Often small changes made behind the scenes of a technology can have a huge impact on what the future holds. Page ranking changed how we access information. Onion routers gave rise to the dark web. Hashing made Bitcoin possible. Only a small number of skilled technologists understand these changes as they happen, even though we all stand to be affected by them.
I am not one of those skilled technologists. I can’t code and I only have a basic understanding of how software goes from an idea to a living slice of information. Luckily, I make it a habit to keep in contact with people way smarter than myself. One of the people in that admittedly large subgroup is Vishu Ramanathan, CEO of Buildout. His company is a marketing solution that can automatically generate and market professional quality media for commercial real estate. He relies on data from many different sources such as email, CRMs and listing sites.
“In the bad old early days of integration on the web everyone used a language called SOAP to share information and it was a huge pain in the ass,” he said candidly. You see, different software systems (like websites and operating systems) have different application programming interfaces or APIs. In order for them to be able to communicate in the same language, protocols have to be defined. SOAP, developed by Microsoft, is one way of doing that. Apparently it is not as simple as the acronym would lead you to believe. Every time information is to be shared using the SOAP technique, a XML file had to be created. This made sharing complex data cumbersome as data requests need to be made manually and are intolerant to errors. But things are changing.
“Now there is a new alternative called REST,” Vishu continued. REST stands for Representational State Transfer and might be named after what it allows developers to do. “Now, we can integrate with data from all types of sources without the need for a dedicated integration engineer.” Vishu’s company uses information from a variety of sources including Salesforce-based partners and non.
Now that more and more companies are able to integrate important information automatically, we are moving closer to open source data. You see, data is a resource, so many players in real estate have decided that the best way to utilize the resource is to control it. But unlike a commodity, information has a way of becoming more valuable when it is shared. That is because of the innovation that can come from the exchange. While owning data is valuable, using it to create new things is the best route to long-term monetization. The full potential of data can only be realized when the maximum amount of people are allowed to access it.
Small companies trying to gain access to CRE data no longer have to feel like they are battling the industry’s biggest data mongers. Now, they can add themselves to the growing collective of partners that are happy to share their information in return for additional data. The collective size of these open data partners is starting to rival even the biggest CRE tech players that choose to continue to protect their proprietary information.
The big winner though, is the consumer. Seamless data integration creates a ton of efficiencies for professionals. They don’t have to spend extra time entering data into multiple interfaces. Once the keystrokes have been made and the info has been input into any one of the partners systems, the rest of the process can be fully automated. Buildout can send a full email marketing campaign through Mailchimp by accessing listing information from its customers’ CRM. By combining these two services both the Buildout and its partner CRMs experience an increased value proposition.
The balance of power is starting to move away from those who hoard data and towards those that share it. The increase in insights and innovation that will come from this will positively benefit anyone that deals with commercial real estate. It is all due to a change in protocol, allowing information exchange to be more frictionless for everyone involved. I still can’t say I understand all of the idiosyncrasies of REST over SOAP, but, thanks to Vishu, I am able to see what is in store for the future. In the end, isn’t that the best reason to stay educated on subjects that are way over our heads?