MHN Interview: Alan Missen, CIO, FirstService Residential

FirstService Residential is the largest third-party manager of homeowner’s associations in the United States. Alan Missen, CIO, FirstService Residential, talked to MHN about the various apps FirstService Residential is developing and how they hope to make the HOA experience more mobile-friendly for everyone involved.

AlanMissen thumbnailBy Leah Etling, Contributing Editor

Dania Beach, Fla.—FirstService Residential provides full-service, professional association management services to more than 6,500 properties and over 1.5 million residential units across 21 U.S. states and three provinces in Canada. So it makes sense that the Dania Beach, Fla.-based company would think big about how to deliver technology solutions specifically for the HOA lifestyle.

Whether you’re a resident or owner of a home in a master planned community, a community manager of an HOA or a member of a community board of directors, FirstService Residential is thinking about how to improve your experience, and give you mobile applications to obtain information and complete neighborhood-related tasks.

“Whatever we can do to make the community manager’s life easier, and do that in an effective way, translates into a better experience for the resident,” said Alan Missen, recently appointed CIO for FirstService Residential. “That’s such a big part of our culture, making a difference in every resident’s life every day.”

Missen talked to MHN about the various apps FirstService Residential is developing and how they hope to make the HOA experience more mobile-friendly for everyone involved.

MHN:  Tell us about your existing resident service portal.

Missen: FSRConnect, the industry’s first and only 24/7 integrated customer service platform, is our core property management solution. It’s focused on helping the associates to service the property and has a lot of information around the residents, the properties, and it aids in managing much of the activity around amenities. In the HOA world, there’s lots of documents that need to be put in the hands of residents, so we handle document management with this solution. We manage work orders, violations, and architectural modifications, and we also provide some financial data that residents can touch. We’re generally more cautious around that, the financial data being more sensitive, so we keep a lot of that back in our accounting solutions. But we do give them some insight to the information that’s important to them—what’s the balance on my HOA account, did you get my last check, that kind of thing.

MHN: What about communicating with residents? How is that handled?

Missen: There’s an extension of the FSRConnect platform called Community Website. When we go into a new community, we offer the platform to maintain a community website as part of our services. The website tool sits on top of the FSRConnect solution. It’s very resident centric and has the typical things that you would see in a community website—community calendar, pictures of the community, relevant documents, notifications about board meetings and other activities, and more.

MHN: So what are the plans to take these services to the mobile era?

Missen: We’re looking at introducing mobile capabilities in a number of different roles. The first role we’re trying to enable via mobile app is that of the associates and the property managers. We’re trying to raise our game on their ability to collaborate, be efficient and get access to information, wherever they are. We are also working to develop mobile applications for HOA board members and residents.

MHN: How do you anticipate such an application would aid community managers?

Missen: One of the things I’ve learned in my first few months here is that if you spend some time with a typical property manager, especially on the HOA side with these larger master planned communities, they don’t spend a whole lot of their time behind a desk. They’re out in the field, meeting residents and managing local projects in the community. We need to enable them to have information at their fingertips in an efficient manner. We’re looking at extending what we’ve done in FSRConnect with a mobile capability that gives them the processes at their fingertips, no matter where they are.

MHN: Can you provide an example of when this would be useful?

Missen: One interesting request we’ve gotten is from the property/community managers, particularly in the larger communities. They work with quite a few different vendors, who they will bump into when they are out on the site. They often get questions from these vendors. Being able to look up vendor and purchase order information, as well as financial reports, is going to be quite helpful. They’ll also be able to look up work orders on the fly.

We’ll also be delivering some GPS capabilities to support certain activities. One of the things we find—say it’s a golf course community—is that if there’s a violation in a back yard, and a property manager wants to make note of it and move forward on a violation process, the address isn’t visible because they are at the back of the house. We’re going to supply a GPS capability to make that activity more seamless. These are just two functions this app could assist with day to day. Resident record access, communication capability, document management and a daily task dashboard are also going to be included.

MHN: What would an app for HOA board members look like?

Missen: This is more likely to be a tablet-based application, just because of the heaviness of the data. We’re in the initial ideation stage right now, where we have ideas about what content will be most valuable. We’re drawing from our portfolio size and diverse experiences dealing with boards. We’re at the beginning of the journey of engaging with key board members from across the country and Canada to talk about what would resonate with them. It will be interesting to see whether the board members have specific content or processes that they’d like to see. We find that some boards get very engaged in the work order side of what’s going on in their community. Others are very focused on violations. Those will be pieces of content that we will make available.

MHN: And finally, the scope of the app for residents?

Missen: We see that application taking two flavors, although it will not be as robust as the app for board members, we are still counting on it to play an influential role in improving the communications between our residents and staff members. There’s a high-rise centric mindset, and a master planned community mindset that we would deliver. Some features will be commonalities, like their account information and payment options. We find that 40-50 percent of the calls we receive in our call center are related to resident accounts. Guest management is another common request, as is amenities management. The amenities are certainly different in a master planned community vs. a high rise, but amenities management is something we want to be able to enable residents to do from mobile. Calendars, notifications of what is going on in the community, and using Push notification technology to deliver messages rather than SMS or emailing would also be important.

MHN: This kind of functionality has to be pretty unique. Would you sell or franchise the software, once it is perfected?

Missen: I would think we would want to maintain the IP ourselves, as it would likely be a strong differentiator for us in the market. I don’t think we have had any business model conversations about becoming a small software company on the side. We’re going to continue to focus on our core business, which is continually adding value while delivering great service to residents and boards.

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