Property management is a complicated affair. You must maintain facilities with elaborate HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems, you must manage tenants, staff and payroll—not to mention insurance and other contracts.
As an R&D company working with a large developer in the Middle East, Urbanise recognized the problem and developed a comprehensive property management SaaS solution.
Today they help clients across the globe manage infrastructure, buildings, residential and commercial properties, as well as apartment buildings, strata commercial towers, and large housing communities.
On this edition of UpTech Report, Urbanise APAC Sales Director, Ashley Austin, explains how Urbanise entered this space and tech behind their solutions.
More information: https://www.urbanise.com/
With more than 15 years managing key accounts and large projects across the property, design and facilities sector, Ashley Austin is the Global Customer Development Director of Urbanise and is responsible for implementing and driving all sales, branding and marketing facets of the business within the APAC bubble.show more
Prior to his current role, Ashley was the CEO of the Wolf Group in Oman, where he was responsible for establishing and developing businesses in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
After building his career throughout London, Dubai, and Oman, Ashley returned to Melbourne to join Urbanise in 2014, coinciding with the company’s entry onto the ASX.show less
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Ashley Austin 0:00
Hello. So as soon as COVID dropped the shadow here, and we jumped on the planes within a millisecond of sitting down with a potential client or a current client, the penny drops, you just thought, geez, we’ve missed this. And it was just that connection with people. And it’s just, we all have to do business the way we are now over over the laptops. But I just think I really, really missed that interaction with people.
Alexander Ferguson 0:30
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our applied tech series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power video at Teraleap.io. Today, I’m excited to be joined by my guest, Ashley Austin, who’s based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the Asia APAC Sales Director for Urbanise. Welcome, Ashley, good to have you on evening. evening to you Well, yes, evening and morning to you. Now urbanise is a facilities and strata management software, kind of your sweet spot is for those in property development or government and your head of property operations or facility, this might be a platform that you’re gonna want to check out. Now, as I want you to help me understand like the beginning of of or the concept of where urbanise is focused on or actually in your websites as the world leading software for the property sector. Like what’s the the real challenge or problem that you guys are solving and focused on?
Ashley Austin 1:21
I think it’s it’s, it’s different for some sectors, but there’s usually a suppose a common thread. And so where we started, originally, Alex was very much in the Middle East in the Emirates. So urbanise was essentially an r&d office at a Melbourne with a bunch of developers would build tech platforms for banks and all different client base. What year is this? So I bet 2006 to 10 urbanise was doing Smart City work. Cisco were an investor into urbanise and urbanise, with the Smart City provider and the Middle East was one of those one of those footprints. And what fortuitously happened in Dubai was they they got suckered into email, which is an exceptionally large property developer over for the Dubai government. And they were tasked to build that resident focused technology for email. So those large gated communities where the expats would live. And that property portfolio that EMA built and developed, urbanise, build a lot of that resident facing technology and those ecommerce platforms where you can procure services, it was quite ahead of its time. And what happened then was it sort of got pushed into the large facility management companies that maintained those developments and communities on behalf of the developer. And honestly, I don’t think there’s any grand plan initially to become one of these now. As that
Alexander Ferguson 2:49
morphed as the the need started to rise, and that actually
Ashley Austin 2:53
did and I think what happened over the lock a lot of things, especially in in Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, if you can get lucky over there in terms of if you get that right client, it can really put you on the map. And then I suppose it bought a lot of attention to the development team in the smart suburban house. And we then listed on the ASX, in Australia in 2014. Okay, and then so I was based over the Middle East for for 10 years, and I moved back to Melbourne, I’m a development award, but um, I headed home 2014 when we IP owed on the stock exchange here. And essentially what we were in this part of the world was a bunch of developers in the Melbourne office. But we we leveraged what we did in Dubai. And essentially, it’s still, when people look at the the tech stack of urbanize. That part that we built in those really early stages is actually still an integral part and still probably a differentiator in terms of what we do against other say C double Miss platforms out there. It’s this a commerce it’s this resident focused, I suppose view of what we do
Alexander Ferguson 4:01
in a kind of prep chat before you are how we understand it’s this both being able to manage the property the facility, but it’s also this consumer facing or or rather, residential facing this ordering of services like like Uber like you can I want to get lawn care, I want to get whatever, and you’ve been like a third party where then all the service providers can be on that platform and get access to the residents as well.
