If you’ve been in the Property Management business for any length of time, then you’ve heard the adage that as an industry, our technology is about twenty years behind every other industry. And yet for those of us tasked with managing technology within our organizations, it seems that just about the only thing outdated about PM industry tech anymore is this saying.
These days, PMCs are being challenged to embrace new technologies on every front, from our tech-savvy Millennial and Gen Z renters to our sophisticated institutional clients, to our ambitious and tech-engaged workforce, we’re surrounded by those hungry for tech-based solutions to their every problem. Add to that the proliferation and aggressive marketing of VC-backed PropTech start-ups promising the next big thing, and you have a truly undeniable movement. We as an industry can no longer justify our use of antiquated tools and technologies, but rather must challenge ourselves to join the technological vanguard; a feat made no less impressive (and intimidating) by how far behind we were just a few short years ago.
I imagine that there are a few readers out there who would count your organization among those in the category of reluctant adopters. Not to worry; the first step, which is admitting you have a technology problem, is invariably the hardest. But next is deciding where to start. Below are my top three tips for tackling your technology trepidation and kicking off your next major initiative.
If you’re going to invest the time and money to implement a new product or service for your organization, you need to feel confident that both the product and the organization are up to the challenge and the timing is ripe
Start by Getting Started
Looking at your organization, there are likely a few areas that you could consider “low hanging fruit.” Did the boss’s nephew design the corporate website for a school project? Ok, it may not be that obvious. In that case, it’s a good idea to fall back on a tried and true gap analysis. Talk to people and understand their pain points, at the corporate and the onsite levels. If you have an internal help desk ticketing system, pull data to demonstrate where the teams are spending their time and the processes that Training is consistently revisiting with them. Look at the property and corporate financials to identify expense peaks that might indicate an outdated or inefficient process or system that could use upgrading. Once you have all the data, narrow the focus. Where can you add the most value to this undertaking? Remember, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority, so don’t be fooled into thinking you can tackle everything you have discovered at once.
Timing is Everything
This holds true not just for navigating the cycle of seasonal leasing highs and lows, but also in deciding when to engage with a specific technology. Artificial Intelligence (AI) might be the new buzzword around PropTech, but the majority of products and services that claim to currently leverage AI are not yet able to do so; instead, they employ pattern-seeking algorithms resulting in minimal capabilities. This isn’t to say this technology won’t come into play, but you may be better served to wait 18-24 months until the tech makes its next big leap. In addition, some updates are truly better served for different times in the leasing year. If you’re about to make a change that will impact all community residents and want to see the fastest ramp-up in adoption, you likely want to time go-live with the timing of the most resident turnover. The bottom line, if you’re going to invest the time and money to implement a new product or service for your organization, you need to feel confident that both the product and the organization are up to the challenge, and the timing is ripe.
Plan Your Resources
In managing any project, it’s not just about time and money, but also about people. No matter what tech you decide to engage with, you’re going to need a band of people to engage in and support your efforts. You’ll have your committee who will help in the evaluation and selection process, the project manager to keep everyone on track, the pilot users who will take a few knocks and work out the kinks for the rest of the org, the technical resources who can take a deeper dive and become your internal subject matter experts, and of course, the promoters who become the champions of the product (and your efforts) all contributing to successfully launching the initiative. Build this coalition early and take steps to keep it strong throughout the project by meeting frequently and engaging all groups in the decision-making process. You’ll not only be more likely to achieve your goals but will also create a project team and process that others in your organization can model in their own major projects.
If you’ve identified the need, found the right time, and gathered the necessary resources, you should be successfully prepared to execute on the vision and move your organization into the present, if not the future. By way of conclusion, I want to mention that even the most well-executed technology initiatives won’t deliver a forever solution. With the pace that technology is moving and changing in the PropTech space, we’re not implementing 5-year solutions. Rather, the life expectancy of our tech has shortened to 2-3 years. Rather than be discouraged, think of it as an opportunity to revisit your people and processes, and continue your technological evolution. Because these days, it’s not just about the destination, but about demonstrating how technology guided the journey.