Top executives discuss multifamily’s biggest innovations and concerns.
Technology is transforming every imaginable aspect of the multifamily industry, from top-level corporate strategies to the ways residents interact with their apartment units. Multi-Housing News
What are the biggest challenges facing technology executives in the real estate arena?
PECHERSKY: The lack of openness and open application program interfaces (APIs) between our property management software solutions and ancillary products. This has been a hurdle in our industry for some time, and having our industry come up with a national standard would hopefully spur a new level of software development. The perceived lack of available solutions has led to a fair amount of shadow IT projects that end up falling out of visibility of the corporate level. Technology executives have to walk a fine line of managing an organization as a whole without trying to limit the ways our associates are doing their job outside company platforms.
SAYWARD: There has been a strong uptick in the number of startups offering point solutions that at times are pretty compelling. Agents view them without necessarily thinking through the end-to-end integration. Or sometimes they’re not long-lived in the ability to deliver. As a tech executive, I try to be in front of them and make sure the agents understand value on an enterprise scale. We have tremendous data and insights in our internal systems, but some of those sexy point solutions don’t integrate that information.
BREWER: The megatrend of the consumerization of IT, while of great benefit to the business, will continue to create challenges for IT leaders. One of the benefits of this is business leaders are now more eager to embrace new technologies. The challenge for IT leaders is to build trust and engagement with business leaders before, during and after technology selection happens so that these new consumer-based technologies can be properly evaluated and deployed as enterprise solutions that support the overall goals of the company.
What keeps you awake at night?
SIMONETTE: Cyber security. Keeping our digital assets and environments safe is a very challenging proposition. We have invested substantially in this area over the last few years.
BREWER: We have challenges of scale due to our size and international presence. … We operate in an environment that is more challenging for us and our vendor partners, (who) have worked hard to expand their products and services to support our scale domestically and now internationally. The multiple jurisdictions that we support require us to stay on top of our game at all times to meet the demands of increased regulation and security.
Tell us about a recent IT-related innovation you’ve brought into your shop.
SAYWARD: We recently launched a new platform called MNet-Offering, a Web-based application that allows our agents to quickly produce proposals and executive summaries, offering memorandums and marketing collateral. It significantly leverages our rich, internal data and provides useful insights we can share with our clients.
LABERGE: We have also improved enabling efficiencies with DocuSign, implemented Microsoft Office 365 and its collaboration tools, and launched Constant Contact firm-wide.
SIMONETTE: We identified a software partner that could provide us with a Web listening tool and help us monitor our overall customer sentiment. We wanted to know what our prospective residents, as well as current residents, really thought about us. (Social View) consolidates scoring from our surveys, review sites, internal customer portal comments, and prospect and resident surveys using a natural language processor. We measure how well we are doing by what our customers say and how quickly and often our employees respond to reviews.
PECHERSKY: Fully developing our data warehouse to give our associates a rich data set to assist in effectively managing our real estate portfolio. We have created a team to develop our visualizations to help our development and operations teams quickly decipher data from dozens of disparate systems.
What’s in the works?
SIMONETTE: We are currently launching an idea platform. We are a very collaborative company, but since we are so decentralized, we find it difficult to share best practices and ideas across the
nation. Ideas are proposed by any Camden employee and are categorized as customer focused, revenue generating, cost reduction, process minimization or culture related. All employees can “vote” on any and all ideas, add comments, etc. Once the idea receives 50 votes, the appropriate executive will respond. This is a great way to engage all of our employee base.
LABERGE: Anytime we can find an integrated technology to free up our agents’ time to help our clients solve problems and execute on creative solutions, we do. Now we’re working to improve existing tools that allow agents to better manage the marketing and escrow process.
Are there innovations you’ve seen in the past couple of years that have the potential to influence the multifamily business?
SAYWARD: Virtual reality now allows us to see building interiors and take tours, and drone video captures the exterior. Augmented reality (AR) is really starting to take hold, and someone can now see both the inside and outside of a building and overlay that with information on demographics, renovation history and other data points.
