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It seems that we’re not quite the business community we like to think we are. Operationally, to hear Andy Fuhrman explain it, no two real estate brokerage firms–or appraisal firms or mortgage banking firms, for that matter–speak the same language. And while that’s fine for the continuation of the “distinctive-brand” mentality, it wreaks havoc for the client, who looks to the industry for clarity in its guidance. Enter the Washington, DC-based Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate (the byproduct of the marriage a few years back between the National Associate of Corporate Real Estate Executives and the International Development Research Council that formed CoreNet Global). Oscre, headed by Fuhrman, its Santa Cruz, CA-based CEO, has made some serious inroads in the area of industry standards and, as the name implies, Oscre is focused on getting firms, with their various lexicons and idiosyncrasies, to talk in a shared language. As Fuhrman explained in a recent exclusive interview, the standards the group is looking to forge range from leasing and sales terms for various software applications to the decades old thorn of what constitutes rentable space. How the group goes about its service as United Nations to the industry (in Fuhrman’s words) is detailed below.

GlobeSt.com: Tell me a bit about Oscre’s genealogy.

Fuhrman: Oscre started in 2002 as an interest group inside IDRC before it merged with Nacore. Corporate members were looking for a way for internal management systems to exchange information among the 20 or 30 software applications they typically had in house. Every two of those applications demanded a custom-built integration, and it was getting to be time-consuming and costly. They discovered that they needed to have the industry agree on business terminology. We see ourselves as a facilitator to help the industry–appraisers, mortgage bankers, owners, buyers and brokers–to develop data standards to exchange information. Right now it’s a very manual process.

GlobeSt.com: You’re not advocating for one product or system over another but rather for standards across all products?

Fuhrman: Correct. Software applications have done a superb job of developing applications, and all of them have very similar data fields. They’ve all gotten so good that the next real major benefit for this industry is to standardize on the terminology we put into those applications.

GlobeSt.com: How successful do you think you can be in training different people–especially sales types–essentially to talk a common language?

Fuhrman: We’re not telling anyone how to talk. Our members are the likes of Cushman & Wakefield, CB Richard Ellis and Jones Lang LaSalle. Not only do they invest their membership dollars to help us facilitate the development of standards, but they actually take time to participate in work groups to develop those data standards. They provide the expertise on how they do their business.

GlobeSt.com: So how much progress have you made to date?

Fuhrman: Since 2004 we’ve made significant progress, and we’re getting very close to releasing our commercial information exchange data standards that essentially allows sellers, brokers, listing exchanges, buyers and others to move property listings around the supply chain. Think of it as an MLS for the commercial industry. It’s going into testing in the next few weeks and by October, we should see it published. With everyone using the same standards everyone will be able to save labor and resources.

GlobeSt.com: There are other areas of standardization that you’re looking at. Explain.

Fuhrman: We have about seven work groups in progress right now. The commercial property management work group is looking at the exchange of information from seller to buyer and what this means for the investment community. They spend a lot of time data scrubbing, and if they were talking the same language they could easily bulk load the seller’s info into the buyer’s system. That would include lease information, recurring charges, tenant and unit information. In the future they’ll be looking at more detailed information such as total cost of operation and other issues.

We also have an Appraisal Institute work group, and we’re taking their 1,000-plus data definitions and converting them to the Oscre library. It’s important to understand that Oscre is not developing all of the standards itself. We’re looking out across the supply chain to all of the organizations that are developing standards. The problem we’ve found is that people from mortgage banking or appraisal or legal all create their own standards without talking to others in the supply chain. Oscre is kind of like the United Nations in that regard.

There’s also a facility management work group that’s looking to automate the work order request-and-management process, and another group is focused on developing standards for 3D virtual-building models. There’s a work group focused on real property unique identifiers. The mission here is to create super-numbers, much like a car’s VIN number. That unique number will always stay with that building no matter who owns it or what happens to zoning.

GlobeSt.com: You’ve done a lot of work in a long-standing area of confusion–building measurements. How are you progressing in that?

Fuhrman: Our strategy and planning metrics work group is very close to producing a standard for space classifications that ties into the BOMA and IFMA standards. BOMA’s floor-area measurement standards represent the building owners who are trying to maximize the rentable square feet, while IFMA is more concerned with the actual square footage for people on that floor plate. We’ve tied the two together and so far, the people we’ve shown seem to be excited about what they’re seeing.

GlobeSt.com: I imagine it takes compromise at all levels, no?

Fuhrman: In the past it didn’t matter that people had their own standards. Everything was on paper. Now, because of broadband and the internet we’re starting to see progress. But everyone is going to have to give and take a little bit.

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