I’m on my way back from the RETS meeting in Chicago so I’m writing up a small recap of what I was privy to during the meeting sessions I attended.
First, a bit of background. Last week the COVE group (several of the largest MLSs) met and determined that the need to complete data standardization (improving on standardization of data fields, including field contents) was urgent. They plan to work on this to and then present the work to RESO – hopefully this will accelerate the current pace of the standardization effort.
During the “RETS Issues, Challenges & Perceptions Panel” Matt Lavallee (MLS Property Information Network) presented a number of his theories, including an addition of or move to a standard more focused on synchronization than the current transactional approach. In his market he sees few use of ‘ad hoc’ or ‘live’ queries and provides a “live” CSV feed or direct SQL access. Other MLSs, vendors, and client writers explained their differing perspective on the feasibility of this approach. Rob Overman (LPS) in particular described the use of ad hoc queries for mobile PDA and voice-based solutions. Dan Woolley responding via Twitter indicated that one still needs transactional model for small data sets and real-time reports – CMA, buyer tours etc. Ray Ewing (SANDICOR) said that they have many vendors that query just for a few listings.
Matt L. then suggested that there are only a few nationwide vendors needing data standardization – that most vendors (local) don’t care. This was not in alignment with others understanding, especially the COVE group as previously mentioned. It also didn’t make sense to me, as the standardization is a key component of making it easy for vendors to get data and provide their product into additional markets. Mike Wurzer (FBS) spoke up on the subject of data standardization to say that “Brokers are sick of the expense of disparate data feeds. Transport is irrelevant. The lack of data standards is the pain point. Data standards are possible – CARETS and others did it. RESO needs the [guts] and resources to drive that down the road.” Kristen Carr (Bridge Interactive Group) responded that data standardization is moving forward. Mary Frances Adams (TREND) indicated that “If we all agree on a data standardization and every MLS maps to that, we can all talk to one another – but we don’t have to change input sheets.” This may not exactly be true if data standardization gets down to what enumerated values of any given field might be and there is no way to translate from existing fields to the new values. Matt L. made a great point – “It’s not the name changes that are hard. How do you back out 12 years of old data? Condo is not a property type. It is an ownership type. How do you back out 12 years of data where condo has been a property type? To our membership the data has value in the form it is in.” Pat Bybee (Metrolist) warned, “We’re not fond of mandates from NAR. When they said they would create green fields it had ripples around the industry.Setting up an aspirational standard would be good. As soon as NAR mandates something forces rally against it.” Matt L. responded, “Standard names have been there a long time but it’s voluntary – no one uses them.”
Matt L. then expressed that “RETS keeps little vendors out of markets”. While there was some agreement that RETS has a learning and support curve, there was not general agreement for the conclusion among MLSs and others present. Jeremy Crawford (SANDICOR) specified that “We’ve seen vendors from all industries come, in our market and I have vendors that have been successful in minutes. No way I’d open up SQL and try to lock them down.” Jim Smith (NTREIS) said, “When we used SQL I had 2 DBAs … Now that I have RETS, I get by with a clerk. I got one support call last week for RETS. One.”
Moving on to another subject, I brought up the business concern that the standards effort was not properly resourced to move the standard forward at a good clip – COVE group is just one example of the impatience in the market. I suggested roles for leadership, documentation, project management, and communications. A discussion of how to pay for such resources ensued which I ended by saying, “Every other industry that has standards has figured out how to staff and pay for that effort. We can too.” Pat B. agreed and indicated that the RESO board will be putting a budget into NAR to address these needs. David Harris (eNeighborhoods) agreed that the effort needs resources and suggested that everyone send email to firstname.lastname@example.org on the subject to indicate their support.
The second day, the RESO board reported that they are working on a budget – workgroup chairs will submit budgets to the board soon. They listed 2009 Accomplishments – Server compliance, document managment, improved vendor/MLS communication, and a budget process definition. The board committed to put together a RETS roadmap – purpose, mission, vision, short, medium, long term goals – Kristen Carr, Ryan Bonham, Sergio Del Rio, Steve Clarke leading. At a high level the board has short term goals for improvement – accountability, compliance, standards publication. RETS medium term goals include the strategic plan and roadmap, RETS logo and name usage, and data standardization. Long term goals include data standardization for additional schema, review RETS to streamline the standard, additional directions for RESO, and expanding compliance. The RETS roadmap will ‘connect the dots’ for these goals with timeframes, long overdue!
Hitachi showed the technical structure and features of the compliance tool at great length. They also showed their selected tool for documentation – Confluence wiki. This is exciting, though when I posted to Twitter one friend tweeted back that “Confluence is kind of challenging, actually. My school uses it predominately and, for one, formatting is a real problem. Another friend tweeted, “You’ll have to tell me what you like about Confluence. We use it at work and we all hate it.” I’m still excited by this work, because improved documentation management is desperately needed and it looks like Hitachi has done a nice job customizing the tool to the RETS community’s needs.
Both RETS change proposals made by Troy (FBS) passed by wide margins:
- #79 Add Preferred flag to GetObject responses. This proposal recommends adding a flag to GetObject responses that indicates if the given object is the preferred or primary object for the requested record…In some MLS software systems, the ability for photos to be uploaded also allows for a particular photo to be marked as the “preferred” or “primary” photo for that record (without it necessarily being the first photo uploaded or moved as first in the list of photos) which indicates that this photo should be used on reports and other displays when only a single photo is shown.
- #80 Optional Query. This proposal recommends changes to RETS to allow the Search transaction Query and QueryType parameters to be optional. By making the Query and QueryType parameters optional, users only need to provide 2 required parameters (SearchType and Class) and are able to instruct the server to return all records available to their account.
Tomorrow the roadmap will be preliminarily discussed (originally this was a workgroup meeting, so I did not plan to attend) though no decisions will be made at this meeting. For some insight into my own thinking on the roadmap, see my previous posts, Completing RETS and Completing RETS: The Survey. I had a great conversations about the roadmap with Paul Stusiak who will be leading that discussion before heading to the airport.
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