Solutions

An Englishman's home is his castle
Humberts uses FileMaker Pro to track and bill for fee-based projects for its nationwide network of offices

Humberts

The real estate business in England has traditionally been dominated by small companies, each focused on its immediate geographic area. Humberts, while based in London, set out to change that by consolidating many smaller offices into a national firm and bringing in modern systems.

Overview

  • One of largest UK real estate groups with 80 offices
  • Mixed rural, residential, commercial properties
  • Combined commission–based and fee–based revenues

Industry

  • Architecture/Real Estate
  • Small Business

Solutions

  • FileMaker Pro provides increased ability to track time and tasks

Benefits

  • Staff receives current overview of work done
  • Modernization and streamlining of paper–based documentation of time and tasks
  • As much as 20% increase in revenues where deployed

It was essential to have a robust application that could talk to our MS–SQL systems, was easy to use and maintain, and that required minimal user training. Developing a user interface that everyone could understand easily was imperative.

— Peter Clark, Chief Technical Officer, Humberts

Business Challenge

Rural England, with its rolling hills and quaint, small villages has an ageless beauty, which attracts people from all corners of the globe. But that same timelessness is sometimes accompanied by a traditional reluctance to adopt change, or accept new technologies.

Humberts, one of the UK's leading firms of estate agents, chartered surveyors and valuers, was established over 150 years ago. With a nationwide network of offices combining national expertise with strong local knowledge, Humberts' hallmark is quality of service.

As Humberts grew and absorbed a large number of smaller, established local real estate companies, management soon realized that substantial revenue was being lost because of the informal processes developed over many years used to track and bill for fee–based projects. CTO Peter Clark explained that in many cases, timesheets were not being entered on the same day, which resulted in time being underestimated or, in some cases, never getting billed at all. And, Clark said, additional revenues were lost when staff spent excessive time on tasks that were flat–fee–based, without an easy way to establish which were most profitable.

"As we consolidated," Clark continued, "we knew it would be difficult to simply design and roll out a system for all offices without considerable testing; the application had to be developed while working closely with our offices and their staff to ensure it met their genuine needs, rather than what everybody believed they would need.

"It was essential to have a robust application that could talk to our MS–SQL systems, was easy to use and maintain, and that required minimal user training," Clark continued. "Developing a user interface that everyone could understand easily was imperative. FileMaker Pro is very well suited to this kind of prototyping because ideas can be revised easily and quickly."

Successful Solution

With years of experience in the real estate business, developer Allan Davidson brought not only a strong understanding of the many features in FileMaker Pro, he also understood what Humberts needed. Initial versions used FileMaker Server Advanced and Instant Web Publishing, which permitted rapid development cycles to implement features requested by users as well as needs that became clear as the software was used. The goal was to begin by rolling out one workgroup then another, and finally to all those needing access, leveraging the built–in support for Instant Web Publishing in FileMaker Pro so as to easily scale the number of users and support industry standard technology.

Most important, Davidson said, was the ability of FileMaker Pro to seamlessly pull data from SQL databases. "Humberts is an MS–SQL shop, so ensuring that the data could be retrieved directly from FileMaker Pro tables was very important. In fact," Davidson continued, "I think it would be fair to say that lack of it would have made the project unviable. The idea was to build something so Peter Clark would be able to extract the data directly when he wants to, anytime he wants to. It's hard to overstate that this was important – no SQL, no project was really pretty much what it boiled down to."

Davidson's solution provided Humberts users with a series of very simple screens to quickly and easily enter time and expense data, or view data that had already been entered. To ensure accuracy and data consistency, drop–down menus and pick lists were used as much as possible. Now Humberts users can accurately enter data in less than 30 seconds, and view their work/expenses by project, by day or in many other ways, depending on what questions they may need to answer.

Additionally they also have an easy way to see what client instructions are in process and easily prioritize their most urgent tasks. The system lets them easily document work done for clients, as well as bill quickly. This improves cash flow and reduces the amount of outstanding receivables.

There are currently 5 workgroups on the system with more to be added. It uses two databases with approximately 20 tables and thousands of projects with a commensurate number of time documents.

Now Humberts users can accurately enter data in less than 30 seconds, and view their work/expenses by project, by day or in many other ways, depending on what questions they may need to answer

— Peter Clark, Chief Technical Officer, Humberts

Customer Benefits

The staff at Humberts like using the system and in some cases 20% or more additional time saved has been documented, which goes directly to the profit of the office. Humberts' clients also benefit as they now have detailed current information on the work that's being done for them.

For FileMaker:

Kevin Mallon
Public Relations Manager
FileMaker Inc.
408-987-7227
kevin_mallon@filemaker.com
http://www.filemaker.com

For Humberts Group:

Peter Clark
CTO
Humberts Group
44 20 7491-8888
peter.clark@humbertsgroup.co.uk
http://www.humberts.co.uk