Just as homes often have more than one remote control—one each for television, cable, DVD, and stereo for instance—many property management companies have different software for different functions.

Accounting, rent collection, revenue management, leasing and screening, and utility billing all can have their own stand-alone software. But like the universal remote, a multitude of software functions are being tied together through web-based property management software suites.

And software providers are responding by integrating more features and linking traditional back-end accounting processes, like revenue reporting, with front-end leasing procedures and rent collection processes, helping to minimize human error.

This next generation of software packs a one-two revenue punch: Operational improvements help to boost the bottom line, while real-time reporting paints an accurate, up-to-the-minute picture of that bottom line.

Rolling it up

Village Green Apartments installed Intuit’s MRI Residential property management software in 2003, implementing both the leasing and accounting facets of the suite. The company had previously used an in-house accounting and property management software product for the nearly 35,000 apartments it manages, mostly located in the Midwest. “We wanted to go to the next generation, which was Web-based products,” said Mirriam Livingstone, vice president of internal auditing and operations at the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based developer. “We wanted check scanning and the ability to have roll-up reporting.”

Rent checks at Village Green’s communities would be posted manually during rent week, with on-site managers shuttling back and forth between the office and the bank. But the electronic payment options available through the MRI suite, such as the ability to scan checks and convert the information into an electronic funds transfer, have made rent week much more manageable.

“It allows us to scan checks in minutes instead of the hours that it had taken before, posting manually,” Livingstone said. “Also, it saves us the time and effort of trips to the bank. What we have gotten is increased time that allows our leasing consultants to focus on our residents and to lease apartments.” (For more on electronic payment technology, see "Taking Back Rent Week")

What’s more, key financial data is updated in real time, another big advantage of a Web-based system. In the past, data had to be uploaded into the system each night, so that the accounting department was always one day behind the individual properties’ tallies, which made an accurate cash-flow picture impossible.

The roll-up reporting feature of Intuit’s MRI software synthesizes property performance data based on user demands. And since it’s Web-based, various levels of executives in the field can log in and measure the performance of particular properties or portfolios. “We now have the ability for an area director to log on to MRI and look at their portfolio,” said Livingstone. “Vice presidents can log in by region and look at their information. We also have the ability for the executive officer to log in and look at the entire company.”

Facility management was another important feature for Village Green. All of the maintenance service requests from their residents are integrated with MRI though the software’s facility management feature. “That has been a tremendous help to us relative to being able to quantify the numbers per property and to quantify if we had any trends in services that we needed to address,” Livingstone said.

Integration is key

For Simpson Housing, L.P., the linking of several third-party electronic services was a key reason for migrating to Intuit’s MRI Residential when it came time to upgrade from its old DOS-based rent roll system. The company has used MRI for about a year, piloting the program at four communities of varying sizes for four months and finishing the company-wide rollout at the end of July 2006.

“Their ability to integrate with our ancillary systems was important to us,” said Mike Casper, chief information officer and vice president at Simpson Housing, which manages about 25,000 units, with a concentration in the Pacific Northwest. “It was a really good fit with the systems that we had no desire to change.”

The ability of Intuit’s MRI to merge with the company’s revenue management software, the Rainmaker Group’s LRO, was key. In the past, on-site resident managers would have to print out price sheets each day, depending on changes to the tenant traffic and market data.

“Those things are now integrated into the system,” he said. “There’s no entering information in the revenue management system and then entering it into MRI—it’s in one central place.” (For more on revenue management software, see "Raising the Bar".)

Simpson Housing’s rent and revenue data are also linked with the screening service that the company uses, a connection that helps the company track a resident from the time they’re a prospect to the time they move in, eliminating duplicate data entry for each phase.

“Once you enter a prospective tenant, that’s the last time you have to do anything with that person,” Casper said. “You have them on the guest card, and you don’t have to re-enter them during screening because that process is now integrated.”

The MRI software ports the prospect’s info over to the screening service, which responds with one of three verdicts: accepted, accepted with conditions, or declined. If declined, the software won’t allow the user to go any further. But if accepted or accepted with conditions, the tenant information is ported directly into MRI. “In the past, you had to do it all off-system—you would take those results, put them back into your property management system, and move forward,” he said.

Integration with third-party call centers and the ability of MRI to port rent price information to Internet listing services are some of the other automated processes offered by the suite. The data from both of those functions used to be entered manually. “When you have a consolidated, centralized system, you’re able to do these things once instead of a hundred times, which makes my life a lot easier,” Casper said. “It has allowed us to streamline our workflow.” In April, Intuit unveiled version 4.0 of MRI Residential, dubbed “Access 24/7.” The upgrade features a reduced electronic payment processing fee, and expanded electronic payment options, such as compliance with Check 21 (the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act) and ACH (or Automated Clearing House), an electronic network for financial transactions.