Buy a house in one of Australia’s capital cities, and you’ll be looking at a median investment of around $720,000.
It’s a lot of money, and for buyers there’s often a lot to deliberate and debate before taking the plunge. There are also a lot of properties to visit and a lot of conversations to be had with everyone from the bank to the real estate agent.
MJH Group is looking to make it a lot easier by transforming the experience using cloud computing and a range of artificial intelligence services.
Armed with a more granular understanding of customers, MJH Group expects to be able to tailor its portfolio and ensure the services it offers to customers and potential clients match their needs.
MJH Group is built on the foundations of the 30-plus-year-old McDonald Jones Homes and is one of Australia’s enduring home building companies operating under a number of different brands such as Queensland’s Brighton Homes, NSW’s MOJO Homes, Tasmania’s Wilson Homes, and medium-density builder MJH Multi.
It designs and builds a vast array of homes across Australia and caters to different budgets, lifestyles and needs. The challenge that it had was a lack of visibility about the customers who came to visit its display homes.
Salespeople might collect some data manually, the number of brochures taken on the day might give some idea of interest – but the data wasn’t consistent – and was prone to bias especially where it contributes to conversion calculations that salespeople have a direct interest in.
MJH Group has recently rolled out trials of AI-infused systems that automatically count the number of customers visiting display homes, and use facial recognition systems, on an anonymised basis, to understand demographics and the sentiments they display while looking at a property.
That level of insight is invaluable to MJH Group to inform its long-term strategic planning and to ensure that the services it is providing match customer expectations.
Cloud first, intelligence always
The company is already mid-way through a digital transformation, under the leadership of CIO, Brett Wilson. Taking a cloud-first approach has allowed Wilson and his team to step out from under the burden of managing infrastructure and engage deeply with the business to understand how improved data insights and access would be of benefit.
“Building a house is probably one of the biggest investments that most of our customers will make in their lifetime. My role is about making the process simple and easy, but also making sure that we use technology to integrate the end to end process to make sure that customers understand what’s going on, and then we can communicate with them effectively so they feel like part of the process rather than an outsider,” says Wilson.
This drove MJH Group’s decision to deploy Dynamics 365 to handle customer relationship management and create a single source of insight about each customer. The company is already using Dynamics to support salespeople following up leads, backed by marketing automation to nurture leads through the sales funnel.
It is also using Power BI and especially its analytics component to visualise MJH construction data, which is in turn driving exception-based reporting to encourage more informed decision making.
Besides Dynamics 365 MJH Group has rolled out Microsoft 365 across the company as a productivity, collaboration and communication platform.
To date, about 50 per cent of MJH Group workloads have been transitioned to the cloud with more to follow says Wilson. It has been a phased migration to avoid any unforeseen hiccups and smooth the internal organisational change management.
Sales and leads were among the first to transition and Wilson is now in the process of planning and migrating across finance, HR and payroll to cloud platforms. The final elements that will migrate to the cloud will be project management and estimating.
Besides supporting the business with streamlined tools and better access to data, Wilson ; “works with each business to understand the requirements. “I want my team to go and work with a construction supervisor for a day to really understand how could we make their life a lot easier or efficient and identify any gaps. From this to come back with ideas and say, ‘If we made this small change this team could be so much more efficient’.”
AI shifts dial on data
The deployment of Dynamics 365 to support salespeople has already borne fruit through the availability of good, structured data.
But Wilson says; “The challenge that we have is that we were still relying on a manual method of counting within the display homes and we had no demographic information at all on the type of customers that were visiting our display homes in regards to age brackets, their sentiment, whether they were happy to be there and the ratio of male to female customers
“The key problem we were recently looking at to address was how do we consistently count the foot traffic numbers that enter into a display home, which sounds relatively simple, but there was nothing in place that was performing that action.”
Using Microsoft computer vision and facial recognition APIs MJH Group is digitising and automating the collection of visitor data. It’s gathering information about visitor numbers, across the time of day, demographic data and inferring emotion.
For the first time, MJH Group has clarity about the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, the popularity of its home designs and even the effect that day’s weather has on customers visiting its display homes.
The technology has been installed initially at two sites within NSW at MOJO and McDonald Jones display homes in Kellyville.
While the use of cameras to monitor visitors to display homes is commonplace as a security measure MJH has taken care also to inform customers visiting its Kellyville properties that it is also using facial recognition and AI technologies.
The hardware deployed is a 3D stereo vision sensor to track footfall traffic and a 4K network camera for face identification and emotion detection at the entrance of display homes.
Data from these devices are fed to the Microsoft Azure cloud via the Microsoft Face API, and stored using Azure SQL and Azure Blob Storage.
Wilson says that the technology provides insights as to the number of visitors, their age and gender, and; “Whether they are happy or excited when entering the display compared to when they exit,” though he stresses that information is anonymised and viewed at an aggregate level.
“It gives our business a lot more demographic detail than we had before, which was just a number that said 20 customers came into the display home and we don’t know how many were really interested – maybe they left without leaving their contact details because the sales team were busy with another customer. “
The system is being refined with enhanced dashboarding, and the opportunity to link to other data sources to assess, for example the impact that weather can have. All visitor data is anonymised and protected in the Azure cloud.
Wilson says that the insights provide much more fine-grained understanding of what works best so that MJH can optimise its marketing campaigns, the layout of its properties, and understand that a low customer count for a specific day may be linked to the weather and not a campaign.
“It indicates trends that we never would have been able to visualise before. In one business there are peak times – one o’clock in the afternoon and three o’clock in the afternoon, whereas at the other business, the peak times are slightly different. They were at 12 and two.”
This additional data could allow MJH to allocate sales resources based on a more granular understanding of customer trends. And on the days that it’s bucketing down have a few umbrellas at the ready.