MLSs with well-documented business rules can move to a new MLS system, add additional front-ends, or integrate other software that also requires use of business rules with a lot less friction and do so much more swiftly than MLSs that do not. That was a big motivation behind a large number of volunteers within the RESO Research and Development Workgroup who spearheaded a two-year effort to create a new best practices reference manual termed Real Estate Business Rules, or REBR, on how an MLS can expose their technical business rules in an English manner.
The idea behind creating a best practices method for real estate business rules is terrific: smoother conversions, more software choice, and enhanced competition and innovation. The practicality is that it’s a tough area to make changes, because legacy systems abound and many applications operate in silos. Often vendors dictate what companies rely on for business rules and turn to a particular Business Rules Engine (BRE) technology for an easy answer.
We end up with rules written embedded in software that is written in “computerese” and so the business stakeholders have no idea what the rules really say and, sometimes, it can be painful or nearly impossible for the rules to be changed as a result. The irony is that the very people who make and are responsible for the rules often do not have insight into what has been implemented in terms of the business rules in the software their members or agents are using.
Rules in Plain English
That’s why about a dozen RESO R&D Workgroup volunteers, including a lot of extra time and energy invested by Matt Cohen of Clareity, Susie Cass of RPR, Greg Moore of RMLS and Amod Singhal of Vigyan, Inc., labored to create a new document to help with this effort.
The result of their work is “REBR: A Standard Notation for Real Estate Business Rules – Reference Manual,” a 76-page document available to MLSs, technology companies and brokerages. The approach the group used is based on what is known as RuleSpeak, a well-documented business rule notation that’s been around since the 1990s.
The benefit of RuleSpeak is its ability to use “Structured English” to express business rules, even complex ones, in non-technical language using business vocabulary. Noting there is a big learning curve to correctly use Structured English, the group found a way to solve this issue. It was able to create just six real estate business rules, with fewer than 20 syntactic variants, to fully specify most of the business rules governing input of listing data for most MLSs.
Supporting Agents and Promoting Choice
The business decision for this approach to real estate business rules for Greg Moore at RMLS is to be ready for today’s technology. Greg points to what is happening with mobile as a dominant tool for an agent’s daily life. “It really is their tool on the go,” he said.
“You may not want to add a listing on your iPhone,” he adds, but business rules could allow you to make “a change in the status and maybe even to do some light edits, so I can change the price, and I can add some pictures.” He emphasizes that when an MLS offers technology companies a standard sent of business rules, “It really empowers you as a provider,” and that can help MLSs better serve their members. “I can give these human consumable business rules to a mobile vendor and say, ‘Here they are; you can build it too.'”
Greg believes that these REBR best practices his group has created, “helps gives the broker that cool opportunity to really choose. I’m going to sound old school, but it’s kind of like the MLS is a robust utility system with RESO standards, great data in real time, giving different brokers different choices.”
Brokers often get stuck with cookie-cutter technology that prevents them from giving their agents the kind of support they would like to, and Greg sees the underlying fault is often in the business rules.
“Brokerages are often investing millions of dollars into technology systems and then discover it’s not always doing what they want it to do. Imagine that agents could just walk through a house, check off the features in their mobile app – appliances, the amenities in the bathroom, or the yard – and not have to go back to the office and remember everything to enter for a listing or have to look at notes, but do it all at once. Our approach to business rules is all about choice, competition, and innovation,” he said.
Decoding the software business rules into human language helps business decision makers make better decisions.
Benefits for MLSs
The R&D Workgroup participants wanted to make a contribution to help deliver:
- Smoother conversions for MLSs
- More software choices for MLSs, and
- Enhanced competition and innovation among technology providers, which is also good for MLSs, brokers and agents
They believe their new work helps advance these ideas.
“It’s the power in the language that gives back to the business side,” Greg said. “In any MLS organization, large or small, the programmer’s job shouldn’t be to be the business analyst. Let the business people make the rules so they can see what’s there, understand it, edit it, tweak it, and build on it. Business rules should really drive down implementation costs. It removes a lot of errors,” Greg added.
One HUGE caveat: This set of best practices is limited to exposing business rules from an MLS system into Structured English for the purpose of human consumption. This set of best practices doesn’t support technology-to-technology communications, such as technically supporting business rules that pushes listings from one technology platform to another.
If you would like a copy of the new “REBR: A Standard Notation for Real Estate Business Rules – Reference Manual,” go to our RESO website here to download your free PDF copy. And you if would like more information about joining RESO, visit our member benefits page here.
Jeremy Crawford is the CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization, or RESO, the organization responsible for the creation, promotion, adoption and utilization of standards to drive efficiency throughout the real estate industry.