Multifamily building owners and managers aren't just spending money on technology to make their buildings more appealing for renters. They're also making significant investments in automation to improve efficiency of maintaining and operating these properties.

Contrast these developments with 10 years ago, when every employee needed to work from a company location, phone service featured voice mail or telephone answering machines at best, and apartment pricing decisions were made on a uniform basis, without factoring in current market trends, availability levels or other variables.

Ambling Management Co. of Atlanta is in the process of deploying an increasingly popular technology called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) that can be used to carry voice calls over the same network that's used to transmit data. It's commonly touted as a cost-saving technology, and Ambling's experience supports that notion.

Many Ambling home-office employees have traditionally had both high-speed Internet access and separate phone lines. With the introduction of VOIP, their voice and data transmissions will both go over the high-speed Internet connection.

“They'll plug into that network and [there will] be another device on the network to make voice and fax calls,” says Ken Miller, Ambling's CIO. Through factors including the elimination of dedicated voice lines, Ambling will achieve a payback on its VOIP system in 19 months, Miller adds.

At Denver-based Archstone-Smith, the company has invested in inventory management software that it uses to scientifically price apartments in real time, based on a variety of factors. That's a significant improvement over having community managers make manual pricing decisions on a site-wide basis. “Because of this product, we can offer a variety of lease terms from two to 12 months, each with a unique price,” says Heather Campbell, assistant vice president, corporate communications. The system has helped Archstone-Smith maintain occupancy rates at 95 percent or so during the economic downturn.

The system positively impacts revenue and profitability. “We also like the customer aspect,” Campbell says. “It provides them with a level of flexibility that consistently has not been present in the apartment industry.”