Top 4 Takeaways from NMHC OpTech 2015 

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The wealth of vendors lining the hall with gizmos and gadgets at the National Multifamily Housing Council’s OpTech Conference & Exposition 2015 were proof technology has become fundamental to the apartment industry.

When OpTech began a few years ago, talk was of technology to come. Today, tech has extended beyond and into everyday operations and amenities that enable multifamily housing communities to thrive and maintain a competitive edge.

The technology of tomorrow is today. We are no longer “going” mobile…we are mobile. In his opening remarks, NMHC President Doug Bibby told industry leaders that the depth of knowledge and opportunity was deep within the towering Hilton San Diego Bayfront and hinted of some revolutionary – and somewhat startling – technology on the horizon.

Salim Ismail, a technology strategist at Singularity University, painted a picture of the fastest growing technologies and how a new breed of tech-savvy startup businesses are scaling 10 times faster than established companies. He said advances in automation, like driverless cars and freight trucks, as well as smartphone technology that can diagnose medical conditions faster than doctors, are rapidly taking society and industry into unchartered waters.

“We’re digitizing the world,” he said. “Our memories are not in our head. They are in our smartphones.”

Here are Property Management Insider’s top 4 takeaways from OpTech:

1. Automation from packages to apartment tours is here

Technology – including the use of drones, 3D printers and driver-less transportation – are likely to have an impact on the apartment industry in particular. Enhanced accessibility without driving, for example, could stimulate more movement to the suburbs. And, without resident-owned cars, developers could devote more space to building housing than parking cars.

One of the first sessions out of the gate suggested that that self-service apartment shopping is just a click away, and another detailed how marketing automation allows for personalized messaging targeted to prospects at key points in their decision-making process.

Elaine Williams, owner and president of Elaine Williams Consulting Services, Inc., conducted a panel that touched on one of the industry’s hottest topics – package delivery – as well as virtual apartment tours and self-service showings.

Panelists agreed that the threshold of expectation among residents for package deliveries is high. Properties are seeing results with automated package delivery systems, with one leader saying that three to four hours a day on the concierge side were immediately saved at one community in the first week of installation.

Others are weighing how to manage residents who don’t retrieve packages soon enough, and one panelists said his company is exploring ways for staff and residents to use systems other than accepting packages from carriers.

Dean Holmes, CEO Madison Apartment Group, asks why not use systems for exchanges between residents and the property, even resident to resident.

The conversation was especially relevant since the new National Multifamily Housing Council/Kingsley Associates 2015 Apartment Resident Preferences Survey, announced at the end of the conference, confirms that residents want package delivery. Of nearly 120,000 polled, seventy-two percent want a package storage/holding area. However, 87 percent said they are not willing to pay for a package locker.

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2. As consumers cut the cord, apartments have to adjust

Discussions also centered on how some communities are creating programs that let residents take their own tours, offsetting limited resources of onsite staff to show apartments. “DIY: 24/7 Self-Service Apartments” revealed self-service tours are successful at some properties, while others are taking prospects on a virtual showing of apartments through Oculus Rift video technology.

Others focused on the air and what’s behind apartment walls. Increased resident demand for wireless connectivity to various personal devices is causing apartment technology teams to look at infrastructure differently. It used to be that infrastructure was cables in the wall, but wireless capabilities are competing for – and jamming – infrastructure.

Steve Sadler, director of resident technology services at RealPage, Inc., hosted “Cord Shavers, Cutters and Nevers: What They Mean for Apartment Telecom Infrastructure” and explored with service providers and property operators how to balance demand with changing infrastructure needs.

Doug Woods, vice president of corporate development at data service provider WAVE, says more consumers are cutting cable TV and satellite service in favor of streaming services and data packages.

Almost half of WAVE subscribers now get the minimum channel package, up more than 30 percent from a year ago, he said. People are watching fewer channels, and spending more on faster data services.

“It’s pretty obvious that we’re on the cusp of what’s really coming,” he said.

Matt Paschick, who owns National Wi-Fi, noted that, because more wireless devices are competing for gigabytes in older infrastructure, the apartment industry must find a way to address a growing problem with jammed signals.

The NMHC/Kingsley Associates survey notes how much mobile is king in the apartment space. Of renters polled, nearly 100 percent said good reception is important and 53 percent said they tested connectivity during their apartment tour.

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3. Good ‘cyber hygiene’ can prevent cyber attacks, data breaches

With abundance of data wafting through the air comes the potential for serious issues with the private information obtained from residents in the leasing and screening processes.

In the panel, “Managing a Data Breach or Cyber Attack”, a special agent for the U.S. Secret Service told attendees that there are two types of companies today: those that have been hacked and others that don’t know it yet. And it’s not a question of if companies will get attacked, but when.

Believe it or not, says Matthew McCabe of Marsh FINPRO, most cyber-attacks aren’t the result of stealthy hackers, probing networks and data banks through sophisticated cyber maneuvering. In fact, they are usually the result of bad human “cyber hygiene”.

Revealing a password to the wrong person or plugging in a stick with unknown origins are common ways data is breached. And how the company handles the attack with customers is even more critical. A poorly orchestrated response to a cyber event by a property management company can potentially cause catastrophic reputation damage.

4. Believe in yourself as a leader

While OpTech was heavy on technology, the conference offered insight into property management essentials that aren’t achieved through bytes and bandwidth. Several SnapSessions offered crash courses on topics from leadership to search engine optimization to maneuvering Instagram.

Pam Roberts, an account manager from Grace Hill, said that those who can successfully motivate, build relationships, construct teams, make decisions and have a vision have what it takes to lead.

Believe in yourself as a leader, she said. If you exude confidence and sell yourself, people will follow.

Perhaps at the same rate that technology leads the way.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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