As a leading consulting firm, WAV Group operates deeply inside the complex technology stacks of MLSs, Brokerages, Franchises, REALTOR® Associations, and technology firms. From this experience, we recognize the pain that these groups face because of the lack of connection between the systems and applications that agents and consumers need. Upstream aims to deliver a better data management foundation for the data that brokers are entrusted for safe handling.
Upstream starts with the belief that data is the treasury of real estate brokers, properly managed to support the agents that brokers supervise, and the consumers they have pledged to serve. Not just listing data, but also roster data and consumer data.
Today, the broker’s data is spread across many systems and formatted in data currencies that do not interact or relate to one another across the broker enterprise. It’s piecemeal and incongruent. The target for Upstream is to fix this.
Anyone who knows anything about data licensing in real estate knows that the broker is responsible for the data wherever it goes. The MLS requires that the brokerage license the data to the MLS for MLS purposes. But there are legal challenges related to where copyright originates. To clear everything up, the broker originates the data and licenses that data feed to the MLS and any technology partner. Originating the data is a key step in establishing custody of data that you expect to license.
Many people confuse Upstream with other industry initiatives. Simply stated, it is a service that the brokers’ agents and/or staff log into to assemble their data, safely store their data, and distribute data to other partners through data license agreements. It’s a database system that all brokers own, like a co-op for processing data – Add/Edit – Store – Send. It is not a service like the MLS where brokers can access another broker’s data. It only allows them to manage their own.
By way of a project update, I can assure you Upstream is making great progress, moving as fast as the industry can reasonably accommodate, and starting to onboard their first live users. By today’s popular software development stage description, Upstream is launching the minimum viable product right now.
Upstream is working with a few firms and loading a manageable amount of data, connecting all of the brokers’ software systems, and onboarding users (agents and broker staff). Upstream is about to learn a ton from users and validate that they got it right. Once they succeed with live users, Upstream will begin to integrate more data connections, and bring on more brokers. Upstream will continue to focus on improvements and the expansion of functionality while they onboard brokers and their technology vendors onto the platform. Upstream has set aggressive goals for 2018, and they are working toward them. There are ambitious milestones between now and the end of the year.
The biggest problem that Upstream will solve for the industry is the wasteful redundancy of how data is entered, stored, and distributed. Upstream believes in data standards but operates under the reality we live in an imperfect world. The native currency of data in each MLS system is unique. Sure, it is translated into the RESO Data Dictionary, but that does not yet go far enough. Some fields do not translate perfectly, and other fields and field enumerations are not included yet. Upstream recognizes and values the differences in data currency as much as it values the standards. It is not a zero-sum game. Upstream supports both.
Upstream never expects to change data currencies. Whatever the MLS wants, the MLS gets. If the MLS changes, Upstream will change. In fact, Upstream is designed from the ground up to be nimble and change often.
Beyond MLS, Upstream understands that all broker systems have specific data currencies. It supports them all. Whatever data currency is in a broker’s accounting system is supported. Whatever a franchise system needs is supported. Whatever a marketing system needs is supported. Whatever data a forms product needs is supported. Publishers connecting to broker listing syndication is supported. Transaction management systems are supported. Everything a broker uses is supported, all from a single system.
Upstream is a data pool under the control of the broker. Upstream starts with a system assessment of the broker. A simple question is asked. Where does your data go? Give Upstream the list to get started.
The next step is to understand the unique data needs of each system that the broker uses. If a broker has 1 MLS or 125 MLSs does not matter. Each MLS represents a connection. There are 690 possible connections in America today. One by one, each MLS’s data needs and business rules are collected, and a link between Upstream and each MLS is developed using an Application Programming Interface (API). The first two connections are in testing with San Jose based MLSListings and Portland area MLS, RMLS.
The MLS is the hardest connection to make because of the vast number of fields and business rules. But once made, maintaining the MLS connection is administrative. This same process is iterated with each MLS of the broker, understanding that any broker in a live market can begin putting their data into Upstream and pushing it into the MLS(s). MLSs have been data sharing with other MLSs for over a decade. Connecting to Upstream can be no different than establishing a data share. In a way, it’s easier because Upstream does not require MLSs to change their rules or data models.
