What to do When You Need a Quick Diagnostic of Your Brokerage
What to do When You Need a Quick Diagnostic of Your Brokerage
Speeding along the expressway, you can quickly look down at your car’s dashboard and get an instant picture of the critical system basics — speed, gas, time, oil pressure. It’s all right there at a glance.
This same kind of critical data snapshot is what a business intelligence dashboard is all about. These online dashboards provide a one-page visual display of the key information on the performance of a company, an office, or an associate: open listings, sales to date, commissions, and expenses, for example, with more detailed data available by drilling down with a click.
If you’ve ever spent three days pawing through written reports trying to compare your performance goals against actual sales, you’ll instantly understand the value of a dashboard.
How Dashboards Operate
A classic dashboard consists of three components:
- The back end, where data is stored.
- A server that issues queries to the back-end databases.
- The desktop front end.
The back end — the data on all aspects of your business operations—is assembled from various systems and databases. The biggest challenge with any database is integrating the data from discrete systems into a central data warehouse.
Another challenge is the quality and consistency of the information that populates the dashboard, says Wayne Eckerson, director of research and services for The Data Warehousing Institute, an association of business intelligence and data warehousing professionals. If you’ve been careless and entered incomplete information or put data into the wrong fields, your dashboard will become meaningless.
The second part of the dashboard is some form of one-screen representation of key metrics. Choosing from the hundreds of data points can be a challenge and rapidly lead to information overload. Whether you structure your dashboard to display data in real time or to be refreshed daily or weekly, “you need to select the metrics that embody the goals of the organization and drive strategic objectives,” says Eckerson.
For real estate, items such as listings, pending contracts, closed sales, commissions, and expenses are all logical candidates for a dashboard.
Accessing Business Intelligence
One shortcut to a dashboard is to use a product tied in with an existing brokerage management software program. For example, eREBS, an agent module offering such information as pending contracts, closed contracts, and agent expenses, ties into the REBS brokerage management software from financial consulting company FNIS-DPN. Not a true dashboard, the program gives sales associates a simple set of left-hand navigation links that take them to key reports on clients, contracts, earnings, and billings. Costs (configuration and setup, the server, and a subscription fee) begin at $7,500, and the links and reports can be customized.
“eREBS lets me see where my business came from, how I’m doing this month against my goals, the commissions I earned, and when I was paid,” says Harley Haas, a nine-year sales associate with Real Living in Columbus, Ohio. “Now I can plan without going through piles of paper.”
A more graphic representation of business metrics is the custom dashboard commissioned by Kyle England, chief financial officer at Prudential Utah in Salt Lake City. Working from an eREBS back end, England spent less than $10,000 to hire outside programmers and acquire an Open Database Connectivity interface to tie various databases to the dashboard. It took those consultants approximately two to three weeks to create a set of graphs, charts, and other graphics that let managers check a sales associate’s progress at a glance. One metric that doesn’t appear on many dashboards, but that England added, is commission earned by transaction sides.
Like those at many real estate companies, Prudential Utah’s dashboard is accessible only to brokers, though metrics are available for both the agent and the office level.
For Prudential Utah broker Sandy Hoover, CRS®, GRI, reviewing dashboard metrics with her 42 sales associates at least twice a year gives her a chance to discuss goals and help pinpoint where salespeople need to concentrate their efforts. “Most sales associates aren’t number crunchers. The graphics on the dashboard make performance measures, such as listings taken versus listings sold, quick and easy to understand,” says Hoover. The program, however, lacks the drill-down capacity of a true dashboard, since the data can be accessed only through regular reports.
At the top end of the dashboard continuum are fully customized dashboards with both broker and agent modules and real-time drill-down capacities like the one at Edina Realty in Edina, Minn. (Part of the HomeServices of America network, Edina has made the code for the program available to other HomeServices companies.) The Agent Dashboard component of the company’s ProKit Business Manager displays an associate’s upcoming appointments, new listings downloaded from the MLS, open house details, and a summary of the associate’s current clients. The program offers different data views to the broker, the executive manager, and even the client.
“We opted to build the system ourselves because we’d already invested in creating a centralized data warehouse,” says Diane Krob, vice president of information technology at Edina. Four in-house programmers spent part of three months coding applications using Microsoft’s .NET operating system platform. The platform connects the user to an array of computers that exchange data.
“More than anything else, the dashboard places all the information I need daily — current listings, client activity, and open houses — in one place,” says Bill Dobbins, CRS®, e-PRO®, a sales associate with Edina since 1999. Dobbins also values the dashboard’s drill-down capabilities, which let him click through to send e-mails to clients or connect to the MLS for more detail on a new listing.
In the end, whether you get your business metrics from a spreadsheet or a dashboard, it’s your ability to easily see what’s important and then act upon it that makes the dashboard concept a compelling alternative for managing your numbers.