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Play It Smart With Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence

There is currently a lot of hype in the multifamily housing industry surrounding Business Intelligence (BI) and the potential of analytics and decision support tools to manage apartments better. A lot of information can be gleaned. Almost too much, for some. But Jay Kenney, Chief Information Officer of Lincoln Property Co., is an expert at gauging and realizing the benefits of harvesting such data. He recently sat down with us to discuss the new digital frontier and offer his take on where the apartment sector is headed in this regard. What follows is our chat:

NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers, sir?

JAY KENNEY: I've spent my whole career in IT in various capacities. I am CIO at Lincoln Property Co. I have been here for about seven years. Previous to Lincoln, I worked at a consulting company called BearingPoint for seven or eight years and before that I spent 19 years at what is now AT&T.

NAA: How is Lincoln leveraging existing data sources for Business Intelligence?

JK: Currently, we are extracting Yardi data. We're taking the pertinent tables that we need and transforming them into a tool called QlikView, which is basically an all-in memory solution to create our BI solution called propertyBI. We're creating our data model within QlikView. We then have a lot of different key performance indicators [KPIs] that users can access from the tools. It’s primarily Yardi data at this point, but we're looking at bringing in some other sources as well.

NAA: What types of decisions can be made from this data?

JK: It's a lot of information producing KPIs that allow you to view the profitability of a property or portfolio of properties. From an executive perspective, you can easily see the outliers, properties that are not hitting their KPIs, and drill into the details to get to the root cause. One of the more popular KPIs is effective rent, which is your latest leases. That's information you can't derive from Yardi very easily. You can drill in and see what the new leases doing in terms of rent growth and what the renewals are doing. Then, you can drill down into even one-bedroom and two-bedroom leases [and] then even further into leases of different unit types. It gives you the ability to set KPIs and then slice and dice that data to look at it in different ways.

NAA: Do you have an anecdote about how the technology has been able to specifically help your company and/or one of its properties?

JK: A partner asked one of our RPMs [Regional Property Managers] about the last 30 leases on a Friday afternoon. Rather than have to work the weekend to get the answer back to the partner, she was able to do it in five minutes. Another example is a report produced monthly for a very large customer. The report was previously done in excel and took a significant amount of time to produce every month. Today with one click in propertyBI, the monthly report is created and exported to excel for delivery to the client.

NAA: Can you measure if a property is more profitable because of BI?

JK: No, we don't have measurements to calculate that. But what we have done is we've taken the knowledge of our key business thought leaders who have been in the business a long time, and they've used data previously in pulling different reports and creating their own spreadsheets and KPIs to manage their properties more profitably. We've basically taken that knowledge and put it into the system. So, now all of our managers can see the business in the same way as the top thought leaders in the company. Plus, it provides consistency across the enterprise.

NAA: Is it possible for you to discuss the cost-benefit ratio of the technology?

JK: It's pretty hard to come up with that. What sold us is the ability to manage our properties better. If we went through the exercise of calculating all of the time saved, there would be some return on investment there. But the real advantage is better property management and to do it consistently.

NAA: For anyone reading this who is behind the curve and looking to catch up in this regard, what advice would you have for them?

JK: Companies who are looking to get into BI, I would recommend they look internally into their company and see who their power users are. Those would be the people who are creating their own KPIs and their own business metricsto manage their portfolio of properties. That would be the core audience. The next step is going out and finding a solution. When we did this, there really was no solution in the industry yet. I believe there are now some industry solutions out there. Or, they could do what we did, which was go out and select a tool and do it yourself. In any case, you're still going to need to decide what information and KPIs you're going to want to see and how you calculate it. In our case and I think most companies would be the same, we would have a KPI that was calculated differently by different people. We had to get consistency around how we measured different KPIs.

NAA: Was there some advice that was given to you early on in terms of deploying technology across an enterprise that has stuck with you throughout your career?

JK: Get executive level support for enterprise-wide deployments of technology. Also, get the business involved. They need to be a partner. In our case, we have defined it as an infusion of business acumen and technology. 

NAA: So, where is this all headed? Is there an innovation on the horizon that has you excited? 

JK: I think once you have a handle on your internal data, the next step is bringing in external data. So you can see not only what you're doing within your company, but how you are doing vis-a-vis your competitors. At least that's going to be our next step.

By Teddy Durgin