Rizwan Akhtar, CTO Business Technology, Realogy Holdings Corp
One of the most exciting things about leading a technology team within one of the industry’s largest residential real estate companies is that the real estate industry is only now catching up to others regarding the technological and digital transformation of processes and products. This means that my team and I can shape the future of this important industry and have a real impact on both how and what technology will be used throughout real estate. However, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and that is why the future of real estate needs to be an API powered open ecosystem.
Real estate agents and brokers are almost all independent contractors, they are entrepreneurs, and that means that they crave freedom, choice, and flexibility in every aspect of their working lives. Not to mention that over the past couple of years, an influx of billions of dollars has been pumped into real estate technology, which means that there are many different product choices for agents and brokers to use and grow to love. Therefore, I am a big proponent of open API technology, as it allows brokers and agents to choose from a plethora of our first-party solutions or seamlessly add their own. Not to mention, it’s very awkward to say to a broker or agent, ‘hey, I know that you like using all these things you’ve been using, but if you join us, you can’t.’ We shouldn’t be so arrogant to think that just because we’re the biggest, we have all the best ideas. It’s been an epiphany for me, and the pace of innovation has increased dramatically.
While open API powered ecosystems are great and have been used for many years in many different industries, I still find that there are a great number of misconceptions about what it means to have a real open ecosystem, and it is my pleasure to dispel some of these notions. I also want to preface this by saying that these are just a few of the myths; there are a lot more than just what you will read below.
MYTH: Open Ecosystems Prevent Enterprises from Maintaining Valuable Data
To respond to this myth, I must first define what an open ecosystem is to my company and me. An open ecosystem is a way of enabling our brokers, agents, and franchisees to be able to have a free exchange of data between our and their systems, regardless of whether they use our first-party products or other third-party products. When viewing the ecosystem through this lens, it is easier to understand why our maintaining data is crucial to the integrity of the ecosystem. We are such a large enterprise that our data set stands alone in our industry; it not only powers the ecosystem but also incentivizes vendors to want to plug into our APIs as they can then gain access to the data.
This balance could only exist in a world where our enterprise can still own the data, and that is why this is a myth. An open ecosystem is simply a way of sharing data; however, it does not require completely handing over ownership rights to any of the proprietary data that is so important for an enterprise like ours to have. That data is used within our analytics across many different areas, including our predictive analytics and what we look at to better our customer service offerings.
MYTH: Having Too Many Options and Vendors within One Ecosystem Creates a Clunky and Lousy User Experience
This is one of the easiest myths to dispel, in my opinion. Firstly, a good ecosystem allows the user to seamlessly integrate one product with another with little to no impact on the actual user experience. In other words, if a broker wants to integrate a different product into our open ecosystem, the product will look and feel the same to the broker from the day before the integration to the day after. The difference is that now that product is powered with a massive amount of data that will help to make the product even more efficient.
“While open API powered ecosystems are great and have been used for many years in many different industries, I still find that there are a great number of misconceptions about what it means to have a real open ecosystem.”
Secondly, this obviously depends on your users and how they define the user experience. For example, in real estate, as I mentioned before, most agents and brokers are entrepreneurs and independent contractors, and many of them start to use specific products to optimize their business, even if it isn’t offered to them by their brokerages. So, for that user, the experience would be much worse for them to come work for a company and be told that the products that they like and feel comfortable using are no longer allowed to be used.
MYTH: Leveraging Open APIs is inherently Unsafe and Unsecure
This is an interesting one because it has some shades of truth to it. However, it is certainly untrue to say that as a blanket statement. However, as we have seen by recent news reports that cyberattacks are certainly targeting open API infrastructure, such as the Colonial Pipeline, and cybersecurity is certainly on the mind of technology professionals that are working within and building new APIs.
As I said, there is always a risk when you allow others to access your data and your network. If you give someone a small gateway into your world, they might be able to find a way into other parts of your network. However, the benefits far outweigh the risks. What is important is that it is the responsibility of the owners of the ecosystem to ensure its security. However, in full transparency, this is not something new or unique to open API ecosystems. Cyberattacks are on the rise and are not only targeting open ecosystems, but any ecosystem (open or closed) can be vulnerable and must be secured properly by those managing the ecosystems.
Open technology ecosystems offer a major benefit to businesses of all sizes, allowing them to service a wider customer base as well as those with unique needs. It also helps technology professionals better understand what their users prefer, why they prefer certain products, etc. This allows me, as a CTO, better plan our own product roadmap. And these are just some of the many benefits to an API powered open ecosystem, and it is why I firmly believe that open ecosystems are the future in Real Estate.
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