The Technology Balancing Act

Ah, technology. Every new piece of hardware or software promises to improve our lives or our business, to make things easier or more efficient, to change our world for the better. Yet, many times, those promises are never realized and our lives get more complicated, more hectic and stressful, and our business more complex. That’s why it would be worth your time to read Units Magazine’s article on the technology balancing act. Here are a few excerpts to give you a taste:

Juggling demands generated by technology with longstanding responsibilities is only part of the issue. Technology feeds real-time occupancy, pricing and online review information to third-party clients, joint venture partners, residents and potential residents.

Start with reputational management — a thorn in the side of many community managers. While residents might not be coming through the door with complaints as much as they once did, they now take their issues to review sites for the world to see. Responding to those reviews is a responsibility most management firms think should be handled at the community level…

Beyond the data that many systems produce and the influences of that data, learning new software can be a challenge. French says, that at any given time, there are between 10 and 13 types of software or systems with which her community teams must interact.

“You have to know how to use Microsoft products, different surveys and different online tools,” French says. “You receive more email today and more attention to detail is required. You have to up your game or you won’t be able to compete…

With the plethora of new demands technology has created for community managers, many are finding it difficult to prioritize their day.

Choosing what to focus on during complex onsite management situations, senior executives tend to want their managers to focus on one thing—the customer. Assuaging the concerns of residents who have questions about their rent increases or responding to customer service requests takes priority.

Gables’ site-level employee compensation, for example, is based on their leasing and resident satisfaction scores…

While technology potentially can create a frazzled onsite team, at the same time, it has greatly reduced the time necessary to complete common tasks.

“We can do in minutes many of the things that onsite staff used to take hours to do, such as approving invoices,” says Cooley. “Today, I can pay 40 invoices through our software in four minutes (not four hours).”…

Despite those advances, Sullivan cautions that companies should do their due diligence before implementing new technology.

“It sounds easy to utilize technology to be more efficient, but in some cases, it adds more work,” Sullivan says. “I think that is where we need to be thoughtful and understand the overall impact and not assume every new technological idea will be valuable in our day-to-day business practices.”

You can read the entire article here.

When the “Internet of Things” Impacts the Apartment Industry

An interesting article on Wired.com looks at how the ‘internet of things” could impact landlords in New York City in the immediate future:

To guard the safety and health of tenants, New York and many other cities require landlords to keep inside temperatures above a certain level from October until May. But not all building owners and managers follow the rules. Each year, heating complaints are either the number one or number two most frequent complaint to New York’s government services and information line, 3-1-1, says Tom Hunter, the spokesperson for a volunteer effort called Heat Seek NYC, citing data from the siteNYC OpenData

Tenants can sue landlords over this, but historically, they’ve had to rely on their own hand written records of how cold their apartments get. And these records haven’t always held up in court. Heat Seek NYC hopes solve that problem by building internet-connected heat sensors to monitor the conditions of apartment buildings in order to provide a reliable, objective record that tenants and advocacy groups can use in court…

Heat Seek NYC founders William Jeffries and Tristan Siegel met earlier this year atThe Flatiron School , one of many “code bootcamps” popping up around the country to teach students the basics of programming in a matter of months. As he said in a recent interview, Jeffries thought a web app for recording and reporting apartment temperatures using a programmable sensor device called Twine would make a good class project, and Siegel jumped at the idea…

One of the obvious limitations to such a scheme is the need for internet access. The team overcame this limitation by creating a system that depends on two different devices: cells and hubs. Cells are distributed throughout the building, and report their data back to the hub, which then transmits all of the data to the web. The cells can all connect locally with each other and to the hub, so only one tenant needs to have access to the internet to provide connectivity to the hub. In cases where there’s no one in the building that can provide internet access for the hub, Heat Seek NYC will provide a free WiFi hotspot.

While this story doesn’t have direct relevance to the apartment industry here in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, the technological concepts will very likely become applicable soon. We’ve been hearing about the “internet of things” for several years now, but it’s mostly been theoretical. Stories like this highlight how quickly that can change and it doesn’t have to be radically expensive.

Think about the practical applications that the technology in this story could have if you simply thought of it as a management tool versus an enforcement tool. A property manager could use something like this to monitor temperature swings in their communities, and if they noticed exceptionally high or low temps they could have maintenance check to make sure the thermostat in a unit is working correctly. If it is then they can make a necessary repair and if it isn’t they can work with the occupant to make sure they understand how the thermostat works and how they can save money if they use it differently.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think of other applications that could benefit manager and resident alike, and it’s probably a matter of when, not if, we’ll see these new technologies coming on line.

Three Tech Trends to Watch in Student Housing

Multifamily Executive has a nice article about three emerging tech trends in student housing:

The company added Facebook Connect to its SmartClick payment system. SmartClick is an online account portal which allows students and parents to pay rent electronically, view their tenant leger, and make service requests. When it was launched in 2010, it was the first mobile application made available in the student housing industry…

Princeton, NJ,-based Heartland Payment Systems Campus Solutions has introduced mobile technology, remote monitoring, and cashless transaction-capabilities to the student laundry experience. The company’s WaveRider system allows students to pay for each load of laundry using a debit card instead of cash or quarters…

Recent advancements in near field communication (NFC) technology and radio frequency identification (RFID) have made it possible to unlock your door by just sending a signal from your mobile phone to an electronic lock receiver.