The use of technology in the property management industry is not new. Technology solutions have been available since at least the 1990s – before email and internet were widely available. But even 5 years ago, there wasn’t nearly the amount nor the need for these technology solutions, especially for the industry as a whole to tie them to a specific category of tech. Now, PropTech is an established category, receiving $32B in private investment in 2021 alone.
But it’s not just software companies that are driving the growth of the PropTech category. The explosion of technology solutions couldn’t happen without a growing appetite amongst property management companies for technology solutions that reduce costs, create operational efficiencies and improve the resident experience. Technology is only as strong as it is at making a return on investment. With this as the backdrop, the NAA Apartmentalize conference session, “Integrated or Point Solutions? Get Married or Play the Field?” focused on educating property management companies on how to evaluate new technology solutions and how to strategically manage their “technology stack”.
Panelists, which included Jennifer Staciokas, Executive Managing Director, Property Management at Western Wealth Communities, Lucas Haldeman, Chief Executive Officer at SmartRent, Ellen Thompson, Founder & CEO at Respage, Guntram Weissenberger, Owner/President at Westover Companies, highlighted a number of points to consider when evaluating new technology:
The need to continuously evaluate your technology stack: Perhaps back a decade or more ago, you could “set it and forget it” when it came to the technology that you use to run your property and your property management company. This is no longer the case. Technology is evolving at a fast pace and while adding and changing software isn’t seamless and easy for your organization or your staff, you need to continuously review your existing solutions and monitor the market for new solutions to address challenges you are facing or you will fall behind your competitors. Panelists recommended assembling a sort of technology steering committee composed of different groups within your organization to be responsible for identifying and evaluating your existing technology stack as well as new solutions that you want to consider.
Meticulously defining the problem(s) you expect new technologies to solve: Before diving into the evaluation process, it’s important to define the problem the technology is expected to solve and the goals or results you expect it to deliver. Whether you’re adding a new solution or changing out an existing solution, you want to make sure you understand exactly how the solution you choose is going to solve the specific problem you have. This will guide your evaluation and selection process as well as measurement of early results as you begin implementing the new solution.
Conduct a thorough evaluation of the solutions and providers you are considering: Walking around the Apartmentalize exhibit hall it’s easy to get excited about the providers that you meet and the new technology that you see. Sales teams will invariably push you to move fast, but it’s important that you take the time to evaluate the solution and the provider thoroughly to avoid any potential unpleasant surprises down the road. You’ll want to enlist your team in the evaluation process and pay careful attention to the following:
Does the technology solve the problem you’ve identified? If so, how? What results should you expect? What results have other property management companies seen when implementing the technology?
How well does the solution integrate with other software you are currently using or might use in the future? Most every software provider will claim that they can integrate with solutions, but many aren’t actually open systems that can be easily integrated with. Ask detailed questions – how many and what data fields are shared between the systems? Is there custom work required on the part of either you or the provider to make the integration happen? Be very concerned if they tell you the integration is on their roadmap. Everything is on a roadmap somewhere. Make sure you understand if development has commenced or not and consider requiring a clause in your contract if the integration isn’t available yet.
Does the product roadmap align with your priorities? Ask for details about what is on their short term (3-6 month) product roadmap and their longer term product roadmap (2-3 years). Inquire about how are priorities for the roadmap determined? You should expect that customers drive the roadmap. There should be a customer advisory board in place or a process for soliciting enhancement ideas from customers and there should be evidence that enhancement ideas from customers actually get implemented. Beware that some of the larger organizations tend to build basic capabilities to address a need and then move on to something completely different versus really investing in building out capabilities in specific areas. Maybe this is fine for you or maybe it is not.
Are they sufficiently financially stable and long term viable for your organization’s risk tolerance? New capabilities often emerge from new entrants that are funded by someone – venture capital or private equity firms, property management companies, etc. The advantage of these new entrants is that they are focused on the problems they are solving, and individual customers often have a greater say in the direction their solution takes. But when you implement a solution, you are making an investment in integrating it with your current technologies, training your organization to use it, etc. So it’s important to understand and be comfortable with where this organization might be 6 months, 1 year, etc. down the line. You need to consider whether it has a future as a stand-alone company or if it is more likely to be bought by another provider in the industry. History shows that in some cases an acquiring company makes decisions about the solution that no longer make it viable for you to use, so it’s important to weigh the value of the solution versus any risks that you may be incurring by implementing it.
How will they support you in getting up and running and with any issues that arise? The success of this solution in addressing the problem you’ve identified depends on your team adopting and using the solution the way it was intended. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand:
Onboarding: How long does it take? What are your responsibilities? What are the provider’s responsibilities? When can you get started? All properties at once? One or two to work out the kinks? Divide into waves?
Training: How does your team learn to use the solution? Does the provider offer personalized training? Do you want train the trainer or the provider to train your entire team? Is training done through video tutorials only? Consider what will work best for your team because getting value from the solution is dependent on your team using it. You only have one chance to get everyone comfortable with using the solution.
Ongoing Support: What is the customer support process? What is the turn around time on issue resolution? Some organizations will offer email only support or will charge you based on number of customer support tickets. Ask questions. Check reviews and references. The solution won’t deliver value if your team can’t get answers to questions that they have or if the value is offset by the cost of getting help. Beyond just how support tickets are handled, make sure you understand if they have an account management or customer success process, as having a point person that is familiar with your organization will go a long way in helping ensure you are getting the most out of the solution.