Ashley Austin 4:23
Yeah, very much so. So I think it was it was revolutionary, then not so much. Now. I think it’s when we IPO that was the tagline on the iecex was Uber for the built environment. And and we ran with that it was I think we’ll put our hand up to see who came up with that. But it actually sort of it resonated it actually is what we were. And I think there’s definitely there’s other platforms in that space. But that part of what we did then just sort of sits in between an asset management, a strata platform, which is I think multifamily over in the in North America. And that Works management FMP. So we’ve sort of got those four or five moving bits. But when they work together, it’s really powerful. And actually, it’s quite good to it’s quite good to say, but it’s, that then gave us, I suppose, opportunities to push into sectors that weren’t. So the aged care, the retirement, the disability schemes, where those commerce platforms and those resident connection pieces and communication pieces are really critical. We sort of fell into those sectors, because we had that as a core part of the offering there from what we built in the Gulf. It’s like,
Alexander Ferguson 5:35
yeah, you had the technology. And so the these types of opportunities or facilities needed that type of management, and it was just a match now, now you joined six years ago, seven years ago,
Ashley Austin 5:46
seven, seven years this September. Yeah. So well, I was based over in the Middle East, I knew the guards really well from urban I was over there. I used to know that when sort of watched their growth and what they’re up to over in the Emirates and was one of those things a bit for tourists. We, my wife was more than happy to get back to Melbourne after those years away. And I think they needed some odd income from a technology background but I suppose that sales and that networking, the branding space, I was okay. And I was a Melbourne boy, we’re going to list on the ASX and Melbourne was head office. So it ties in well, and yeah, it really wasn’t. It’s one of those things that I probably I was a square peg in a round hole. And but what happened was, I think I needed urbanite as an urbanized needed late that stage. But it’s been a wonderful journey. And and I think what we’ve been able to do from in urban in what we do in Asia and South African some of these countries, and even though we’re only still fairly young into our journey, I think I think we should be pretty proud of what we’ve done so far.
Alexander Ferguson 6:48
What are you most excited about being in this space? now seeing how the technology can be used? Rather, before you have before a facility uses a technology like this? Like what’s, what’s the difference? What’s the problem that’s really being solved here and the difference I can make?
Ashley Austin 7:04
I think, the sometimes when we play with the more mature sectors, I enjoy that because I’ve seen it, I learned a lot from just sitting on the other side of the table with some of these, these operators, especially in the larger the mining sectors. And the larger utilities, they’re very refined, sophisticated, really know what they’re doing, I think urbanize is something that they’ve got a very different approach to some of the larger maybe engineering systems that they use, or they’ve been using before. But I’ve actually really enjoyed the I suppose the experience, and it’s an educational piece, for us to educate the some of those sectors that technology just has never been a part of. And I’m only talking probably from more Australia and New Zealand, where the the aged care, the retirement space and the disability scheme. There was very, very, very small percentage of those sorts of operators and entities to have any form of technology around the property space, or governance or risk or compliance or contractor management. And it’s been a it’s been a journey. But we’ve seen the success we’re had up to now it’s probably became because we’ve spent the time to understand the sector. And I think now’s an amazing time in terms of growth, and becoming a more of a mature sector in that space. And it’s really well funded by the governments. And it’s not a sector that we played in in the Emirates or Asia or South Africa. So it was one that I don’t think was on our radar initially, either. It was one that just we had the components of what we did in the Emirates, again, that some consultants had seen and said, that’s actually a really good fit. Because what it does, it connects the residents to the ER and all those key stakeholders. And it gives people a voice. And it’s been a it’s been a wonderful journey. I really enjoy watching some of those clients from inception when you first show them a tech platform. And you can sort of say the trepidation or the concern around how is this going to be a really large pieces of big business transformation? Is it something that’s going to maybe upset the applecart as they say, but it’s wonderful to, to watch it through the journey and watch our implementation team on board that and then that whole accounts management team take it and just to say that the results I think now more than ever in that sector, there was a royal commission recently into the age space and there’s a huge push now for technology, not just around property, but just around that that sector to really give it transparency and then some governance and risk mitigation but yeah, I’ve I’ve probably enjoyed watching how technology is actually pushed into because I know when I first came back from the Middle East, there was some sectors that have were a bit of a closed door they It was a nice to have never I must have with what we were what we do. And I think everything Barra finance platforms probably pushed out of the out of the door. But now, but now it’s more commonplace than ever.