PECHERSKY: The successful use of AR, found in apps such as Pokémon Go, and natural language software, being used by devices such as (Amazon’s) Alexa. Our team feels that there is a real opportunity to enhance the touring of our prospects on property by utilizing an AR app, which we are looking at building internally, and also an opportunity to enhance our resident experience by leveraging certain community amenities via the Alexa app.
BREWER: I think innovation will come through the continued refinement of existing technologies, such as mobile. While not new, continued improvements to the user experience on these devices that take full advantage of advancements in speed, resolution and usability will make it even more convenient and intuitive for residents to interact with our communities.
SIMONETTE: 3D printers are also the future. I am not sure if our maintenance guys will be printing their own replacement parts for appliances and the like or if we will have 3D service areas set up at our communities as an amenity.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the Internet of Things, in which everyday objects have network connectivity. How might IoT’s ability to collect and analyze data have potential to serve multifamily?
SIMONETTE: Seriously big potential, seriously big security concerns. That is just the world that we live in today. Even beyond the data aspect, serving up a convenient living experience because of advances in IoT is more of a draw for us.
BREWER: IoT locks have some potential for ROI, but we’re still years away from having the infrastructure to make this a no-brainer.
SAYWARD: Right now, it’s more applicable on the property management side. Different instruments measure factors throughout a property and allow property managers and owners to get real-time alerts, conduct predictive analytics and garner efficiencies.
PECHERSKY: We hope to see many household items within a unit be connected to the Internet to proactively alert our maintenance staff to upcoming issues.
Do you expect any particular categories of new tools to be more widely adopted than they are today?
PECHERSKY: The use of tablets is more prevalent in the leasing cycle, but there is still a reliance on the desktop computer to complete some of the functions at a community. I certainly envision it becoming the norm in the near future to have a leasing office where all interaction with prospects is done via a tablet.
SIMONETTE: Multifactor authentication will be the norm.
SAYWARD: Again, AR. Whoever has the best data wins, and being able to present data in a way that provides a 360-degree view of a building through the use of drone videos, virtual tours and overlaying is really compelling.
What are some of the biggest technology trends to watch out for over the next three to five years?
SIMONETTE: Connectivity and natural language understanding. Everything will be connected and on demand. Of course, driverless cars are the big buzz. I do think this is coming very soon, and it is going to change the way we construct our apartment communities. And drones. I think we are going to see some very interesting advancements and uses.
PECHERSKY: Leveraging AR and natural language software will certainly shape the way we are doing things. Also, machine learning, which is a means of having computers learn without being explicitly programmed. We have started to introduce lead-scoring systems, and I think we will be able to expand this to capture other renter preferences.
SAYWARD: The trends I’m watching out for are more data oriented as the availability of data continues to accelerate. You think you have a proprietary piece of information, but in reality, more data is available to everyone each day and leveling the playing field. So how we use our unique data to deliver insights and value to our clients is what will allow us to differentiate ourselves in the market.
SIMONETTE: Wearable technology is an exciting area that I think still has a ton of room for growth. And the way that we use currency will be totally different.
How important is technology in setting companies apart?
LABERGE: It has evolved to be increasingly more important in executing for our clients, who are looking for our guidance in understanding if it’s the right time to sell, what the current market value of their property is, and what might be the future value of their property, given changes to interest rates and other economic factors. So we leverage technology to provide our clients greater market knowledge and a real-time pulse on the market, which puts us in a leading advisory position. Integrated third-party research also gives us better reach and coverage of ideas.
BREWER: Technology-dependent business models are the next new thing. Airbnb and Uber are examples of business models that can’t exist without their technology platforms. These business models have brought great innovation, but we will have to continue to invest heavily in their technology platforms to maintain and grow their market share.
LABERGE: Another way technology sets us apart is speed to market. (MNet-Offering) allows an agent to put marketing materials together in hours rather than the industry norm of days to more than a week. A property valued at $7 million today may not be the same in three weeks.
BREWER: We’re getting closer to when business intelligence separates the haves from the have-nots. The industry is using BI mostly for reporting today, and some companies have advanced to the analysis phase, but very few are at the predictive phase. An average company can report what they did, but great companies can predict what they’ll do—and I think BI will be the differentiator.
Originally appearing in the November 2016 issue of MHN.