Colliers International Builds Competitive Advantage by Using CRM Solution

After roughly doubling in size in two years, Colliers International sought a standardized customer relationship management platform that would help the company make the most of its unique combination of geographic breadth and local expertise. After considering other platforms, Colliers chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM because of its ease of use, technical flexibility, and the Real Estate Advantage solution from Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Ascendix Technologies. The solution from Ascendix adds industry-specific functionality to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and saved Colliers at least eight months of custom development. Brokers can now find and share information about clients, transactions, and properties without having to search separate systems. And, through Microsoft SharePoint Server, people throughout the company have the information they need to make better decisions.

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*The Link application built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM strengthens collaboration and information sharing within Colliers, which is key to differentiating ourselves from competitors.*

Veresh Sita,
Global CIO, Colliers International

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Situation

Colliers International is like a U.S.$2 billion startup, says Durgesh Sharma, Vice President of Global IT at Colliers, the world’s third-largest commercial real-estate services firm. The company combines decades of deep expertise in all aspects of the real-estate industry with the mindset more typically found in an agile and bold newcomer. That is his simple explanation of the unique mixture of broad geographic reach, technological innovation, and nimble collaboration that continues to transform the company.

In the past three years, Colliers has expanded dramatically, roughly doubling its number of local offices and increasing annual revenue from $600 million to about $2 billion in 2010. The real-estate giant now employs 15,000 professionals in 61 countries. Each of the company’s 480 offices around the world enjoys autonomy in terms of business processes and systems. Because of this decentralized model, Colliers can offer clients deep specialization across the entire real-estate life cycle and local market expertise around the globe. “Colliers is growing, but we want to do so in a way that maximizes the advantages of our local offices,” explains Sharma. “We are using technology to harness the full capabilities of the organization to benefit our customers.”

The IT road map at Colliers reflects the company’s business strategy, and features six components of an integrated technology platform: business intelligence, enterprise search, unified communications, collaboration, content and knowledge management, and broker applications. “For our broker applications, we wanted to replace several, disparate legacy systems for managing contact, transaction, and property data with a single, integrated solution,” says Sharma. “We wanted to eliminate information silos that hindered collaboration among brokers, discovery of new opportunities, and market insights that can benefit our customers.”

Specifically, Colliers envisioned a solution that would provide brokers with a 360-degree view of:
  • Contacts, including activities and interactions, profiles of target properties, marketing lists, and campaigns.
  • Companies, including contacts within a company; portfolios of properties owned, leased, and managed; and relationships.
  • Properties and projects, including contacts relating to a property, interactive maps, sale and lease comparables, property and project information, tenants, and stacking plans.

Solution
Colliers quickly determined that the existing customer relationship management software it had in place in its North American and Australia–New Zealand operations was unable to accommodate all that the company had planned. Looking for a new platform, Colliers compared a number of customer relationship management platforms. “We discounted some platforms early on because of limitations in customizing the solution for industry-specific requirements and the need for tighter integration with existing applications,” says Sharma. “Similarly, being a Microsoft shop, we lacked the specialized development expertise needed to extensively customize on other platforms, which would have meant having to hire expensive development consultants if we had gone that route.”

Link is available directly within Outlook, in web browsers, and on mobile devices.
Link is available directly within Outlook, in web browsers, and on mobile devices.
When Colliers learned about the Real Estate Advantage solution from Microsoft Gold Certified PartnerAscendix Technologies, the balance swung in favor of Microsoft. Real Estate Advantage adds industry-specific functionality to Microsoft Dynamics CRM for brokerages, owners and operators, and capital-market entities such as real-estate investment trusts.

“Ascendix has done a great job of creating the basic capabilities that any property management or real-estate brokerage would need,” says Sharma. “What we’ve endeavored to do is take that foundation and create a real competitive differentiation, developing capabilities that amplify our broad reach and deep specialization to bring added value to our customers.”