Alexander Ferguson 10:11
Now I’m curious from your perspective of the global usage of technology, from Australia to the Middle East to to, you know, the, to the US. Is it like certain areas where that there’s a more of adoption, and it’s like, you know, Asia and Australia where they you have certain technology platforms that they use, they’re what prevents kind of adoption across the globe?
Ashley Austin 10:37
I suppose it’s been when we first IP owed at home, we went on the stock exchange. We we did we was very scattergun with our approach. And we had small clients in far flung places around the world, we realized very quickly, and I think most people do on that journey. It’s not the it’s not the best way to try to grow. It’s appealing, and it is nice to chase the shiny things at times. But I think probably the last three years we’ve had Inserm James Come on, as SEO is just been amazing. He’s been, he’s pulled in, I suppose some of the delusions of grandeur that we had, we went off and thought we were, we’re recreating something that look, I think the other thing is, places like the Emirates are a perfect fit and Cata. And what we do in Oman and Abu Dhabi and those places, we’ve got an exceptional business over there, and the guys have done a sterling job. But we have something that’s exceptionally different to some of our competitors there. And it’s that large residential platform with the strata pace, and the FM and asset management, but they’re integrated. And that was a number of years worth of effort from a huge team of our developers and Sofia, that have pulled that together with the same you and its sister. But what it’s done is it gives those large clients such as nickeil, Dubai, asset management, UDC and cat I mean, they’re massive names over there with a perfect platform that then for them to run all those key components off one single platform, and with all of our analytics laid over the top, so it really is just that perfect solution for that part of the world. And I think we we definitely are growth, and we raised a significant amount of money at the tail end of last year, that’s purely ranked growth, where before that we’ve got 5355 developers. So it’s substantial development, it’s always been around the growth of the two technology platforms and getting them to a certain level. We’re always very skinny in regards to pure sales. I mean, there was literally a small handful of us globally. And what we’re doing now is making sure that their headcount on the sales side, both direct and indirect, through channel partners and building their partner ecosystem, and having our own internal sales force starts to really mature and grow. And because we know now we’re probably got the, the structure, we’ve got their documentation on the back end, we have the clients globally, but I think it’s now time that we we put another board are very keen a lot of our investors just to take that next step. Not that scattergun approach that we did, you know, 678 years ago, but to make sure that it’s more targeted, but we’ve got the platform now that we know works in a number of Asian countries we know dominates in South Africa. And so we’d love look, to be honest, I think we all at the senior level have always thought at some stage, we would like everyone would would love to scratch the surface in North America and just sort of see where where we stand.
Alexander Ferguson 13:40
Yeah, the the the user experience, whether it’s residential, or it’s a facility property manager, I feel like everyone is wanting more. It’s like in today’s technology world, that everyone wants more, especially in the consumer environment. We’re all constantly getting new apps. And so in the business world works kind of expecting it. I’m curious, are you seeing it on the global scale? Is it is it everywhere? Are there certain countries or sectors that that really show a greater desire for an increase in tech solution in the business environment?
Ashley Austin 14:16
Yeah, I, I definitely think the company in that more mature space that I was talking about some of the really large, what we call here FM out sources, as large huge service providers. So they would have 1000s and 1000s of headcount all around the country, executing services for the government or habit. So they are very used to working off the back of a huge global tech platforms. And with that, is there’s a huge price tag to that, but the the the breadth and the depth of functionality is just incredible. And sometimes there’s an element of maybe it’s too much for some sectors or it’s too Big it’s a huge finance system and they’ve tacked on asset management and facility management, what we try to do is now probably were the best of breed, we believe over on this side. And we try to integrate and work really closely with some of those er, peas or some of those finance systems to, to ensure that the people in the field, I suppose, and the people that are actually managing the properties and executing services, probably have that ease of use something that they can capture, and work with very easily. And I think that’s where we’ve been able to get some real successes purely through those integrations and partnering up with some of those bigger systems that do that have modules, and we try to stay in our lane quite a bit. We try not to go and build too much technology outside of what we do. But yeah, I do think one thing that always comes back, we do a lot of think tanks and workshops with clients. And it’s always just make it easier, make it and I think that’s with any technology. If it’s if it’s three steps to get to the desired result, how can we do it? So it’s only two steps? How do we just press one button. And I think that automation of a lot of those activities. That’s where we have a lot of bandwidth, I suppose on the development side focused on streamlining that pace.
