The most important step would be to develop a logical business model of the real estate industry. You hear people talk about enterprise data models. These data models reflect the information needs of a company. You need to expand the concept to an industry data model.
I have built industry models for the Financial Services and the Telecommunications industries by developing enterprise data models for several companies within those industries. I have found the most effective and efficient way to model an enterprise or an industry (representing many enterprises) is to conduct "facil-modeling" workshops. Invite representatives from the key functional business areas to participate in the workshops. Build process models and data models based on their business input. Use highly structured facilitation techniques to provide process and context to the workshops. Use engineering disciplines to provide quality process and data models.
I recommend the IDEF process modeling methodology to build process-flow diagrams. The data modeling diagrammatic annotation is whatever you are most comfortable with as long as you build entity-relationship-diagrams that balance to the process-flow-diagrams. Build the process and data model in parallel starting with the beginning of the process value-chain (eg: Business Strategy Planning) through the end of the value-chain (eg: Loss-Recovery Management).
Once you have the information requirements from several companies within an industry, you will have a solid representation of that industry. If your intent is to implement physical structures to support multiple companies and individuals within those companies, you will want to spend some time augmenting the model to reflect multi-company and multi-user key structures. This augmentation will provide segmentation and security of content from one company to the next and will facilitate developing attributive details for one company but not for the next.
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This was first published in November 2001