LISTEN TO PROPERTYBRIDGE vice president Jason Gardner talk tech strategies for 2009, and you'd swear he was an apartment owner. “This is a critical time—whether you're a REIT or private company, everyone is feeling the pain,” Gardner says. “You need to ask your vendors specifically: How can your technology save me money, save me time, and streamline my operations?”
Operational efficiency and cost savings have always been technology's golden promises, and Gardner believes the revenue-challenged environment of 2009 will mean holding systems accountable for every dollar they pledge to save.
“I don't see us spending a couple hundred grand on something new as much as we'll refine what we already have,” attests Dave Woodward, managing partner and CEO of Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Laramar Group. “2009 will be a year to look back and reflect on the technology programs that have been successful and will be much less about pushing the envelope.”
Recently elected to the NMHC-backed Multifamily Information and Transaction Standards (MITS) governance board, Gardner also suggests that multifamily execs opt for systems that embrace common data standards. “We all want to pass information back and forth in a way that cuts costs for owners and managers,” Gardner says. “In today's economy, technology that doesn't save time, doesn't save money, and doesn't maximize resources is just a waste.”
While a critical eye will be on systems this year, tech needs should not be ignored. The need for innovation will persist. “All the new residential buildings have smart keypads for environmental controls and integrated alarms, not to mention high-speed Internet and WiFi,” says Richard Swerdlow, CEO of Coconut Grove, Fla.-based condo and apartment Internet listing service Condo.com. Swerdlow points to resident screening as one area that could be vital to operators, particularly as Americans wrestle with the foreclosure crisis.
When it comes to bells and whistles, however, don't abandon the wizardry, Swerdlow advises. “Everybody loves technology: Residents want it, and developers can make some ancillary income off of it.”
Call it the IT dream team. When Seattle-based Pinnacle decided to overhaul the firm's approach to technology, it began by assembling a who's who of multifamily's best techies. As part of a strategy announced last fall, the fee manager hired top IT execs Brian Galla and Woody Stone away from Lincoln Property Co. and JPI, respectively, to join Pinnacle vet Gary Myers and the firm's vice president of IT Scott McCurdy (himself a tech all-star).
“We're laying the foundation now for even more efficient technologies and structured services in the future,” McCurdy says.