Alexander Ferguson 16:15
What, what really fascinates me as I as I’m doing more and more interviews with different tech companies is, is the siloing of services like you really focus Okay, this is the sector this is a problem. And there now there’s there’s so many different new SAS solutions out there. But it’s like for one specific purpose to or solving a specific need versus an era p that says we can do everything that for everyone. Sounds like you agree with that that kind of trend where you guys are focused on is you don’t need something abroad system that does everything. But hey, come in, and you get the best best for both facility management asset management and, and work contract manager. I think that’s another piece. All in this this specific tool
Ashley Austin 16:57
you wrote in on don’t think I think what’s happened with COVID? And I’m sure it would be on a global scale, not just in front of what I say. But what it’s done is it’s made some of the larger businesses really circle back and say, are we getting the bang for our buck with all these technology platforms we have? Is there a way to reduce the volume and the amount of platforms and technology within the business. And I think sometimes being a lightweight version of the big system is a lot more appealing now to CFOs. In particular one because because of the price tag. And sometimes I suppose when thing when times are good. Sometimes you don’t have to scratch the surface, there’s sometimes you don’t, you’re making money, but we’ve realized here, facilities, and the property sector has been massively impacted. And so some of our clients are the large service providers who execute the service, their portfolio that they manage and maintain has been dramatically reduced. Because it runs in lockdown as an example in Melbourne. And what that’s done is their revenue, everything’s been impacted on every level. And I think it’s been the first time for a lot of those companies. And they openly admit to it that they’ve actually had to go and value engineer, not just people in the field, not just some staff, not just different parts of the business. But what the hell are we doing with them? It side of the business? And is there a smart is there some platforms out there that maybe don’t have every module of modern have fleet or might have a HR system on it, but the core things that we really need to manage our business are in there, and it’s our job, doesn’t take six months to implement, it can take weeks to implement. And it just gives, I think it’s opened up discussions that maybe I don’t think people would have had before what’s happened over the last 12 months.
Alexander Ferguson 18:54
You’ve given me a clarity that it is a global effect of the pandemic, that there’s a there’s a push for all right, how let’s reassess our technology that we’re using in our business, too. Is it? Is it too much? Is it cumbersome? Do we need to add other elements? It’s really an accelerant on the entire economy?
Ashley Austin 19:14
It’s exactly wrong. It isn’t, I think. I think it’s just it’s across the board. It is every part of the business area is really starting to look at it but it’s opened up opportunities for us. And it’s actually even changed tack on the the developments in life and what we’re actually building over the next 12 months some of that tech to really pivot only because some opportunities or some sectors have come towards urbanize that we we didn’t think were the right football but we might have a small piece of functionality that’s missing. But we know that in our market that’s got an appetite for platforms such as urbanize and we’re doing work with clients such as Anglo America and some of those large that I don’t think we will have necessarily been exposed to prior. But I think a lot of it’s come through our integration efforts, we’ve got an exceptional team based in Sofia, and Pretoria in South Africa, which is purely what we do is to integrate into into innate we’ve built a really healthy ecosystem and sort of complementary technology. And some of that’s client LED, some of that is contract specific. But what it’s done is, it’s actually we’ve been able to leverage that relationship on a personal professional level, and actually go to market a little bit, too. And it’s just been a wonderful, wonderful experience for all of us.
Alexander Ferguson 20:38
What are some of those integrations that you guys have focused on?
