What is the one word you should never utter when one of your employees approaches you with an idea for a new tech initiative? “No,” concurred a panel of tech industry executives. 

“When a cool idea comes along, don’t say ‘no,’" advised Kristy Simonette, vice president and chief information officer of Houston-based Camden Property Trust. “Your first reaction is likely that you don’t have time for this, but a lot of cool things can be done with little time investment. So instead of 'No,' say, ‘Let’s think about it.’”

Both time and money are at a premium today, given reduced budgets and lean staffs. As a result, firms have less appetite to build product in-house and are increasingly reaching out to third-party providers for tech apps they might have previously handled in-house before the recession. “Archstone builds more [products] than most,” said panelist Donald Davidoff, Archstone’s group vice president of strategic systems. “But we are reviewing our internal apps, and when there are serious buy options, we are looking at buying one and throwing out what we do.” 

Similarly, UDR has little appetite to build anything. “If it doesn’t have a payback within 36 months, we won’t touch it and will move to an off-the-shelf product,” said panelist Dhrubo Sircar, senior vice president and chief information officer at Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based UDR.

Despite the economic slowdown, firms are still investing in technology. Woody A. Stone, senior director of Pinnacle, an American Management Services Co., said that his firm is investing more in IT now than ever before. “We are leaning on vendors more to handle projects and do the heavy lifting but we are investing in a number of capital projects.” The firm's upcoming tech initiatives include revenue management and virtualization.