Talking Business: Erskine Berry of City Relay and Steve Dow of res:harmonics

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The commercial leaders of property manager City Relay and PMS provider res:harmonics, Erskine Berry and Steve Dow, talk to SAN about their new partnership bringing end-to-end automation to property management.

• Can you give us a brief account of your companies’ backgrounds?

Steve Dow: “Sure. As you know, the innovative living sector is on the rise. Pre-pandemic, during-pandemic, post-pandemic (if trends continue), we’ve seen the likes of serviced apartments, extended stay and coliving growing increasingly popular, but until recently there wasn’t a tech platform that met their unique needs. res:harmonics was built to fill that gap. From custom tools for multi-stay length operators to remote management of housekeeping and maintenance, res:harmonics brings together a suite of tech-enabled features that specifically help innovative living operators manage internal operations and scale effectively.”

Erskine Berry: “Nowadays, guests expect short-term lets to be hotel standard. No matter if you’re a small property manager with one or two units or a large operator with multiple properties and a revolving door of guests, there’s a lot of pressure to provide everything from five-star amenities to responsive maintenance solutions. That’s where City Relay comes in. Currently based in London, we offer a unique operational solution for serviced apartment and airbnb operators as we’re a tech platform with a physical reach, so if you need a cot or TV moved to a property in a few hours or an emergency plumber before an early check-in, you just press a button and we get it done.”

• How did the partnership between your two companies come about?

Erskine Berry: “As part of our service, clients can integrate their PMS directly into our platform so everything is streamlined: one system, one supplier, one invoice. Two of our clients were already using res:harmonics for their PMS, so we were familiar with their software, but after integrating our two systems it became increasingly clear that our services were fully complimentary. It was like putting two sides of a jigsaw together.”

Steve Dow: “Erskine and I had some conversations and quickly realised that we had more in common than just ‘commercial’ in our titles. At res:harmonics, we develop industry-specific technology and integrate with a range of different tech features so operators can seamlessly run their internal operations, but City Relay was the first external operations provider we connected with and looking at the two services, we saw potential for doing something that hadn’t yet been done in the industry: end-to-end automation.”

• What is ‘end-to-end automation’ and how does it work in practice?

Erskine Berry: “It’s all about collaboration. Having the systems work in tandem allows us to fill in the blanks for property managers and effectively reduce their management to just signing off on one supplier. For example, let’s say a booking comes into the res:harmonics PMS. A housekeeping task is generated for that property, which is carried out by City Relay according to set checklists with photo evidence uploaded back to the res:harmonics system. All the operator needs to do is sit back and watch.”

Steve Dow: “End-to-end automation is booking-to-checkout peace of mind. The joined-up service will obviously be optional - both res:harmonics and City Relay clients can choose to opt in or not - but for those that do, it will be like having your own in-house management and operations team for a fraction of the cost. To expand on Erskine’s example, previously an operator could remotely manage housekeeping via the res:harmonics app, but they couldn’t automate the cleaner to turn up and actually do the work. Now you can arrange for a well-qualified cleaner, who knows the bespoke requirements for that property, at the touch of a button.”

• Why should the innovative living industry be excited about ‘end-to-end automation’?

Steve Dow: “Every business in every industry tries to be more efficient, but it’s often easier said than done. Now, if you’re a serviced apartment, coliving or BTR residential operator, you can have oversight of the whole workflow process from booking to checkout from your smartphone.”

Erskine Berry: “It will also revolutionise guest experience. Even pre-Covid, we saw guests preferring keyless check-in and app-based guest manuals, but tech-assisted services will be even more important after the reopening and also help operators differentiate. With people starting to travel again for the first time in a year, brand loyalties will be reset and guests will want to book with those that offer the best experience. That’s what end-to-end automation delivers.”

• Why are you launching this partnership now?

Steve Dow: “As Erskine said, not only does the partnership seem a natural fit for us, but it also seemed the right time for the market as we head out of Covid hibernation. Over the last year, operators have been reviewing strategies, trying to make efficiency savings, pivoting business models to fit demand and looking to stand out from the crowd in terms of service provided. That’s end-to-end automation in a nutshell.”

Erskine Berry: “There’s also been lots of fluidity in the market. As some operators have gone under during Covid, there are new leases back on the market, new operators in the game, new property managers coming in with new ideas, so it’s time for companies to make bold statements, put a fresh stamp on their business and actively hunt market share.”

• What impact do you hope to see in the future?

Erskine Berry: “For me, end-to-end automation is a catalyst for industry growth and I think the short-term apartment rental market will further cut into hotel market share as a result. Right now, we’re focusing on London, but the model works for almost any large urban setting. Whether in Paris or Madrid, the more the industry can automate and develop its processes, the better the return. It’s like a snowball effect: you save time and cut costs, you enhance guest experience and increase bookings, you boost revenue and grow the business.”

Steve Dow: “I totally agree. In fact, I see the impact going even further than the short-term market. There used to be this living trajectory from student residences to city fringe rental to suburban home ownership, but this traditional pathway has been eroding for some time and will be further accelerated by Covid. If operators of coliving, extended stay and BTR residential have the ability to seamlessly manage operations from booking-to-checkout that will have a knock-on effect on the services they provide and encourage more people to switch to new ways of living. If end-to-end automation is the norm, I can see a profound change in living behaviour in the future.”

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