Ashley Austin 20:42
There’s property leasing, which was never a on the property management side. So a distinct leasing module was something we always lacked. And I think urbanize were, we were a company that always wanted to build everything. And we weren’t strong around partnering. And it was suddenly I just don’t think the business understood. And I think it was, there’s an element of what you don’t know you sort of you push away from, but I think now that we’re saying, so we might be best to breed contractor compliance and inductions and, and those places, there’s safety and HSE, those things that we don’t we do within the platform, but not at that level that some of those sectors dictate. But the property management and the leasing side has been an incredible one for space planning. So for universities in some of these sorts of we’ve, we as I said, we’ve tried to make sure the last few years that we’ve just stuck to the core strata, and facility asset management platforms just to make sure that they are, they’re on the right direction, and we’re not getting pulled into other directions. And but yeah, it’s definitely it’s definitely and it’s not so much just the the technology benefit. It’s just that cross pollination, of networks and contacts and relationships that have given us all that whole break when we get to it’s there’s a you sort of pull each other into a, into a sector or into the market. And it’s been wonderful, it’s been a really good experience. That’s what keeps on it’s that indirect sales model for us. I think it’s gonna be a real focus of ours over the next few years.
Alexander Ferguson 22:16
Taking a step back here, the end, consumer, residential person, how does it affects them, when when the properties are in environments they’re in are using a platform like yours, it’s being managed as such? Well, what’s the difference between as a consumer as a as a resident or whatever, in one of these places? The difference between when they’re using a platform like yours and not? How does that play out? Yeah, well,
Ashley Austin 22:42
I think it is two ways for I think one is it, it gives them so there’s that ecommerce Customer Portal, which sits with them, they can raise services, raise requests, track jobs, all of those sorts of things. But then we have a number of applications that are from that strata, the residential side of the business as well. And it’s essentially, the communication pieces it, I suppose it’s that sticky factor, as people call it, it’s really true. And I think everyone at the moment, on the management side and the development side are trying to come up with some initiatives that draw people towards them, instead of the building next door or that other portfolio. And especially on the commercial side, there’s a real push around technology. And anything that enhances the experience for a resident in any way is what they’re looking for. And remember, there used to be a lot of dialogue and communication around it. But when you dug into it for Chico, you couldn’t really see if anyone was doing anything around it. There’s a lot of taglines and a lot of conferences, but it felt like it was the same rhetoric. But now it’s visible, you go into a lot of these buildings now. And you see technology, it’s everywhere you expect to have an application, you expect to be able to order a service, and to be able to see it, track it and it comes in. So we’ve tried to we’ve tried to do that, not just on that commerce or but in that facility management, asset management. So it’s connecting all those little stakeholders within that ecosystem. And so then there’s transparency all the way through and what we try to ensure that everything is tracked through the platform, we report on that we dashboard that we we drive the analytics through that and I think that’s the biggest single benefit. Out of all of this, if it’s harnessed is that data, that it’s an incredibly powerful piece when it’s when it’s managed around. It’s one of the things that of the people that are leading some of these sectors, that’s their driver, that’s and when they work with that part of the equation, wrap the analytics around things and actually ensure that that’s the focus. You can see You can see the benefit of technology really quickly. It’s quite wonderful.
Alexander Ferguson 25:04
Or the the future because again, painted nicely the history of wherever those came from and where you guys are right now. What can you share kind of what’s coming up the the roadmap and the plan of where you guys are headed?
Ashley Austin 25:17
Yeah, I think, as I said, it’s for me. And on the on that sales side on a board level recently, it’s definitely been around growth. And there’s no country specific, I think. But I do think for us, there’s a real appetite, it’s a funny time to be thinking about it within the middle of what’s happening, you don’t feel that you can project anything too far, especially all the way down here. You want to be able to go and do things, but you actually don’t know when you can, or what the capability of, of being able to do, I think we took for granted that we could just jump on the plane and we’ve been Singapore tomorrow then would be over in Malaysia and south and you could was just this free wheeling, I suppose but it gave us the the more people you met, or the more people that saw what urbanize were doing, you can see the I suppose the the enthusiasm for it? Or can we dig into this a little bit? Can you guys come back here, we actually want to see if we can, can get you guys involved with this part of our business or explore some opportunities together. And it just felt like there’s been we’re sort of sitting in purgatory in terms of that growth because of what’s happening. But so for me, it’s around, opening up the partner model, and the channel partners and building that ecosystem that we work with them through in different countries, I think that’s the fundamental thing for me. Because if we can, physically, internally drive a lot of that growth because of what’s happening, then it’s just finding those right partners and the right entities that we work with that there’s a connection with on not just the tech level, but they were on that same trajectory, or where that missing piece of the puzzle for them. And that’s what we’re seeing the results of quite quite quickly here, when we’ve done it, it’s it’s working with people that really need a platform. And I suppose we’ve become a little bit of an agile tech partner for people as well, we’ve got a very healthy development office in number of countries. And we do that really well. We’re still at our core and really good software development ticket. That’s what we are. And off the back of it. We’ve built assessment of our services company now. But this, this part about being able to build exceptionally great technology really quickly. I think that’s still a differentiator, that things can move quickly, we can build some bespoke technology in a really quick way for key clients. And it’s probably leveraging that but it’s it’s getting urbanize in front of people that haven’t seen it before that could hopefully be the sort of people in the partners that we hope for.
