Peter posted recently about RealFutureCRM which is a US company specialising in CRM for the Real Estate Industry. That post created some hot discussion about solutions already available in Australia and claims that they were being overlooked. Representatives from a number of Australian companies chimed in with posts in support of their own product.
Eddie Cetin, the National Business Development Manager for HubOnline contacted me and confirmed that their new version (v2) that had just been completed was built on SugarCRM. I had a demo of the old version of Hubonline last year so Eddie invited me to preview the new version when he flew to the Gold Coast next.
For the sake of background and disclosure we have been using the old Multiarray Sales System for 8 or 9 years with a fairly advanced set of activity trails integrated into the program that features several hundred letters, surveys, scheduled phone calls, personal follow-ups and other individual activities over 40 pre-programmed activity trails.
Our market research back then showed Multiarray was the only company who had a serious CRM ability. That program is now quite dated but on a feature for feature basis it is interesting how well it stands up today. Stuff that we were doing around 10 years ago HubOnline still cannot do today, but more on that later.
I was involved with the Beta Testing of the new Multiarray version which was released last year although as yet we have not installed the latest version. The initial rollout was only an internet based solution… (please note that there is huge differences between a web and an internet based solutions) and they have only just released the inhouse server version. Despite my involvement with the beta testing we still undertook market research recently to consider out options. After that we decided to proceed with the Multiarray version when they brought out the inhouse server option as it is more suitable for our database size and that is how we are still moving forward.
Firstly let me say that the new version of HubOnline is a breath of fresh air over the old one and it is indeed built on SugarCRM. The program layout, speed and general usability appears far superior to the old version and is an essential upgrade for their current users. Now I did not get to drive because of time restrictions but I certainly asked to see more of sections that I thought warranted further investigation. I asked lots of questions and offered my opinion here and there.
SugarCRM provides them with an excellent framework to work upon. The technologies used are the very latest and you can see that straight way. The system appears very stable which is the SugarCRM pedigree at work and usability seems much improved. The ability to roll out new features on such a system should be a real advantage to the HubOnline team.
Unlike other solutions, they don’t have to program it from the ground up. A lot of the grunt work has been done and is world class. They just have to worry about adding the Real Estate flavour to it all.
This really is just a prettied up version of the old HubOnline. As far as features go this is fancy new dress, but the same old girl as before although she is apparently booked in for a significant makeover.
The feature list is not really improved from the previous version but to be fair, Eddie advised that this was conscious decision for the first release was only to mirror the features of their original version. This should make upgrading their current user base as painless as possible. Current users have to concentrate only on the new interface, rather than learning a host of new features at the same time. I am sure they plan to implement new features in the very near future.
Despite being built on top of a world class CRM, because the feature list has not been improved upon it is still a case with usability of a real estate admin package with a CRM bolted on.
The best way I can explain this is to give you real world examples that we have been using with out current system for nearly a decade. I covered each of these examples (and others) with Eddie Cetin and explained why each was important. Since Hubonline was still working with the old feature list I did not bother covering any of the more advanced CRM features in the current version of Multiarray.
With Hubonline whenever you change the status or contact type you have to “remember” to activate the right activity trail. That to me appears archaic and prone to far too much human error forgetting to add the activity trail. I believe that if you upgrade an appraisal to a listing in the system for example, the CRM should be smart enough to automatically know to ask you if you want to stop all the prior “appraisal activities” that are now no longer valid and automatically offer for you to select from a list of relevant listing activity trails.
The old version (and certainly the new version) of Multiarray integrates the CRM changes into the administration changes. Whether it be expiring a listing, marking a property under contract or the dozens of other changes, it automatically provides you with the relevant selection leaving nothing to memory.
Running any CRM software in a real estate office will obviously result in substantial mail being generated by the system every day. Things like thank you letters, performance surveys, anniversary letters etc etc etc. Some days we can have in excess of 100 letters generated by the system and even on a slow day we will still have 20 or more.
With Hubonline daily mail merging is still a fully manual operation and each letter has to be merged one at time. Depending upon your setup these can be done by each individual salesperson or collectively by an admin staff member. The productivity wasted to do this over the course of a year would be huge and if left to each salesperson how many would really make it the mail. Far from all I would suggest.
