Zillow.com and the MLS CIO

Let’s suppose that you are Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a Multiple Listings Service (MLS) and a proposal has been put forth by Zillow.com to join Zillow’s Partnership Program (ZPP). For this scenario assume: (1) hiring, business processes and technology infrastructure would remain unchanged and (2) a budget would only be provided to create data feeds used by Zillow.com. Here are some of the risks, disadvantages and advantages of joining ZPP:

Risks to MLS:

  1. Brand recognition: The MLS brand recognition would be compromised if (1) current MLS users completely transition over and prefer to use Zillow and (2) future MLS users may not be aware of MLS’s existence.
  2. Zillow’s Zestimate: Zillow provides a property’s cost estimate to users based on a proprietary algorithm called the “Zestimate”. Research indicates that (1) in certain areas these estimates are wildly off and (2) Zillow has changed the algorithm in the past without prior notice. This would result in user confusion and the perception that it could be an MLS issue thus affecting the MLS’s credibility.
  3. Zillow’s acquisitions strategy: Zillow has grown through acquisition and it is expected that this strategy would continue. Due to the complexity of management and systems integration during acquisitions, there is a possibility that not enough resources would be available from Zillow if there were issues with the MLS at the same time.
  4. Customer conversions: By joining ZPP, the MLS would exponentially increase the users who can view the MLS data through Zillow’s website and mobile applications. However, the increase in number of views is not a guarantee that those users would become customers.

Risks to MLS Information Systems:

  1. Technology infrastructure: The MLS could encounter an exponential increase in number of users who can view MLS data that could overwhelm the servers. This could be an issue if MLS is currently (1) running at full capacity and (2) does not have an updated technology infrastructure.
  2. Data security incidents: Due to sharing data with Zillow, the MLS could anticipate an increase in security incidents either from (1) data in transit from the MLS systems to Zillow and/or (2) data compromised at Zillow

Disadvantages by not joining ZPP:

  1. Users: 55.7 million mobile and web visitors access Zillow compared to entire population of a major metropolitan area. The MLS would not have access to such a large user base if ZPP were not joined.
  2. Adoption: If MLS does not adopt in a timely manner then it would be perceived by the industry in general and the MLS community in particular as behind the times and could erode MLS’s ability to hire top talent for projects.
  3. Information relevance: Since (1) Zestimate pulls information from previous years tax assessments and (2) users have the ability to edit data, careful consideration should be made about the relevance of the information since accurately reflection of the up-to-date fair market value could be an issue for the user.

Advantages by joining ZPP:

  1. Users: Access to 55.7 million mobile and web visitors that access Zillow monthly.
  2. Account Executive: A dedicated account executive would be assigned to the MLS. This could help in coordination and quickly resolving issues between Zillow and the MLS.
  3. Metrics and traffic statistics: Zillow would be sharing user metrics and traffic statistics. This information (1) could be used by MLS to prepare for peak times and enhance maintenance schedules and (2) could be used by brokers and agents to improve their business through trends and predictive analytics.

Recommendations:

Based on the above, disadvantages and advantages of joining ZPP, the MLS would not be ready however joining would be significantly beneficial. Thus the CIO should recommend:

  1. Budget increase needed to develop data feeds and updates the technology infrastructure to make it robust, resilient, scalable and highly reliable that could handle exponential user growth.
  2. New policies, procedures, processes and governance models needs to be developed to address optimal firewall settings, data integrity issues, security, escalation, prioritization, communication channels between the MLS and Zillow.
  3. Recruit an experienced account executive that has taken their MLS through the same ZPP process.
Risks, disadvantages and advantages of joining ZPP

Risks, disadvantages and advantages of joining ZPP