Alexander Ferguson 27:54
I love it. Now, if I if I can ask this as kind of a fun question for us, like a big wave a magic wand and have any kind of technology just come into existence. What What comes to your mind, that doesn’t exist now, that doesn’t really exist now.
Ashley Austin 28:15
Tom travel, certainly anything to expedite the tyranny of distance when when we used to travel really heavily for work. And you see the benefits of it. As soon as you’re in front of us. As soon as COVID dropped a shadow here, we jumped on the plane, within a millisecond, I’m sitting down with a potential client or a current client, the penny drops, you just started, which is we’ve missed this. And it was just that connection with people. And it’s just, we all have to do business the way we are now over over the laptops. But I just think I really, really missed that interaction with people. And just anything that can help us get back to what it was, in some way. I don’t think it’ll ever get back to that level of almost, I think we traveled for the sake of traveling, sometimes you felt what you were doing your job unless you’re on a plane, which is silly, but I would love to, I’d love to sort of work out a way to be able to, I suppose be in front of each other more and be maybe a little bit more strategic about it, not just travel for the sake of it, but to have some real focus and an agenda. And when we get there actually things move quickly. You make it really, yeah,
Alexander Ferguson 29:32
that desire to to be that human connection again. And then we’ll get back to because I believe that desire is there. But now it’s going to be a leverage. You use technology in many cases, but then when you do get in person, it will be very specific and planned and
Ashley Austin 29:48
yeah, yeah. And look, I do, I used to enjoy a lot of those meetings where there was no distinct agenda was just sitting. So you half the time it wasn’t a work related and that’s I think we build relationships where it’s while it’s outside of work, and you just, it’s just talking sometimes right at the end, you think I’m sure, actually what we’re here for work out, we and I think that’s when you know, there’s someone across the other side of the table that you click with, you get on really well with and you want to, you want to keep catching up and work, we’ll just work on come. And it’s just that, that I think we all really missing even internally where we have offices in seven countries that but just we used to be able to, we used to have a wonderful day, and we still do, but it just you can feel everything feels at arm’s length right now. And I’m really looking forward to the day when we’re all back. But I do think you’re right, it’s just having more of an outcome based travel. So we know then when we’re catching up with let’s, let’s make sure we’re trying to get something out of this. And labor Yeah,
Alexander Ferguson 30:51
that’ll be that’ll be where we want to get to thank you so much as for kind of sharing the vision of what we want to get back to but also the the history of urbanize and where you guys have been focusing on the the history of it, but where you guys are headed. And it’s and it’s I fully believe using technology like this. For every area of business when it comes to facility management is going to come into key play. For those who want to learn more about urbanize. You can go to URBANISE.COM and be able to dig into it. You guys are primarily in Australia and Pacific, Asia Pacific and really make up your main areas that you guys are focused
Ashley Austin 31:33
on. So we have Sophia is a development. I’m over in Bulgaria, South Africa, we serve in Pretoria and Cape Town in South Africa. We’re in Malaysia, Dubai, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane.
Alexander Ferguson 31:46
Got it, got it. Well then, again, go to Urbanise.com to learn more. Thanks again for your time to chat with. Well. Have a good night. Thanks so much. And we’ll see you on the next episode of UpTech Report. Have you seen a company using AI machine learning or other technology to transform the way we live work and do business? Go to UpTech Report calm and let us know