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"Creating a Level playing Field With the Giants"

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C. Stewart Forbes Photo
6/5/98 Interview with C. Stewart Forbes

Colliers International
84 State Street
Boston, MA 02109

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How Technology Benefits Colliers

  1. The organization mobilizes individual professionals and integrates their strengths to deliver superior services to clients around the world.
  2. Technology provides the communications link that enables 4,000+ Colliers' people to share client information, individual skills and experience with property; email has been the keystone.
  3. The aim is to anticipate the questions of Colliers' professionals and have the answers accessible when they are needed.
  4. A company strength is being able to identify people with specialties, to link them together for specific projects and to connect experienced pros with less-experienced pros who have a specific need.
  5. By asking Realtors to write up transactions as "case histories" that can be accessed company-wide, Colliers is building a resource for developing solutions and for creating opportunity.
What Still Needs to Be Done

  1. Colliers has assembled the technology to enable what it wants to accomplish; the culture that will capitalize on the technology is still in the formative stages.
  2. Traditionally, a Realtor has been a high-energy, independent agent who puts deals together through individual effort; the challenge now is for Realtors to adjust to sharing their knowledge more generously so that it can be passed on and multiplied in its use to others.
Perfecting the Collier System

  1. The first element participants need is detail about counterpart firms: who the associates are, their individual skills and experience level, a breakdown of where revenue comes from, etc.
  2. The system has to give professionals sufficient information about other professionals around the world so they will feel confident that their referred clients will receive good service and so that they can inform clients about the level of competence available.
  3. The second element is documentation of the solutions appropriate for a client; a good match links peers with peers, even if they are in different locations; common elements of a deal are more important than geographic proximity.
  4. A major challenge is facilitating communication, which requires some standardization of hardware and software - at least until everything is accessed over the Internet; all Colliers' people are using a Lotus platform (4.5) and all have servers.
  5. Three components have to be handled within each office for the system to work optimally: promotion of the benefits of the databases; training of professionals to access them; on-going maintenance of the system.
  6. When the sales and negotiation skills of the individual Realtor are blended with the full organizational resources available for a client's particular problem, the client is the ultimate winner; Colliers is in a continuous learning process to improve this blend.
Factors Affecting a Level Playing Field

  1. The lone Realtor using technology is somewhat of a threat to larger organizations, but brand-name recognition is still a significant strategy; a larger organization offers back-up and support that can benefit a client.
  2. At a financial and strategic level in the R E industry, an aggregating process of mergers is going on that assumes bigger is better.
  3. However, professionals within organizations are sometimes left uncertain about who their partners are; the best professionals, motivated by their clients' best interests, are likely to link with peers in other markets who could be with competitors.
Lessons from Other Industries

  1. Law firms are good models for organizing collective experience around clients' needs; Arthur Anderson, which uses a Notes platform, is another role model Colliers has studied.
  2. As an organization grows beyond the limits of informal communication; the need to eliminate duplication of effort is vital.
  3. To make yourself valuable to your clients, it is better to position yourself to interact with people who will help you learn than to try to hang onto proprietary knowledge (a futile choice).
The Role of the Web Page

  1. Colliers' page is relatively new, but its role is growing; it began as a joint promotional venture in connection with a climb of Mt. Everest that the company helped to fund.
  2. The unique subject matter of the initial page differentiated Colliers from its competition; an internal benefit was promotion of the concepts of team work and the setting of individual goals.
  3. The firm-wide Web page now is a planned alternative to having a number of independent Web pages of Colliers' associates; it gives a general introduction to services plus market-specific information.
  4. Eventually, the Web page will be the communications vehicle for the organization.
Business-Related Web Research

  1. Checking the Web is a convenient way to monitor your competition and to inform yourself about potential clients before approaching them.
  2. Pages that deal with knowledge sharing and knowledge management include Bell Atlantic Knowledge Center and the American Productively & Quality Control sites.
Changes on the RE Horizon

  1. Wall Street's recognition of the flow of foreign capital into the RE industry has encouraged a merger/acquisition trend that is likely to result in three or four major global players.
  2. An open question is whether a global structure can be managed to deliver superior service - despite the size and the hierarchy, the business comes down to a single Realtor working with a client.
  3. The future will determine what range of disciplines can be delivered by that individual over what geographic territory for what reasonable profit; bigger is not always better - there appears to be room for a flat organization that competes via technology.
Contact Information for C. Stewart Forbes:

(v) 617-722-0221
(f) 617-722-0224

Real Estate Sites & Tools in this Briefing:

Bell Atlantic Knowledge Center
AP&QC Knowledge Management site