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Leveraging Big Data in Property Management

Speakers at the upcoming NAA Education Conference & Exposition discuss what Big Data’s used for, and the technologies that will make it easier to interpret this information.

It’s an important buzzword in today’s business world, yet many companies are overwhelmed by the amount of “big data” that’s out there. Apartment property managers trying to make sense of all of the information they’ve gathered on market data, pricing and amenities may end up staring at a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet, hoping that some trend or pattern will materialize. All too often, “there may or may not be something there and you can waste a whole lot of time,” observes Annie Laurie McCulloh, senior vice president of the Rainmaker Group.

McCulloh is moderating a session at the upcoming NAA Education Conference & Exposition, “Data, Data, Data: What’s the Right Data for My Community?” In a Q&A session with Operations Insights, she and her fellow panelists Gina Johnson, vice president of business development with Avenue5 Residential, Kevin Huss, director of revenue management with Harbor Group International, and Bryan Pierce, director of Revenue Management with Gables Residential discussed strategies property managers could employ to capture and use big data to enhance their businesses, and what tools on the horizon might make the process easier and more transparent for the apartment industry.
Do you think the average property manager understands what big data is and how it works?
McCulloh: I think big data may be a bit of a misnomer in our industry as a whole. Typically, when you think big data, we’re talking about terabytes of data. Google is a source of big data due to all the billions of web clicks. But within each one of our properties, and with respect to site teams, it’s about collecting the data (big/medium/small), and organizing and analyzing that data to uncover trends and patterns to make decisions. I absolutely think our site teams do this without realizing that they’re doing big data analytics.
Johnson: Site teams also have a lot of going on. Depending on what type of asset you have or what’s going on at your property, at certain times you almost become a task manager, trying to get everything done as fast and efficiently as possible. But I don’t know how much time everyone has to read, learn and absorb the data that’s really going to help them grow and figure out the bigger picture and what’s going on in the market.

What are some ways in which the apartment industry could specifically leverage big data?
Pierce: There’s a ton of ways. You can do some things as simple as expiration management patterns. What does it look like in a geographical area--what does it look like in the South, for instance? You can roll up Atlanta, you can roll up Florida, and other states. Understanding when your traffic actually arrives and start pairing that up with the time they made the actual decision to lease? How far in advance are they actually signing an application versus moving in? And then you can ask: what about the demographics of these folks? What’s the average age of people applying within a certain timeframe? Do we see that changing over the course of the year? There’s many different ways you can step back and ask questions about what you think might be developing in the market.

McCulloh: If you think about marketing and revenue management it’s really about all about demand - where is the demand coming from; how is it being managed; how is demand being forecasted and optimized. Are people answering the phone, and if so, how effective are they in converting the phone traffic into a physical lead? When somebody arrives on site, does that materialize into an actual lease? What advertising sources are driving the most demand, and can that be sliced and diced for various floor plans. What is the most cost-effective way to spend your advertising money? Further down that demand funnel, there’s forecasting based on seasonal demand patterns, and then optimizing that demand to best fill our apartment homes.

What technology might help the industry leverage their analysis of big data?

Huss: There’s so much data our property management systems are collecting, the question is: what are we doing with it to make good efficient decisions with it. And that’s where I think our industry has made some big strides in the last five years. There are companies developing their own reporting modules and looking at big data. And there’s a lot of third party companies that are developing products to help you dig into this data better. So I think there’s more transparency with this data than there was years ago.

Johnson: A Rainmaker Group product, SlopeJet, is a tool that’s going to be so important for anyone involved in a property. It sees how leasing teams are performing, what the conversion ratios are, what marketing sources are working, and how much money is being spent. It takes data and condenses it down so that you can go to one dashboard and see all of these functions. Teams can use this as a training tool and you can also tie it into the revenue management side. The revenue manager can take a look at the data and ask, “how’s it going, how’s traffic this week? Wow, we had 32 leads this week, but we were only able to convert 4 percent of those leads. What happened there?”

McCulloh: The best big data analytics companies consume the data from all sources, house it and organize it in a meaningful way and analyze it a way so that there’s an “aha moment” that drives you to take action. So if a big data analytics solution can really make it easy and intuitive and drive you to take the appropriate action without investing a ton of time, that’s a big win all the way around.

NAA’s Education Conference & Exposition is taking place June 15-18 in San Francisco. Visit NAA’s web page on the conference to learn more about this exciting session on Big Data and register to attend.