A Multiregional Rollout
Building on the enhancements of Real Estate Advantage, Colliers piloted its Link solution based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM in five months. The company is in the midst of enhancing the solution and deploying it in different regions around the world. So far, Colliers has rolled out Link to approximately 700 brokers in North America and 50 brokers in Europe. Next, the company plans to next deploy Link to its team in the Australia–New Zealand region. Within the next few years, approximately 5,000 brokers will have access to regional Link systems hosted in Prague, Toronto, and Sydney. To accommodate international requirements, Colliers took advantage of the multilingual and multicurrency capabilities in Microsoft Dynamics CRM and functionality to convert imperial measurement to metric measurement.

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*By building on what Ascendix has already done with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we saved at least eight months of development …. For a growing company with nearly $2 billion in revenue, that was very important to us.*

Durgesh Sharma,
Vice President of Global IT, Colliers International

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Tools to Empower Producers

Employees at Colliers use Link to access information, schedule and track activities, generate reports, and manage sales projects and marketing campaigns. Because these functional areas are integrated, employees can track lists of accounts, contacts, and leads that match a specific set of criteria that spans sales, marketing, and service. In addition, brokers can access Link functionality from directly within Microsoft Outlook, and the two programs are connected so that changes made to contacts in Outlook are automatically reflected in Link, and vice versa.

Link enables brokers to investigate market opportunities with built-in mapping capability powered by Bing Maps for Enterprise. Colliers customized the mapping function so that brokers can draw a custom polygon on top of a map and then apply specific search filters. Search results appear in tabular form and as colored pins on the map. A Bird’s Eye view is also available, helping brokers to better understand a property and its surrounding landscape.

Integration with Business Systems
To provide brokers with a 360-degree view of client, transaction, and property information, Colliers created connections between Link, which stores data about clients, and the company’s Deal Tracking System (DTS), which records the status of deals, invoices and payments received, and information about sales pipelines and broker commissions. “DTS reads client and property data stored in Link,” says Sharma. “And, after we complete a deal, all the details related to that transaction are uploaded to Link.” Similarly, Colliers built connections between Link and the company’s SPEX real-time database of market listings. This integration enables brokers to view and report on sale and lease comparables from within Link.

Connections to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007
Brokers and managers at Colliers can view reports generated in Link on the company’s Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 portal. Colliers is currently working on creating dashboards that dynamically reflect the same type of data but in a format that people can easily scan. The company has also implemented similar functionality for clients, enabling them to view relevant property and activity information imported from Link online.

“Now, we take full advantage of the way that Microsoft products and technologies work together to facilitate employee collaboration,” says Sharma. For example, Colliers used Office SharePoint Server as the basis for its Our People application that lets employees identify and connect with colleagues who may be able to help them capture a new opportunity. “Our People and Link work together to help brokers team up to provide the best service possible to clients,” says Sharma. “Now, it’s easier for someone with hotel expertise or connections in one city to work with a colleague located in another city, if that’s what is best for the client. Eventually, we plan to connect Microsoft Office Communications Server to our telephony system. That way, our employees can easily see when a colleague is available to talk and initiate a call with a click of a button.”
Link includes mapping capability to facilitate market research.
Link includes mapping capability to facilitate market research.


Benefits
Colliers International uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM to capitalize on its unique strengths as a global commercial real-estate powerhouse with highly decentralized operations. “The Link application built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM strengthens collaboration and information sharing within Colliers, which is key to differentiating ourselves from competitors,” says Veresh Sita, Global CIO at Colliers.

Improved Information Access and Quality
By implementing a standardized customer relationship management solution for each geographic region, Colliers gains visibility into business operations in those regions. And, because of the way that Link integrates seamlessly with Office SharePoint Server, employees without direct access to the broker application can benefit from the data as well. “We haven’t touted it this way, but Link provides decision makers throughout our company with improved business intelligence,” says Janice Lai, Business Application Manager at Colliers. “Producers have the information they need to drive a better deal for their clients, optimize building utilization, or proactively position their clients in light of emerging market trends. Some of our offices in North America have even enhanced their recruiting strategy based on the availability of these types of collaboration tools.”