For nearly 10 years in our office the day’s pre-programmed letters are printed at the press of one button. With that one press all the letters are printed and the contacts history is updated.
These are just two features relating to the CRM integration with the admin side of the system that HubOnline struggles with. Thankfully the SugarCRM connection means integrating these and other more advanced features should be fairly simple.
Hubonline has dashlets in the system which allows you to add and arrange information panels into the program. This works similiar to iGoogle. The concept is good but the dashlets have some layout issues that need to be looked at because the amount of vertical scrolling is obscene. The current size of the dashlets is very inefficient and so much space is wasted with having to scroll down being the only solution..
The dashlets problem is also made worse because the program is really for high resolution displays. The dashlets or the program dont dynamically resize based on the screen size and we were using a 1024×768 resolution on a laptop and there was horizontal scrolling as well as vertical scrolling which is going to annoy a lot of people.
If you check out the screenshot from RealFutureCRM you can see how much information you can squeeze into just one page. For Hubonline to display all this information would require a lot of vertical scrolling.
Web based solutions are great for flexibility because anybody with a browser can access the information from anywhere in the world. This however brings about problem that few consider till it happens to them. Security!
Password security is better than no security at all, but as a true measure to protect an asset as valuable as a mature database is very very dangerous.
Just one scenario for you to consider. As an agency principal you have a salesperson that has been with you for a few years up and leave and setup his own agency down the road. If you operate a web based system for your office anybody can access that information, as long as they know a correct username and password. As soon as you know he is leaving you shut out his account but because he has been with you for several years he knows one of your admin staff just uses her three kids names as her password, alternating them every few weeks whenever she is forced to updated it. Another staff member uses the same word but just changes the last number every time. It might be Sydney1, Sydney2, Sydney3 etc etc etc. This and similar stories happen in just about every office, real estate or not, right around the country and the world.
Without any advanced computer knowledge or hacking skills that salesperson turned competitor now has fulltime access to your database. He knows every single appraisal you do, every sale you have made, every single listing you make and every single buyer you have. How much would that cost if it happened to you?
Web based CRM solutions like HubOnline have to start taking security of the database seriously. There is a number of methods they can use to protect the data such as locking down some accounts to unique IP addresses. Most admin accounts will only ever need to be accessed from within the office so locking those accounts to a static IP will assist with protection. Locking salespeople’s accounts down to a specific IP range used by your ISP will also help. So will enhanced password security forcing upper and lowercase letters and numbers in each password. Refusing passwords too similar as past passwords.
Logging all accesses by each account and displaying the last login to the user every time will raise suspicions if somebody else is using your account. Forcing an office wide password change every time a staff member is marked as inactive will also help.
I was genuinely impressed with the new version of HubOnline. I think the move to SugarCRM was a positive one that will certainly pay dividends. Advanced real estate CRM.. Certainly not. Not yet anyway. But they are positioned to have an excellent solution within a revision or two.
Right now and strictly as far as the CRM aspects are concerned I could only recommend it for their existing users and those that do not want to operate an advanced CRM solution. The existing Hubonline users can have their staff get use to the new interface before new features are implemented.
As a direct comparison Multiarray’s solution offers right now a far better CRM experience however it has to be pointed out that there is a fairly large difference between the two in price. In fact, their previous version has been offering for years many things that HubOnline are still to implement.
It’s important to understand that such a comment has to be viewed in perspective though as there is much more to a real estate solutions than the CRM with both software offering different feature sets and each solution needs to be looked at as a whole and I certainly did not get time to see those aspects of HubOnline.
Security needs to be improved and I believe that if they can they harness the real CRM ability of SugarCRM and integrate it into the administration tasks plus fix a few of their layout issues they will have one of the best solutions in Australia.
It will be interesting to see if they build on it over the next couple of updates and take advantage of what they have got.
I have received an email from Eddie Cetin since the demo replying to a number of questions that I had sent him. In that email he advised that they are currently looking at the security issues I raised and are implementing the automatic daily mail merge. The automatic prompting of activity trails and more minor issues not raised here are not yet under consideration for implementation.