I was recently honored to facilitate a panel at the Association Executives Institute (AEI) in Quebec City where MLS vendors discussed their goals for the next generation of MLS and took questions.
- Rob Overman – LPS Real Estate Group
- Jonathan Hogan – Rapattoni Corporation
- Dan Mills – MarketLinx, Inc.
- Seain Conover – Tarasoft Corporation
There’s no way I can provide a comprehensive record of a 1.5 hour session in a single blog post, but here are the highlights:
Rob Overman spoke first, and asked the questions I know we all think from time to time: “We’re in the future, so where is our jetpack and where is our robot maid?” “The Roomba doesn’t count,” he said, “That’s just a motorized vacuum cleaner.” Then he showed a picture of a Star Trek communicator. “We don’t have these either,” said Rob, “We have mobile devices that also take pictures, take and show video, and run applications.” The point was that sometimes technology evolution doesn’t go as we might imagine – but sometimes it exceeds our wildest expectations.
Rob wisely said, “It isn’t just about the technology, it is about providing tools and services to empower real estate professionals.” Whatever MLS vendors use – Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight or HTML 5 – they need to focus on the “art and craft of software”. Rob said that some of the areas of opportunity include providing more tools for Agents to serve their Clients – mobile solutions for smartphone and voice applications that work from any phone, and client collaboration tools. Whatever technologies are used, these tools must work on every platform the user wants to use them on.
Then Rob went on to a topic near and dear to my heart – data standards and integrations. He indicated that the current way we band-aid the MLS to forms, showing solutions, public records, CMA and CRM software and IDX/VOW needs to change. He said, “How you connect to the data will be variable. It is important that the data systems be flexible and open. Open does not mean free. It means standardized and transparent.” He then laid out an architecture where MLS listings, public records and related neighborhood, school and demographic data would be available as a data service to support web, mobile and desktop applications, as well as syndication, IDX and VOW. Data flow plus single sign-on would provide a bridge to forms, showing solutions, and other real estate applications. Users would have ‘a la carte’ choice of MLS interfaces and other software.
Rob’s vision of an MLS – or more accurately a full universe of real estate related software – where data and worflows facilitated competition, innovation and ease of use parallels visions for the future of MLS I’ve been blogging about for years and advocating for.
Jonathan Hogan from Rapattoni spoke about three areas: managing and accessing real estate data conveniently, tools for a mobile workforce, and the technology he feels will get us there.
Jonathan laid out a people-centric vision of the real estate universe that was appealing to the association executives in the room – illustrating this with concentric circles, the interior one with agent, staff, consumers, affiliates, prospects and media, as well as an outer circle consisting of association management software (local and state), property information, transaction management, forms, NAR, social networks, and electronic signatures. His main point was to stop thinking of the member in terms of a “member record” but rather to think of them as people. I liked this last point of his very much. To build software that manages the relationship with and between people seems much more attractive than software which manages the fields of a member record.
Jonathan made the point that access to data must be both secure (good authentication) and convenient (Single Sign-On), then swiftly transitioned to a discussion of data share technology, saying that the current replication method is complex, time consuming, difficult to manage and very costly. [Note my discussion of highly efficient and inexpensive data share technologies:http://www.realtown.com/mattcohen/blog/mls-collaboration-technologies] Jonathan suggested a data share solution involving putting listing and membership records in a single place – a cloud computing environment.
Jonathan finished up by speaking to the importance of mobile devices like the iPad and saying the technology to get Rapattoni Corporation products where they want to go will involve products from Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft.
Dan Mills took the stage next and started out by saying that techology could be used to keep the practitioner at the center of the transaction. The practitioner creates data that is very valuable but “Silos” or “islands” of data sit locked behind firewalls and in proprietary systems, slowing down time to market for new products and services and inhibiting responsiveness to customers. He then made a similar point to what Rob said, that we need to provide rich and diverse data in a highly accessible way but distinguished himself by indicating that distribution points should be controlled. This is in line with my own thoughts on more strategic syndication of data being a worthy goal for our industry.
Dan then illustrated how a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) could help achieve this goal and illustrated how this works in his own products, including how Semantic Search brings back rich data reflecting search criteria – much more than just listing data. Increased capability to create “mash-up” applications and more efficient data shares also come from a SOA.
Looking to the future, Dan said that trends to watch include cloud computing – infrastructure and Platform as a Service, Web 3.0 and semantic search, browser convergence on next set of W3C standards (HTML5, CSS3), Content Delivery Optimization and High Availability Computing, and of course, what’s happening in the mobile world; Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows 7 and the next great wave of handheld and tablet platforms.
Seain Conover from Tarasoft started off by talking how important it was to keep focused on what the Realtors need – something I think everyone in the room could relate to. Seain made it clear that what was on the ‘back end’ didn’t matter so much – that it was just “glue” – and what was important is having a committment to all browsers and devices that Realtors use.
Seain briefly mentioned some technology to watch – hyper-localization (neighborhood/census/parcel information), rich trend visualization (valuations, statistics, heat maps), and an ever increasing map-centric paradigm. That last point reminded me what we’ve heard from Google at other industry conferences. But at the end, he brought the conversation back to a consumer-centric approach to software and reminded us: “We are all consumers too.”
I am grateful that these four great guys and fierce competitors were willing to join together on stage and share their vision for the future of MLS. There’s always going to be uncertainty about the future of the industry, but like Alan Kay from Apple Computer so wisely said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Thank you for joining us in Quebec, inventors!
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