Cadillac Fairview extolls new extranet

Although the large paper-based leasing binder for Cadillac Fairview Corpo- ration Ltd. was award-winning and popular within the real estate industry, it had to go. The binder contained critical information about Cadillac Fairview — real estate property data for leasing managers and brokers such as square footage, floor plans, location and demographics — but creating the binder was a labour-intensive process, said Scot Adams, senior vice-president and CTO for Cadillac Fairview.

It took more than 1,000 hours to prepare the information, which was often out of date the day it was printed, Adams said. He added that it cost $500,000 to produce the 200 binders Cadillac Fairview sent out to its representatives, which wasn’t a good value proposition.

During a presentation in January at the IBM Lotusphere user conference in Orlando, Adams said the Toronto-based commercial real estate firm — whose leased properties include Toronto’s Eaton Centre — recently adopted an IBM Corp. Lotus Domino extranet Web solution. The company replaced the paper binder with an online, real-time product that can be accessed via the Internet or by using RIM Ltd. BlackBerry devices.

The IT environment consisted of various legacy apps and servers, including IBM AS/400 and Lotus Notes databases. The firm wanted to create a portal for data collection but didn’t want to adopt a “slash and burn” approach, Adams said. Cadillac wanted a solution that could be integrated with the current IT environment and felt that this could be achieved by using Lotus Domino 6.5 Web software. The real estate firm worked with Toronto-based integrator Point Alliance Inc. to implement the solution.

A longtime Lotus Notes user, Cadillac Fairview felt the Web solution could be more tightly integrated with the existing infrastructure. The Domino 6.5 software ties messaging and collaborative applications into a portal user interface, giving users authenticated access to Lotus Domino data. Cadillac also deployed Lotus Enterprise Integrator 6.5, which allows for data transfer and real-time access to host and relational data systems including IBM’s DB2 and Microsoft Corp.’s SQL 2000. The software also lets users access data via BlackBerry devices. Brokers receive passwords and, using a Web browser, can access detailed property data such as demographics, pricing and availability.

With the new online version of the leasing binder — — leasing brokers and agents can now update and view property information in real time, Adams said. The site also functions as a portal for data collection and is available to the general public. Cadillac Fairview stores floor maps in PDF format on the portal so people can download and print the documents, Adams said. Information can also be downloaded for offline use.

But doing away with the paper-based leasing binder did mean that the firm had to overcome some technological resistance from users, Adams said. There was an initial pushback from the brokers, who were so used to the paper binder that they didn’t really want to make the switch to a real-time solution, Adams said.

If the company could do the project all over again, it could have made the transition a little smoother by more closely involving brokers in the process, Adams said. But once brokers and leasing managers used it, particularly with their BlackBerrys, the portal became popular and received 9,000 unique visitors in the first six months, he said.

The costs in the first year amounted to $427,000 — a substantial savings compared to the paper-based binder, Adams said, adding that Cadillac Fairview estimates it will save more than 85 per cent each subsequent year. The time it takes to update the site is now less than 50 hours per year, he said.