I challenge you to contemplate these questions. Why on earth would an MLS not data share with their broker participants? Broker participants agree to provide the data to the MLS, but why are they forced to only provide that data through the MLS’s proprietary add/edit interface? Shouldn’t the broker integrate MLS services with all of the other systems that they support?
Upstream’s support for other software applications in real estate is a lot easier than supporting the MLS. Tech vendors are accustomed to operating parallel systems for data management. Some data in a tech vendor’s application is fed from the MLS or broker database already. The rest is hand entered. Again, the process is straightforward. The broker provides Upstream with a list of vendors. Upstream asks the vendor about all of the data fields and field enumerations and layouts that are required. About 1200 technology firms serve our industry today. Upstream is not forcing any of them to change their data currency, just tell Upstream what it is so that the data can be formatted. This not only goes for Accounting Systems, Lead Management Systems, Syndication Systems, Marketing Systems, CRM Systems, but all systems.
One reason why Franchise organizations are so supportive of Upstream is that they are all investing in development and maintenance of connecting their Franchise to their broker systems. They each have their own listing aggregation and reporting system, but they are all different. Upstream simply asks, what data do you want and how do you want it laid out?
Above all, Upstream not only supports active listings and transaction reporting, but also customer records, office records, and agent records. MLSs don’t provide this data universally. Some have parts of it, but rarely do they have all of it. Upstream does! Moreover, it is a single connection that is maintained between all brokers and each franchise. If an Indy broker becomes a franchise, the broker simply authorizes their franchise and the data is immediately transferred. What takes weeks or months today will take minutes with Upstream.
Listing distribution is easy to do today, thanks in a major part to the Real Estate Standards Organization and the efforts by the National Association of REALTORS® to encourage adoption of data standards and transport standards. However, our industry’s adoption of a universal roster system and customer record system is in its infancy. Again, Upstream is not forcing any system to change, just tell Upstream what roster information you need to distribute and Upstream will provide it that way. As standards are developed, Upstream will update its API connections to accommodate those changes.
One genius attribute of Upstream is called Maintenance. When Upstream knows all of the requirements for every system used by a brokerage, the add/edit for listings, roster, and customer records is dynamic. If any system used by a brokerage has a new field or changes the business rule on a field, it prompts the user to make those changes from a single interface. Maintenance is pushed onto only those users impacted. It allows data changes to happen fast without requiring users to long in and update many systems independently.
Upstream also supports CRUD – Create, Read, Update, Delete. If an agent has new data like a headshot, they load it into Upstream once, and every connected software system is updated. If some agent changes offices, they make the change once in Upstream, and it is updated everywhere. If a broker adds a new agent or an agent leaves the brokerage, the change event is notified and updated in every system. This is an enormous benefit to data management efficiency. Today, brokers have onboarding checklists that take about 2 hours to onboard an agent. With Upstream it takes minutes. Add or remove the agent from the brokerage, and Upstream reflects the change in the data that updates every system. CRUD happens in near real time.
Today, the real estate industry is paralyzed by trying to maintain data across all systems deployed by a broker to enable agent productivity and consumer services. Upstream is a broker owned company that will make our industry healthy.
What Upstream is creating will save every broker significant operational costs. Upstream saves time and money. It will reduce staff costs and technology costs. It will make brokers nimbler to launch and sunset software services. It will make MLSs more deeply integrated into the brokerage. It will help franchises integrate with the brokerage. Technology firms will have a single place to absorb the information that their product needs to work, without aggregating data from multiple sources or requiring manual input. Every broker is trying to solve these problems individually, and they are all investing in doing it differently. With Upstream, the brokers can collaborate on a single system that will help them all while reducing the cost. Upstream fixes many things.
Upstream is a massive, bold endeavor. The aim is to support 85,000 brokerages, over 1 million agents and staff, 1200 technology vendors, and 690 MLSs. It is very hard to build something of this scale. It takes a lot of hours of work from a group of highly skilled system engineers. But, it is the worthiest initiative that our industry is investing in today. Stand by while the pioneers break new ground. Be optimistic. It’s a small price to pay for progress. This is our industry’s moon shot.