When new residents move into Gateway Village, a 545-unit military housing complex in San Diego that's managed by Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co., they can connect to the Internet right away, using wireless access points located throughout the community. As part of its management contract with the U.S. Navy, Lincoln, an owner and fee-based manager that oversees more than 112,000 units nationally, provides the Internet access for free to the families stationed there in service of our country.
While that's definitely a community-minded perk for Lincoln to provide, the coolest part of the arrangement may lie in the way those families actually get on the Web. Lincoln can turn on access for new arrivals at Gateway Village—and turn off access to those who have moved on—simply by running already scheduled updates in its Yardi Voyager property management system.
“If they are no longer in our Yardi database, meaning they are no longer a resident there, they won't be able to log on,” says Brian Galla, Lincoln's director of information technology. Straightforward? Yes, but the common-sense simplicity of the process has profound implications. Namely, since a resident's Internet rights are tied directly to his status within Lincoln's Yardi system, Galla's internal IT team doesn't have to update a separate database for that amenity—or any others—each time a resident moves in or out of a property. “Once you have a centralized system, there are a plethora of processes you can integrate together,” Galla says.
Lincoln isn't alone with its eye toward technology integration in the multifamily industry. While the multifamily sector has often been reviled as late to the game when it comes to technology deployment and integration, observers say the industry is now beginning to get up to speed. The result is that more and more companies are moving toward tighter integration of their systems—and not just property management with accounting. Multifamily tech pros say Web sites, asset management programs, marketing, contract management, human resources, and even revenue management programs are evolving together.
At Atlanta-based Post Properties, which owns and operates more than 21,500 apartment homes in the Sunbelt, execs recently integrated the REIT's MRI Residential property management system with its ResidentCheck and RentBureau resident screening programs. The result has been a tighter, and more timely, screening process for potential residents. “Our instant background screens will now be able to see rental payment information on prospects in almost real time, [including] data that has not yet made it to the credit bureaus,” says Carl Bonner, Post's senior vice president of information technology. “The data is very current and accurate, because it comes directly from our [MRI] property management software in daily or weekly feeds.”
And at Lane Co., a third-party manager of 30,000 units nationally, chief information officer Dan Haefner has been testing business intelligence software from Toronto-based Clarity Systems to gain insight into all the various systems the fee manager has in place, including its RealPage OneSite property management software. “Whether it is my HR, payroll, accounting, site occupancy, delinquency, or construction rehab information, it puts it all into a dashboard where you can see it all together,” Haefner says. “It allows you to have the most optimal view so you can manage your properties by exception, versus having to go on all the different systems and cut and paste the information together.”
COMMON DENOMINATORS The integration evolution has been spurred by the fact that apartment owners, managers, and developers have bought centralized systems from companies such as Yardi Systems, MRI Residential, and RealPage in recent years to automate their core property management and accounting functions. At the same time, a myriad of other, more specialized software firms have sprung up to serve those multifamily companies, too. These secondary providers offer everything from credit screening and online bill payment capabilities for residents to revenue management solutions and electronic invoicing and purchasing systems for owners and operators.
In the past, getting all those systems to work together—and operate off common databases—was a big hurdle, technologically speaking. But now, as technology standards have evolved, both service providers and apartment technology executives say the programs are beginning to mesh, while changing the way multifamily firms do business. A big reason lies in the technology itself. Namely, as more and more software companies use open application programming interfaces, or APIs, to allow their systems to talk to each other, developers have been able to create complementary software that adds functionality to each core system.
“We're starting to see real traction,” says Andrew Rains, vice president of sales and marketing at Cleveland-based Intuit Real Estate Solutions, which owns MRI Residential. “In the past, people had to develop a lot of point-to-point integrations, which created a kind of spaghetti network of integration. Now, though, because of the evolution of open APIs and Web-based software, integration has become much easier.”