Welcome to “Three Questions,” an interview series that introduces you to real estate industry professionals, their businesses and how they interact with real estate standards with a goal of humanizing the tech side of the industry, fun included.
This week’s interview is with Chris Haran, Chief Technology Officer at Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED), based in Lisle, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Chris is the Chair of both the Cross-Platform Interoperability Workgroup and Showing Subgroup at RESO.
Q1: Your LinkedIn profile says “Technology should be invisible or beautiful.” I think that speaks well to your role as the Chair of the RESO Cross-Platform Interoperability Workgroup, where we work hard to do exactly that – to make tech quietly do its thing in an elegant way. In recent years, we’ve tackled Transaction Management as an area of real estate transactions that could use more standards. Why is that?
Chris: We chose transaction management because, at MRED, we had strategically talked with some of our brokerages about the idea that they needed to use a transaction management platform of some kind. We weren’t even saying you had to use this one or that one, it was just that it’s time to move more into the digital world to have more security, more efficiency and to really increase the amount of transaction management adoption in our marketplace.
When we said that, what we then heard back was, “Well, that would be great, except I’m using this platform, they’re using that platform, and we can’t talk to each other. I still have to email the contracts around, so I can’t do the transaction management the way I want to unless we’re all in the same system.”
Obviously, it’s hard to make everyone use the same system, and, at an MLS level, we didn’t want to choose who was going to be that transaction management platform. So the next step was interoperability and how we facilitate that conversation between those multiple vendors in the space.
Obviously, RESO is a great platform for that. Everyone comes to RESO with an understanding…I like to use the word “coopetition.” We’re obviously competing, but we’re cooperating at the same time on behalf of our shared customers. That was really the story that we brought to the transaction management vendors, and everyone else in that space and that ecosystem, and how interoperability got kicked off on that use case.
RESO: As of this recording, the transaction management fields have been moved over to the Data Dictionary Workgroup for further scrutiny.
Chris: That is correct. We’re on our second version of it, and we’re really excited about the shape that’s starting to take place with the transaction management resources we’ve put together.
Part of what the Interoperability Workgroup does outside of creating the resources, like for transaction management, is adding to existing resources.
As an example, we’ve added things to the Contacts resource, because that’s a really heavily used field within transaction management. It’s obviously a resource that already exists at RESO, and this is a good way to get adoption of that resource and to also give something back of value to the transaction management platforms.
Q2: You are the chair of the Data Dictionary’s Showing Subgroup, which has involved a series of gatherings of subject matter experts in the showing space. Can you talk about the directive and process of that group?
Chris: So the directive of that group was very, very simple in that we had gone from an environment where there was really just one major player to all of a sudden a lot of new entrants came into the space.
The issue is that showings are such a critical part of an agent’s day-to-day life that the network effect built up from everyone using the same system was something that nobody at an MLS level wanted to break. But we also want to make sure that we’re offering that choice if someone wanted to bring in a different partner, they could do that. But, again, we needed to have those systems be able to talk to each other – even more so than on the transaction management side.
So, from a showings perspective, we needed to come up with a standard of, you know, how do we trade that appointment information? How do we make it so you can have requests go back and forth between these providers?
RESO already had a Showing resource and a Showing group. The Showing group was very focused on the MLS side of things and what’s pushing into a showing system. The Showing resource was much more about a static appointment that’s already done, and we needed it to be a little more real-time, a little bit more interactive than what it was, so that’s what this group came together to do.
We have all these different people coming into the space, and we want to make sure that we’re supporting our subscribers, our shared customers, and so we need to figure out what we can share back and forth. What’s core that needs to be standardized and can be shared versus what’s going to make you guys different? What’s going to be your differentiator to your competitors?
Q3: MRED’s leadership squad employs a lean agile team concept that involves technology, information, product and revenue. Can you explain how that works and how the heck a marketing guy ends up as the CTO for one of the largest MLSs in the country?
Chris: Fascinating conversation there. When I did my interview with Rebecca [Jensen, CEO of MRED and RESO Board of Directors Chair], I was very up front with her in saying, “If you’re asking me to sit down and code or develop something. I’m not going to be that guy.”
I got into technology because, on the brokerage side of things, I started in marketing, and at the time, we were really heavily into print advertising. And then the recession hit, and everyone was looking to slash budgets and save costs, and the way to do that was to cut a bunch of money out of print.
But then you had to find somewhere to put it, and that was where digital advertising started to take off. So I became part of technology just by virtue of the fact that we had to have another advertising vehicle.
And, really, to me, everything always comes back to sales. Like, everything in any business comes back to sales, and technology is a big part of the sales process these days.
So that’s how I got into technology, and, yes, I do think I have a great skill at understanding what a true technology developer is saying and then being able to translate that back to the business side of things. I like to call myself the interpreter of the organization.
RESO: Ohhh, the Chief Interpreter. So how, in that agile system…how do you work with your colleagues at MRED?
Chris: MRED is definitely very lean. We are 30 people for 49 or 50 thousand subscribers, and we are one of the top MLSs in the country by size. We make sure that we have a lot of leverage with different development firms or outsource companies. From an agile perspective, the reason why that works so well for us is because we are very process-driven.
So even with RESO, as a good example, all of the meeting agendas that I create and the processes that I follow for our different workgroups are MRED processes. My agenda formats come from how we do it internally.
RESO (sarcastically): Ah, that’s why they’re so screwed up.
Chris (laughing): When you’re running a lot of projects like we are, and you have the people that we do and resources that we do – they’re a great team at MRED – but you have to have great processes to keep in line so nothing falls through the cracks. And that’s where agile really helps you. You can do a weeklong interaction, and if something’s not working, dump it and move on to the next thing.
RESO: That’s kind of three and a half questions, sorry. Broke my own format. Well, we’re done here, Chris, so this is Greg and Chris in front of a Viking ship of moss.