As TRIBUS’ VP of Product, I spend about 30% of my time managing our integrations. This includes everything from basic introductions and discovery to the scope creation and Q&A throughout the build process, and ultimately managing the relationship throughout the life of the integration.
Integration needs are very common for real estate brokerage companies today, so having good vendor relationships is key. Here are some tips on what to look out for and how to best navigate your next integration.
When to begin the conversation
If you know you’re looking to have a brand new vendor integrate with another, go ahead and have this conversation before you sign an agreement. That way, you can answer all of the unknowns like options, cost, timelines, etc. before signing on. Not to mention, some integrations may not be compatible and certain features may not be possible. This could be due to technical limitations or simply what the vendor is willing to offer, but no matter the reason, it’s much better to know your limitations up-front.
One of the least favorite questions that I get asked is “Can TRIBUS integrate with ________?”. Unless I’m extremely familiar with that other product or we happen to already have an integration with them, I’m probably not the best person to answer that question… yet.
The first part of the question is an easy one – can TRIBUS integrate…. We make sure that our brokers own all of the data that they put into our system (roster, clients, listings, sales, and so on). Then we house all of that data in an open API that’s accessible to any integration the brokerage approves of. No problem there.
It’s the second half of the question that’s the tricky part – …with ________. To answer this question, I’ll need more information.
- Is it possible for the other vendor to integrate? In this case, it definitely takes two to tango.
- What are the expectations of the integration? What we’re able to do is influenced by the features and limitations of each of the system. For example, building a single sign on is very different than syndicating listing and roster data.
The primary purpose of an integration is to make life easier. Begin by painting us a picture of what the ideal integration would look like so that we can take the next step – finding out if it’s possible.
Questions to ask
As you’re contemplating your next integration, there are a few questions I’d recommend you work into the conversation with your vendors.
- What data should be shared?
For smaller applications, it may be ok if all data is made available to each integration. However, the bigger the system, there may be some restrictions you want to enforce – like which data sets to share, or what type of access is granted (view/create/edit/delete).
- What integration format is accepted?
Is the vendor flexible or do they require a certain feed type (API, XML) or SSO (OAuth, SAML). This is also a good time to ask for documentation!
- Who will be responsible for development?
Is this an equal partnership where each vendor is responsible for some development? Or will one be taking the lead?
- Is a staging or testing environment available?
It makes me nervous when some integrations give us full production-level access on day one. I’d much prefer a safe development environment to build and test with, and then upgraded access to real-life data once the integration is complete. If this isn’t available, I understand, but at least we’re aware of the environment we’ll be working in.
- Will there be any ongoing cost?
It’s rare, but I have seen integrations increase monthly fees charged to a brokerage just to manage a new integration. This would factor into your decision making process before you green light any development work, so make sure to find out if ongoing fees would apply.
- How do they handle GDPR?
When a customer requests that their account be deleted, it’s not only your responsibility to delete any record of them from your system, but also any system you’ve sent their data to. The simplest way to approach this with an integration is to make sure not only account deletions are in sync, but deletions as well.
When things go badly
Over the years, I’ve seen more than my fair share of vendors who don’t want to play nicely with others. This can happen because of outdated technology, but most often it’s actually ego and fear – the other party is worried that if they share data with another vendor that their customers may begin to think they’re no longer as valuable.
As the client, and especially for larger brokers, being a bit demanding can help. Especially if you know that a handful of other customers would also benefit from this integration, you can pool your resources and ask everyone to make the same request. Try to set clear expectations with the other vendor, and if their unwillingness to integrate could cost them a renewal, let them know – it may get them to change their mind.
When things go well
More often than not, we have wonderful experiences working with other vendors in the real estate industry.
Here are a few of my favorites to work with, and who we’re proud to call our integration partners.