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Modern Maintenance: Smart Devices, Smart Technicians

June 2019

During the past 10 years, the apartment industry has consistently looked for ways to adapt new technologies to support their various teams, with ultimately the goal of creating an exceptional resident experience.

Because of this commitment to technology and innovation, owners and operators have revolutionized such disciplines as pricing and lead management through sophisticated software and solutions.

Now, the industry is boosting the operations of maintenance teams through technology as well.

“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of maintenance teams to the success of your communities and your portfolio,” says Kevin Villont, Vice President of Construction and Maintenance at JVM Realty Corp. “They really are the bedrock of resident satisfaction, so it makes sense to do everything you can from a technology standpoint to allow your maintenance teams to succeed.”

From the increasing use of tablets in the field to online work orders and even package locker systems, apartment operators are trying to make sure their service technicians can do their jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Improving Logistics and Efficiency

One big technological change in apartment maintenance concerns the growing use of smart devices by service technicians to access and update work orders while in the field.

“In the past, most of the work orders were submitted into the property management software and then printed, and so maintenance teams were working off of printed tickets – or even handwritten ones,” says Joshua Renberg, Product Manager for property management software supplier Entrata. “Now that these devices and data plans are affordable and networks are reliable, you’re seeing a big shift where teams are utilizing these mobile devices to remotely access real-time information from their property management systems to manage their work orders.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for wireless telephone services were 38.93 percent lower in 2019 compared to 2000 (a $19.47 difference in value).

The result is a significant improvement in logistics and efficiency, according to Renberg.

“If you’re running a paper-based system, your technicians are going back and forth between a central location – whether it’s your maintenance shop or your leasing office – and the apartment homes,” he says. “Now they don’t need to be tied down to a specific location to access that information, which is much more efficient, especially on a large, sprawling property.”

As for residents, modern operators enable their renters to submit maintenance requests through online portals and mobile apps, Renberg says. These technologies have the benefit of giving residents the ability to file the requests when it's most convenient for them and can allow maintenance teams to get unfiltered detail from the residents.

Mill Creek Residential is one operator that has transitioned to the use of iPads and mobile phones in the field, according to Tony Hogrebe, Regional Service Manager, West Region, for the company. And they have seen their focus on technology and maintenance teams enhance the performance of leasing and operation teams as well.

Service technicians equipped with phones and tablets use them to access and update service requests while onsite and also to take photos of the apartment homes before move-in and after move-out. Service technicians are then able to upload these pictures to a resident’s electronic file as part of the online apartment inspection, allowing leasing agents to process move out charges faster and return security deposits into the former resident’s account using electronic payments. These increased efficiencies are directly impacting the resident experience in a positive way.

The company also enhances its maintenance operations by using a property management system that closely tracks its maintenance requests, allows residents to place requests online to expedite that process and ensures follow-up with residents after these requests are complete.

About 80 percent of Mill Creek service team members now choose to work electronically with a smaller portion still preferring paper. According to Hogrebe, the increasing role of technology in the day-to-day work of maintenance teams isn’t a big deal to the associates and doesn’t require operators to adjust their hiring criteria.

“Most people raised in today’s world understand technology,” Hogrebe says. “You start out by playing games online when you’re a kid and progress to corresponding through email, texts and smartphones, using apps. So many people are raised computer literate, plus our systems are very user-friendly and easy to learn.”

When it comes to incorporating the right technology within their maintenance operations, owners and operators should view it as an opportunity to drive team performance and thus resident satisfaction, Hogrebe adds.

“The performance of your maintenance team is hugely important, not just for retaining existing residents but for drawing in new ones as well,” he says. “If customers read about poor maintenance and slow responses to service requests, they won’t even consider living there.”

Improving Resident Experience

Like many apartment companies, JVM has online work orders in place at its communities to make service requests easier to submit for residents and easier to track for onsite teams.

But the company also thinks pretty broadly about how technology and emerging solutions can make the lives of maintenance teams easier.

For instance, the company installs package locker systems at its communities in part for the sake of its service technicians.

“For years, the package delivery system at our apartment communities has been the maintenance guys,” Villont says. “With these package storage systems, that creates a big-time saver for our service techs as well as our leasing associates.”

In another example, the operator has replaced manual trash compactors at its communities with automated machines. “You may ask, ‘What does this have to do with maintenance and technology?’ ” Villont says. “It means on Saturdays and Sundays we don't have to have the maintenance guys coming out to press a button to compact the garbage. It gives them back some of their weekends and allows them to really rest.”

In the end, the technology supporting apartment maintenance teams may be evolving, but the objective is the same: to provide a great experience for residents.

“Technology has changed tremendously but the core value of maintenance has not,” Villont says. "We're not using technology just for the sake of having the latest tools in place. The core value of maintenance is still serving the customer, and technology can help you do that.”