Noting that the impact of technology has been a business constant in multifamily for the past decade, National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) vice president of capital markets and technology David Cardwell kicked off the association’s annual Technology and Operations Conference with comments that echoed speaker and attendee sentiments during the three-day event, held Nov. 7 through 9. In sessions addressing social media, cloud computing, revenue management, mobile technologies, and electronic marketing, the message that IT and operations need to continue to deepen their alignment in order to play a greater corporate strategic role rang loud and clear.
While IT steering committees tend to meet monthly and typically include representation from a cross section of business units, more could be done to include the IT perspective in higher-level senior executive and C-level strategic meetings. “It’s more than simply aligning an IT strategy with a corporate strategy,” said Scott Wesson, chief information officer for Highlands Ranch, Colo.–based UDR, who moderated the “Integrated Approaches to Business and Technology” keynote panel. “It’s one of the challenges of IT to figure out how to become a part of corporate strategic meetings. You need to be in that meeting, or you at least need to know what's being said in it, because what’s happening next is something that we need to get out in front of as technologists and providers of solutions.”
At Irvine, Calif.–based Irvine Company Apartment Communities, executives have a planning process that includes IT in which business strategies for the ensuing 12 to 18 months are discussed, says the firm’s vice president of program and service delivery Brian Zrimesek. “But are we completely sitting down and working on those business strategies? Am I in that room yet? No. I’d love to be in that room; it’s hard to get into that room,” Zrimesek said. “Over the six business units that we deal with, there are varying degrees of strategic engagement, and I believe you have to be able to prove that you can do the order-taking portion of the business, and then they’ll let you come in and participate in the more strategic discussions.”
Key to a greater IT department gain of strategic responsibilities is continued collaboration with the operations side of multifamily business, the panel concluded. Even utilizing so-called "embedding" tactics that co-locate help-desk staff among rank-and-file employees have shown to improve the integration between departments, noted Orlando, Fla.–based Concord Management chief information officer Robin Robuck. “We do have desktop support out in the field on a regular basis, and on-site staffs have gotten to know them and build deeper trust relationships between operations and IT, preventing self-decisioning and shadow IT [the phenomenon of users attempting to fix technology problems themselves rather than rely on a firm’s official tech support staff].”
Co-location can also improve IT's understanding of enterprise issues related to operations and culture, noted Foster City, Calif.–based Legacy Partners chief information officer David Hott. “It helps help-desk people see that on-site operations staff live in a constant state of interruption, and can create a lot more empathy for someone who simply can’t talk over IT issues on the phone for half an hour,” Hott said. “That’s an example of how we can work to get into that strategy room. To really get in there, the IT professional has to rely on a champion on the operations side, such as the COO, but also show a clear understanding of the business goals of the future.”