The Payment Podcast Transcript

Tom Dolan: Hello, and welcome to the Payments Podcast. This is Tom Dolan, General Manager of Paymode-X at Bottomline Technologies. I'll be your host today for a podcast with one of our very special partners. MRI Software has taken the analogue business – in this case, real estate management – and almost single-handedly dragged it into the digital era.

MRI’s technology platform meets the unique needs of the real estate business, from property-level management and accounting, to investment modelling and analytics for the global commercial and residential markets.

More than 50 years into its lifespan, MRI has complemented the agency model with what it calls ‘liberating software platform’ that allows real estate professionals to automate their back-office operations and do what they do well: real estate.

Having worked with MRI this past year, I have a theory as to what makes MRI so successful. They're singularly focused in the vertical, and, by doing so, they have carved out a significant share of that marketplace. Of course, that's simplifying the issue. To get into the details, we've invited Sean Slack, MRI’s VP of Partnerships. Sean, welcome to the podcast.

Sean Slack: Thanks, Tom, great to be here with you today, and I look forward to our session. I've been here at MRI for a little over 2 years now, and it's my first foray into the real estate industry. I've spent the last 25 years or so in enterprise software systems companies, like AT&T, NCR, and most recently came over from a company called Teradata.

I've been across all other industries: retail, finance, travel, transportation, manufacturing, life science, government, you name them, but this is my first foray into real estate. It was quite obvious to me, day one, the opportunity for PropTech to really help transform this industry, so it's a very exciting time and I'm happy to be here with you today.

Tom Dolan: That's awesome. I think there are so many software companies that fall into the trap of being too many things to too many people, but not MRI. You guys have stayed really singularly focused on property management and real estate industry, for 50 years today. How do you stay relevant?

Sean Slack: I’ll tell you, Tom, to your point, you don't find too many 50-year-old technology companies. (Laughter) We started back in 1971, and it was really doing accounting services in the real estate space. Obviously, back in the ‘70s, there was very little automation, but it was really around staying very focused on clients, and bringing value to clients, and modernising our approaches to how we bring that value that has propelled us to where we're at today.

So, we have deep roots in the real estate market, both from a domain expertise perspective but also as we've grown across our technology stack, right? The combination of those two things, domain expertise and technology, that's how you bring true value to customers at the end. You really have to stay focused, again, on those client needs, in combination of those two things.

If you fast-forward to today, 50 years beyond our founding, we now cover the commercial segments, residential segments, and occupier segments, right? We have solutions that go from lead to lease, financial management, investment management, space and visitor management, all the way through the end of the lifecycle, with reporting and analytics. So, we've continued to innovate and develop new solutions, based on our customers’ requirements and needs.

Tom Dolan: That's awesome, but you do have competitors, right? We know a couple of them. I'm impressed MRI just continually seems to dominate that market share conversation and expanding the number of companies that you guys call partners and customers. How do you stay laser focused on PropTech, with the additional competition that's out there, and really set yourselves apart as MRI? What differentiates you?

Sean Slack: One of the things is, as you talk about competition, we view it as co-opetition, right? So, even with our competitors, we partner with our competitors. We integrate with our competitors.

Our belief, here at MRI, is around having an open and connected ecosystem. Our partner ecosystem is part of our ethos here, right? It allows us to provide customers choice and allows them to bring the solutions that they've either invested in or want to invest in, together with ours, bringing together a best-of-breed stack for them to really run their business, based off of their needs.

So, that open and connected approach really sets us apart from our competition. We’ve taken that beyond our partner ecosystem, into other solutions that we have, right? We have standalone point solutions that we've either built or bought, that are multi-vendor in nature, right? They run on our competitor’s platform, again embracing the co-opetition model in the marketplace.

I'll tell you the other thing that comes to mind, what separates us, and it was apparent to me when I joined the company, is the culture. We have a great internal culture here. I've said that since I joined the company, but also how we look at things externally from an environmental, social, and governance perspective and ESG perspective.

A great example of that is the MRI Software Foundation that we built, right? It's there to help bolster underserved communities. So, we truly believe in transforming the way communities live, and work, and play. We do that in all facets and the way we conduct ourselves, both at the business level but also at the philanthropical level.

Tom Dolan: I think about we're both in the software business, and there are some great software brands out there. Apple comes to mind as one that not only is great at acquiring additional customers for their broad portfolio of products, but really customer retention.

Certainly software executives, such as ourselves, we're focused on that retention rate. MRI really has a standout just reputation as far as customer retention and customers that are loyal and proud to be MRI customers. What's key to that success?

Sean Slack: I think there are a couple things there. First of all, it's really listening to our clients and what they need from us, to help improve how their businesses are performing, right? It's all about the business outcome at the end of the day. How do we help them drive revenue, manage cost, retain customers for themselves?

It's about your customer’s customer, right? You’ve really got to have that transitive lens and look out that far, to help understand how you're going to be able to provide value to them. So, it's really listening to your clients and taking that feedback.

