Adopt Onsite Tech Wisely: Avoiding Pitfalls

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Whether apartment companies want to add technology to become more efficient or improve the resident experience, they should be aware of benefits and pitfalls.

Scott Wesson, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at UDR, says apartment companies make one big mistake when they implement smart-home technology: They try to implement technologies that make their operations more efficient while simultaneously enhancing the customer experience.

The problem with that, Wesson says, is that it is hard to get both things right.

“A lot of companies get it wrong by doing a little of both,” Wesson said at the NMHC Apartment Strategies Conference in January in Orlando, Fla. 

Instead, he says, they need to decide whether their focus is on operations or the customer and go full force. There are a lot of technology choices available for apartment operators to wade through.

As companies plan for the future, they should consider technological change, according to Cristina Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at Gables Residential.

“For example, we have a lot of iPod docking stations in our apartments,” she says, however, they are not needed as much now as they were in years past.

“Today, they are all but obsolete. Removing them or replacing that space on the wall is a challenge and an unforeseen cost. We need to plan to be able to be as nimble as possible when implementing technological advances to ensure minimum disruption and cost as we change with the times.”

Tech Now, Tech Tomorrow

Marcie Williams, CAPS, CPM, President of Rivergate KW Residential says, “The challenge is making today’s decisions for the future.”

Right now, Williams says residents expect technology conveniences such as USB ports to be in each apartment.

“We need to adapt to what the residents want,” Williams says, “whether it is locks or speakers or something else.”

And down the road, their tastes may be even more elaborate.

“Instead of pet parks, we will need drone parks [on the roof where drones can land],” Williams says.

With technology’s absorption into all aspects of the apartment business, Jay Hiemenz, President and COO of Alliance Residential, says owners have to try to predict what’s next when they are looking at Wi-Fi, smart locks, video and other tech products.

“We have to think into the future and plan for changes,” he says.

But if owners do not pay attention to the building envelope and how wireless waves travel, none of the other bells and whistles will matter.

“As we learn more about top priorities for renters, we know that cell phone service always ranks in the top three as a must-have when choosing their next home,” Sullivan says. “Very often, when people tour our communities, they pull out their cell phones and check to see if they have a signal.”

Biz Intel

For companies that want to focus on operational technologies, Alliance’s adaptation of a Business Intelligence system can serve as a model.

“Our industry is at the beginning stages of using all of its data,” Hiemenz says.

And as Wesson says, everything is producing data now. It could be the smart-home products that residents use or the key fob they wave to get into the gym.

“Instead of asking somebody how often the gym is used, we now have access to that data,” Wesson says.

But is there too much data?

“Data is the buzzword, and is invaluable information if relevant, as the amount of data available is overwhelming,” Sullivan said. “You can give the onsite teams a lot of information, but is it actionable and is it truly relevant?”

To make sure Gables is using its data effectively, Sullivan wants to know if it adds value, and if so, how and ultimately, does it help the company drive future decisions to be more efficient and effective?