Local offices in the Colliers network tremendously improved the quality of their client information with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. “During one of our first implementations, we asked 35 brokers in one metropolitan region to provide us with their contact information,” recalls Sharma. “We received approximately 70,000 contacts, but trimmed that number through consolidation to just 22,000 contacts. Link automatically synchronizes with client records and activities in Outlook so that this type of data duplication is virtually eliminated. As a result, our brokers have greater confidence and are more productive. Link is a valuable, go-to resource for client research.”

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*Producers have the information they need to drive a better deal for their clients, optimize building utilization, or proactively position their clients in light of emerging market trends.*

Janice Lai,
Business Application Manager, Colliers International

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Service Excellence

As Colliers continues to grow, the company’s leaders want to maintain the autonomy of local offices but facilitate collaboration among those offices. “Built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Link is a key component in our strategy of enabling brokers in the Colliers network to work with one another more easily,” explains Sharma. “We believe our clients will benefit when we can bring together teams of varied local and industry expertise. Service excellence requires collaboration throughout the company, but it’s a significant organizational challenge. Link is a great example of how technology can help with cultural transformation within an organization.”

Enhanced Producer Effectiveness
Link simplifies everyday producer tasks and eliminates the need to record and look for client information in a stand-alone system. Available within Outlook, web browsers, and mobile devices, Link promotes fast user adoption because it borrows the familiar user interface and navigation of Outlook. “Because it is built by Microsoft, Microsoft Dynamics CRM takes advantage of what employees already know about Outlook and other Microsoft Office applications. If people know how to use email, search contacts, and schedule tasks and appointments in Outlook, they can begin using Link right away,” says Sharma. “Most importantly, the solution improves the effectiveness of our brokers in attracting and retaining clients while reducing the time spent on administrative tasks. This has been our primary message when promoting the solution to our regional operations.”

Faster Time-to-Market
Instead of having to develop commercial real-estate functionality on its own, Colliers saved time and resources by using the Real Estate Advantage solution from Ascendix. “By building on what Ascendix has already done with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we saved at least eight months of development and radically decreased our time-to-market,” says Sharma. “For a growing company with nearly $2 billion in revenue, that was very important to us. Our in-house development team continues to work on the next versions of Link, and we are looking forward to the next release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which will add powerful new capabilities.”

Additional Resources

Microsoft Dynamics
Microsoft Dynamics is a line of integrated, adaptable business management solutions that enables you and your people to make business decisions with greater confidence. Microsoft Dynamics works like familiar Microsoft software such as Microsoft Office, which means less of a learning curve for your people, so they can get up and running quickly and focus on what’s most important. And because it is from Microsoft, it easily works with the systems that your company already has implemented. By automating and streamlining financial, customer relationship, and supply chain processes, Microsoft Dynamics brings together people, processes, and technologies, increasing the productivity and effectiveness of your business, and helping you drive business success.

For more information about Microsoft Dynamics, go to:
www.microsoft.com/dynamics

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:

www.microsoft.com

For more information about Colliers International products and services, call (206) 223-0866 or visit the website at:
www.colliers.com

For more information about Ascendix Technologies products and services, call (972) 889-8090 and select option #2, or visit the website at:
www.ascendix.com

Customer Size: Large Organization
Industry: Other Services; Professional Services
Country or Region: United States
Solutions:
Organization Profile:

With 15,000 real-estate professionals in 480 offices worldwide, Colliers International is the third-largest commercial real-estate firm, offering a combination of deep expertise and a broad range of services.

Business Situation:

To capitalize on its decentralized organization and rapid growth, Colliers wanted a standard customer relationship management solution that would give brokers a 360-degree view of clients, transactions, and properties.

Benefits:
  • Improved information access and quality
  • Service excellence
  • Enhanced producer effectiveness
  • Faster time-to-market
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