I would also say it's about driving innovation into your products and into your solutions, right? If you look at what MRI is doing now, we're an AI-first company. So, anything we're doing from a development and a design perspective, how do we incorporate analytics into those workflows, whether it's machine learning or artificial intelligence, to drive efficiencies in there and drive value back into our customers?

Then, last but not least, it's how do you take care of those clients after the sell, right? Selling is things that all software companies do, but it's really that client success after the sale. How do you get those products up and running for them? How do you get them implemented? Then on-going, down the road, how do you make sure that they're successful using those solutions, getting the value out of those solutions that they paid for? So, it's all really about focusing on the clients and driving innovation.

Tom Dolan: Sean, we saw a lot of things change over the past two years, with the COVID pandemic, in how we work: how we work with our customers. Real estate industry has to be one of the ones that were impacted the most in the way that the different slices of the vertical – for example, commercial real estate or multi-family – were impacted by the pandemic. What are some of the defining characteristics that you see in real estate business today, post-COVID, and how do you see that playing out in the real estate vertical?

Sean Slack: Yes, thanks, Tom. One of the things that jump out at me is just the sheer size of the real estate market. If you talk about it in terms of GDP, it's about $4tn of GDP, right? So, it impacts us in every way and in every way we go through our lives on an everyday basis, right?

As we look over the last couple of years, I think what happened during the pandemic, it actually helped companies move away from manual processes and adopt technology more, because they were having to have people out of the office. So, they needed to use technology, right, to run their businesses remotely and virtually over the last couple of years? So, it drove adoption of technology.

I think that trend is continuing as we go forward. If you look at some of the environments that were impacted, look at some of the office space from the impact of COVID, right? We have now gone to this experience where people worked completely remote, and now they're coming back into hybrid models.

The employees of the world now got used to that virtual working environment, and they’re really asking for and dictating a hybrid environment where they're in for a couple of days and working in the office, and then they're working virtual for three days, or whatever the mix is.

That has caused a lot of companies to really go back and take a look at those assets and how they optimise the use of those assets, both from an economics perspective but also from an employee retention perspective.

80% of their space, before, might have been utilised for butts in seat and working, and now they’re moving to hotelling spaces, right? So, how are they optimising the usage and the space there? So, maybe 50% is used for workers now and coming in, and they reallocate 10% of that space to childcare, or a gaming area, or putting in a cafeteria or a new café. So, you've got that real transition of how the space was being used.

I think another observation is take a look at malls. Malls took a huge hit during the pandemic, right? Nobody was going to a mall and so a lot of those companies that had space in the mall have gone under, right? So, that space is freed up and now you're seeing that space being replaced by healthcare companies coming in, which is a completely different use of that space.

The other thing that I would throw in here is just where we're going at in the future. Take a look at some of the Internet of Things that are coming into the play from a technology perspective. You’ll see this across other industries.

It’s all around predictive maintenance, right? So, think of a big, commercial real estate space or multifamily space with multiple HVAC units or water control systems. Being able to actively predict when there might be a failure, by doing ‘mean time between failure’ analysis on parts, and putting those in routine maintenance cycles, versus reactive cycles, you're now taking time out of the equation, where you're having to dispatch somebody when they could already be there by a routine cycle and replacing a part predictively. Not upsetting your customers, because you're not having downtime with those pieces and/or causing damage, right?

So, I think, as we go forward, we're going to see more analytics come into play, more predictive maintenance in the examples that I gave there, because real estate, in all its manifestation, is such a core part of all aspects of our lives. I think the more that we adopt these technologies to put smart systems in place, the better it's going to be for everyone.

Tom Dolan: That's great. Why do you think real estate has been such a technology laggard, as a sector?

Sean Slack: Yes, I think it's a cultural evolutionary thing, right? I think we're starting to see that industry shift now. It has been such a person-to-person, ‘doing business on the back of a napkin’ type of an industry. Other industries have really had to differentiate themselves from their competition, adopt digitalisation so they can set themselves apart. Look at retail, for instance. Retail industries, their margins are so slim, so they have to try to find any competitive advantage that they can to set themselves apart from their competition.

I think, going back to what we were just talking about a minute ago with the pandemic, I think that now that really drove adoption of technology in this space, and we're starting to see that accelerate. As we go forward, I think you're also seeing regulations and compliance initiatives coming into play that drive the adoption of technology. So, I think you're seeing a couple of different motivations or catalysts that have come in to drive the adoption to technology.

Then, I think, companies are going to start realising that data is actually an asset to them. It's the new gold. It's the new oil, right? So, they're going to be able to use data, through analytics, as a competitive advantage. Those that embrace that and do that, they're going to set themselves apart from their competition and it's going to become a true competitive differentiator for them.

Tom Dolan: Sean, I wish we had more time, but alas, all things must come to an end. This was amazing. I want to thank you, Sean, for taking the time to join us on the Payments Podcast and for continuing to be a great partner with Paymode-X. Thank you, Sean.

Sean Slack: Thank you, Tom, and have a great day.

Tom Dolan: You, too. This has been Tom Dolan with the Payments Podcast. Thanks for joining us, and I'll see you next time.



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