Top Tech Development Takeaways of 2011

Thought leaders opine on the most important tech developments we'll carry forward from 2011.

The unrelenting march of technological advancement continued to be felt across the multifamily industry in 2011. As in previous years, new technology altered how apartments were designed, marketed, leased and occupied in 2011. To help pinpoint the most important technology lessons and product introductions of the year, and the ones most likely to impact the industry in the year ahead, we assembled a panel of multifamily industry tech experts, and asked them to answer two questions: What was 2011’s top technology takeaway, and what was the most important technology introduction that will impact the year ahead?

David Cardwell, vice president of capital markets and technology, National Multi Housing Council

Top technology takeaway: There was a great deal of energy spent on mobile applications, taking the communication methods from a desktop environment to hand-held devices and allowing people to do everything from finding an apartment to executing the lease and engaging in a maintenance request. It went from desktops and laptops to PDAs, but it also made that media more pleasing, more exciting—and put the cool factor back in it.

Most important introduction: I don’t think there was [a specific] one. This year was about understanding and quantifying the efficiencies and costs of existing applications.

Gregory J. Lozinak, executive vice president & chief operating officer, Waterton Residential

Top technology takeaway: The importance of lead tracking and SEO continue to be highlighted as keys to success. Understanding which advertising sources are generating the most cost-effective leads, and understanding how to maximize SEO, will be critical to effectively managing marketing spend.

Most important technology: I don’t know that any significant new technology was introduced over the last 12 months.

Terri Dowen, senior vice president of sales, Yardi Systems Inc.

Top technology takeaway: According to USA Today, restaurants, caterers and food manufacturers are scrambling to accommodate the Millennial Generation’s trend of foregoing three square meals a day for eating all day, but eating light. In similar fashion, multifamily property owners and managers sought to harness the new world of mobile technology to become more efficient and competitive. New best practices include prospects more easily accessing property listings to conduct apartment searches with Internet listing services and compare amenities, view floor plans and images, and schedule visits; residents becoming more satisfied by managing their profiles, submitting and checking work orders, requesting concierge services online, paying and renewing leases with mobile devices; leasing agents spending more time away from the office, and showing more apartments and processing applications; and maintenance workers updating their work orders from the field.

Most important introduction: Further development of business intelligence technology that allows more informed, timely business decisions with automated document management, portals and reporting. Such platforms can leverage Microsoft SharePoint to offer a truly global perspective of operations, financials and ancillary processes.

Lori Reeves, vice president of strategic business services, Forest City Residential

Top technology takeaway: That’s difficult because so many companies are at different levels of technology adoption. But if you had a very strong Web presence and you were on top of your Internet marketing strategy, you basically learned you needed a strong mobile presence. We’re starting to see a big upswing in mobile surfing and mobile contact. You can’t talk about marketing without technology in the same sentence anymore!

Most important technology: For us IT-focused folks, I think cloud technology or cloud platforms were a major focus for all of us. We spent a lot of time researching how to make the cloud “less cloudy.” Where does the cloud fit in our industry? Where does it fit in our IT shops? In source or outsource? Most of us have a strategy now to move forward with some cloud services.

Benjamin Zimmer, president, Property Solutions

Top technology takeaway: Multifamily properties are recognizing the need for an online presence that goes beyond static websites or online ads. This has forced property managers to adopt new mobile technology platforms in order to reach this generation of renters via increasingly ubiquitous channels.

Most important technology: In response to the need for a diversity of channels to reach today’s renters, we’ve seen the introduction of a variety of tools and apps for mobile devices. The iPad has taken the spotlight with apps that simplify processes in the leasing office. A host of new mobile apps has been introduced in both the Apple App Store and on the Android market.

Daniel Gehman, principal, TCA Architects

Top technology takeaway: Moveable walls between living rooms and bedrooms moved into the market four or five years ago, but took a while to get into apartments. That trend is particularly favorable as we cater to Gen Y. The technology is in the hardware. The people who manufacture these sliding doors have made the hardware reliable enough that developers don’t get queasy putting them in.

Most important introduction: It wasn’t an introduction, but flat-screen TVs have given us so much more flexibility in terms of not having to accommodate the size of that TV tube. That allows us to make the overall spaces smaller. We’re trying to accommodate the same accouterments of living in one foot less space, and getting rid of that big honking TV tube frees up space.

Chris Brown, vice president of product management, Apartments.com

Top technology takeaway: Be a part of the conversation. Don’t resist reviews and social media. If your residents—future, current or past—are talking about your brand (and they are), you need to be talking with them. I saw a lot of adoption of these channels in the multifamily space in 2011, but many are still lagging or resisting. Don’t be that guy.

Most important introduction: Several new tablet/iPad apps for on-site staff can change the way our industry interacts with prospective residents. These apps untether staff from their desks; streamline the processes of seeing, applying for and leasing an apartment; and are among the few innovations that truly make the entire leasing experience better for both the manager and the resident.

Brian Koles, president and CEO, GreenTechBuyer.org

Top technology takeaway: People now realize efficiency projects, including lighting, windows, HVAC and water, make a ton more sense than any renewable energy project. Taking care of efficiency first is what we learned in 2011. There’s no sense pumping renewable energy into a building that’s not efficient in its use of lighting, windows, HVAC and water.

Most important technology: Lighting retrofits are finally cost-effective. It’s been expensive, but the costs have come down sufficiently that there’s a very attractive return on investment.