS | The problem with some technologies is that they are so boring outside. But it’s meaningful to us as a business in the way we operate. Take automation. The reality is the client doesn’t care how we get the results as long as we get the results. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to articulate externally the benefits of automation. Over the last six, nine months, we’ve managed to link nearly a dozen systems with a data warehouse and a Power BI visualisation, which means that we can now in really granular detail see who’s doing what, when, where and how much service charge they’re managing off the rent metrics and determine what the weight is on relative surveyors or FMs, how much work have they got on.
Automatic for the people
RS | We did a big automation project on our supplier invoice process four-and-a-half years ago when I started and we’re just in the final few months of moving that forward with a new solution. We’ve taken the opportunity to redesign the process and what we’re doing effectively is automating supplier invoices which go out at the rate of around 140,000 a year. We spend on behalf of the occupiers £140m a year in service charge. So reasonable numbers. We really want our team to focus on value-add not red tape. So it’s full digitisation and automation of those invoices through to the point where most of them do not need to be approved because they’re within budget. You set the budget at start of the year. These budget figures have been agreed. The invoice comes through and feeds straight into the relevant accounts system without human interface. This is why I say clients don’t really care about that stuff. We like to pay our suppliers on time. And we also don’t like surveyors on £X a year, approving £50 invoices every time that comes through.
It’s one of those operational efficiencies that actually releases a significant chunk of more than 100 people’s time over the course of a week, month, year, to do stuff that they’re more interested in. No one wants to sit and approve invoices.
RS | A lot of what we’ll be doing this year is refining solutions we’ve already got in place. We literally sat down at the end of last week with some of the senior project team and looked at our slate of projects. Our year starts in May. And there’s something like 60-65 items on that list. We need to narrow it down to the ones that are realistic for us to deliver and the ones that answer the biggest pain points for us. And we looked at it and looked at it again. And actually most of them are ones that are either already underway with existing software we already had on our radar and we just need to approve and iterate. So we don’t see any big bang items coming. We think we know what the landscape is and just need to work our way through it, there’s some interesting stuff around smart buildings, which is a term that could mean anything or nothing. IoT, the ability to retrofit buildings properly and economically is something that we need to pay close attention to. And alongside that the whole digital twin piece, which is driven by development and new-build.
NM | We’ve got better at the whole budgetary process. And setting aside certain things for certain projects. It needs to produce a return. It needs to make us more efficient. And sometimes that’s an easy task to do that. And sometimes it’s much more difficult, because you can’t quite grasp what the end is going to look like and what efficiencies might be, particularly as you’re growing as well. Often the analysis that we do reveals that we might not need to recruit four more people, as opposed to, well it means you’re going to be able to get rid of that. It’s about becoming more efficient.
RS | The reality is that we know the data we’re holding by and large is our client’s data, in terms of wanting to monetise it, potentially down the line, that would be an interesting conversation to have with a client around whether we can use their anonymised data to create revenue streams. Certainly, I’ve seen more than one property management agreement now where it discounts that with a very specific clause and our clients are becoming more aware that there is potential for something. They don’t know themselves necessarily what to do with that data but they don’t want someone else to use it without their say-so.
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