Ireland’s Best Managed Companies: Management practices making an impact – Digital Transformation and Data

BidX1 took proptech to new heights, anticipating market needs with digital end-to-end processes driven by data insights

Mike Murphy, chief executive, BidX1 or Yvonne Byrne, partner lead, Digital Transformation at Deloitte Ireland

It is often noted that the pandemic accelerated digital transformation in many sectors. Property was not immune to this effect, and when lockdowns bit, there was a rush to provide virtual viewings, 360° walk-throughs and live web chats.

However, Mike Murphy, chief executive of BidX1, a 2021 Deloitte Best Managed Companies winner, is quick to highlight that these measures were weighted towards the early stages of the buying process, ignoring where digitalisation could bring the greatest benefit.

“These are brilliant services which improve customer experience; we use them ourselves. But they don’t alter the fundamentals of the property transaction process,” Murphy said.

BidX1 is a digital platform that connects users across the globe with real estate investment opportunities in five markets, and more importantly, enables them to complete the entire transaction online. A leader in the property technology (PropTech) space, the company was first established in Dublin in 2011, where it gained a reputation for large-scale auction events before transitioning to a digital model in 2015. That vision for a complete digital transaction path was ahead of its time.

“The end-to-end transaction is a different matter, and that’s where we really add value. We have built our tech from the ground up; the platform is tailored specifically for real estate transactions,” Murphy said.

Initially, Murphy said, the rationale to change was limited. “Our expertise had been built on these traditional auctions and we excelled in this field, with no competitors able to come close to our success rates or sale volumes.”

Stephen McCarthy, the company founder, was convinced that tech could improve the process of buying and selling property and, most importantly, that there was an appetite for this disruption from buyers and sellers.

Once the decision was made, the journey was swift.

“In less than two years, we had transitioned to a fully digital model,” Murphy said. “Becoming a ‘proptech’ company, building our platform – it was very much a conscious decision, not something we embarked on in a half-hearted way.”

Murphy observed the property market had been slow to go digital, perhaps due to a belief it was somehow exempt from the digital transformation overhauling other sectors, “an assumption that the nature and value of the assets made such transactions unique – and therefore unsuitable for digitalisation”, he said.

“We firmly believed that this wasn’t the case,” he said.

“In many ways, our digital model has been successful because we’ve been able to take the best aspects of the auction process – like transparency and efficiency – and incorporate them into a modern, online platform which is accessible and user-friendly,” Murphy said. “As consumers, we have come to expect online services which streamline processes, providing more flexibility and access. We are more likely to be surprised that we cannot do something remotely than to feel amazed when we can.

Yvonne Byrne, partner lead, Digital Transformation, Deloitte Ireland

“Property will not prove to be the outlier here. We will come to expect seamless online property transactions too. The next generation of buyers and sellers – digital natives – certainly will.”

There were challenges in going digital, Murphy said, and some were systemic, before even getting into the technical. “When it comes to due diligence, the existing process is back-to-front: buyers don’t even get to see the contract for sale or other legal documents, until they have already reached the ‘sale agreed’ phase.”

The seller’s legal pack, for example, should be made available online during the marketing period so that interested parties can access it prior to making an offer, Murphy said. “The sale is far less likely to fall through and the sale agreed period will be significantly shorter.”

“You wouldn’t buy a car without having all the information available upfront, and yet when it comes to high-value real estate purchases, we simply accept flying blind for the duration of the process.”

This was a key area where BidX1 could provide value and build on increasingly digital capabilities.

“We provide buyers with all the information upfront, including the full legal pack. At BidX1, we use technology to streamline the process: solicitors upload legal documents directly via our dedicated legal portal and potential buyers can view them on the relevant property page.”

“But this isn’t necessarily a technology-based solution. It’s just common sense,” Murphy said.

From a technical perspective, even with the pace of implementation, BidX1 learned important lessons about what to do in-house, what to outsource, and what to leave to specialist providers.

“When you consider the European real estate market, the opportunity is immense – but so is the sophistication required to take advantage of it. It has been challenging to build a multilingual, multi-currency platform, capable of handling the complexities of different regulatory environments and legal processes, while allowing a global investor base to transact property from wherever they are in the world.”

“You need proprietary technology because no third-party provider has the necessary expertise,” Murphy said. “But we’re not seeking to develop our own software for every service we offer as it is sometimes more effective to partner with external providers who are best-in-class in a given area – certain payment services, for example, or Know-Your-Customer processes. However, aligning our own platform with third-party suppliers can be complex, presenting a challenge for the business.”

Inevitably, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, there was an impact, but as a fully digital business, disruption for BidX1 was minimal.

“We were fortunate to be 100 per cent digital and cloud based, so remote working was already fully enabled in all markets for all employees. This meant that the transition from the office to full-time home working was a relatively straight-forward process,” Murphy said.

A central advantage of being a digital business is having access to, and visibility of, data.

“Our productivity and innovation agenda is driven by our data. The platform is an information powerhouse, capturing every datapoint along the customer and asset journey. This visibility allows us to pursue continuous improvements and efficiencies in those journeys – either for our own teams via internal systems or for our customers,” Murphy said.

“The transition to data-backed decision-making can be challenging. There are the practical challenges, of course, but there is also a mindset shift required. If we find ourselves debating something – a new feature on the platform or a solution to a perceived problem, for example – you are likely to hear the phrase ‘let’s make this a fact-based conversation’ fairly quickly. In our world, that means ‘let’s go and get some data on this’ and see what it can tell us.

“Expertise matters. Opinions matter. Even gut feelings matter. But a data mindset is crucial.”

That mindset change also carried through to structural changes.

“We hired a CIO to join our management team last year,” Murphy said. “Building the right technology is key, but gathering data from that technology to generate insights and identify improvements – and potentially new opportunities – is also crucial.”

“Technology and data are two sides of the same coin” he said. “Digitalisation allows for a holistic, end-to-end overview of your business – but only if you prioritise data capture and analysis alongside software development.”

“BidX1 is a great example of a business that takes a customer-centric approach with a business outcome focus on the journey towards digitalisation,” Yvonne Byrne, partner lead, Digital Transformation at Deloitte Ireland, said. “They focus on the problems they are trying to solve for their customers and the business, and their choices around technology and data solutions are led by this.

“Taking such an integrated and holistic approach will maximise the value of their investments and ensure they are selecting the right critical capabilities for their business, but more importantly it will avoid building or buying point solutions which ultimately may become obsolete, as they don’t fit into the bigger picture. Ensuring the business and technology functions are working hand in hand, with shared goals is crucial to delivering the right outcomes,” Byrne said.

BidX1 is one of 139 companies that are members of Ireland’s Best Managed Companies network. The programme is run by Deloitte Ireland in association with Bank of Ireland. More information see: deloitte.ie/bestmanaged