IWMS – A Practical Approach for Real Estate Professionals

3 min read
December 2, 2019
CoStar Real Estate Manager Blog

IWMS – A Practical Approach for Real Estate Professionals

If not already evident from a general business best practice standpoint, the economic challenges of the past year have driven home the significant need among corporate real estate teams for adopting an integrated approach to managing real estate assets for strategic gain.

The continued growth of the Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) tools and solutions market underscores the desire among real estate professionals to adopt an integrated approach to effectively manage all major aspects of their occupied real estate.  But as the tools available to real estate professionals become, in theory, more sophisticated and easier to use, questions about the best approach to implementation of an IWMS strategy rage on.

The “Do More With Less” era

Today’s challenging financial environment continues to place significant pressure on real estate professionals to deliver cost savings and business value from their real estate. It’s no wonder corporate and facilities management executives are looking more carefully at the adoption of Integrated Workplace Systems that offer the promise of better and more accurate information management for help.  However, how to select the best IWMS Strategy to match process and workflow and which software solution approach to consider (suite-based solution vs. best-of-breed) for your organization requires careful thought, an evaluation of ALL available options and a proper vendor/solution provider selection process.  Which is better?  A number of factors, including organizational structure, detailed and specific information management needs and the existing systems and IT infrastructure deserve serious consideration.

It Begins with the Structure

Managing the multiple components of a large occupied space portfolio often requires an organizational bias toward managing real estate holdings as an integrated function. What many of the suite-based IWMS proponents miss is that it’s not the toolset that keeps organizations from a successful integrated approach, it’s often the underlying real estate management model at fault.  Without a centralized organization in place to drive business processes and workflow, real estate managers may find the true benefits of any form of IWMS solution harder to manage when in place and harder to justify during the business case and acquisition phase.

How Much is Too Much?

The challenges involved with the selection, acquisition and implementation of a suite-based Integrated Workplace Management System can prove daunting to even large-scale organizations and have been compared by some to the challenges of implementing an enterprise ERP system. Given the number of data touch points, required integration to existing infrastructure systems, multiple stakeholders with varying information management priorities and the overall software complexity of many suite-based IWMS systems, it’s easy to understand the comparison.

Single-platform, suite-based IWMS systems can offer the promise of broad functionality across the main real estate management disciplines. And the logic that a single system will improve information access and data integrity by minimizing input points.  What is often missed in the evaluation, however, is the trade-off necessary to achieve this level of functionality.   To justify the larger initial software costs associated with suite based IWMS solutions, it’s often necessary to build out a project plan with a longer time to value metrics dependent on implementation across a wider footprint of departments and real estate functions. Especially challenging is the decentralized organization where multiple stakeholders across diverse functional groups must endorse the acquisition and by default become part of the ongoing implementation team.

Trusting an IWMS implementation to a top integration consultant might seem like a prudent way to mitigate the significant risks, but recent economic realities have even cast doubt on this approach; with some of the leading consultants in a retrenching mode, a few filing for Chapter 11 protection and all being forced to rethink the infrastructure strategies they recommend for clients.

To counter the challenges of a single large-scale implementation, many software solutions are available in modules offering organizations the opportunity to implement in stages or just acquire the functionality most critical to their operation. While often a better solution to the large-scale implementation requiring months or years of resource time, significant software customization and associated service fees, this approach can end up negating many of the promised advantages of a broad-based IWMS solution.  If an organization opts for a complete IWMS implementation it should be prepared for an ERP-like project implementation cycle.

One Size May Not Fit All

Beyond business process and project scale, there are a number of factors that can enter the decision process surrounding IWMS. One thing that becomes clear quickly in evaluating corporate real estate management across different market sectors is the diversity of requirements that exists.  Matching functional business requirements to specific software features during the acquisition phase is critical to avoid paying for unneeded functionality or paying for significant customization during implementation. 

The Right Strategy

With the variety of functional needs, available options and increasing pressure to transform real estate into a strategic asset, which approach should real estate professionals pursue? The answer may not be instantly clear, but basic process and evaluation recommendations can be made.  These include:

  • Perform a fundamental and comprehensive needs analysis
  • Prioritize requirements
  • Evaluate existing organizational structure and workflow
  • Determine the approach that makes the most sense for required functionality AND quick payback
  • Understand that not all “integrated” solutions are alike
  • Choose a software platform that allows for growth
  • Don’t overlook implementation and customization costs, in time and dollars
  • Select a vendor with a history of delivering the promised solution
  • Minimize costs for maintenance and application management
  • Leverage flexibility