You Don’t Have to Be Smart to Use Business Intelligence

multifamily business intelligence software


The blinking, streaming barrage of lights on WOPR in NORAD’s computer room in 1983 was some sight. Flickering green, yellow, red and orange, lights danced and jittered with critical defense information in the science-fiction thriller, “War Games.”

When young hacker David Lightman quickly walks by WOPR as its running war simulations over and over until it learns, we got a futuristic look at big data and it could be used.

Big data has inundated business, multifamily but it’s manageable

Almost 35 years later, WOPR is probably sitting in a simulated computer heap, long forgotten and overrun by its ultimate creator. Information about anything and everything abounds today, growing at an unimaginable rate.

Most of the data is unstructured in the form of texts, social media, email and instant messaging. Faster than WOPR blinks, data is transmitted through smart phones, computers and other devices in our everyday world.

No question, all of this big data has transformed the way we do business, and will continue to do so in the future.  But it’s a lot to manage, considering that 90 percent of all of this information has been created in the last three and a half years.

In multifamily, all that information generated by applications, transactions, maintenance requests, lease agreements, terminations and so forth can be headed to the same heap where WOPR rusts away if not managed effectively. The level of comprehension and time to use the data to your advantage would appear to swallow even the most massive computer engine.

No biggie, says RealPage’s Keith Dunkin.

“You don’t have to be a master of this,” he said earlier this year at the National Apartment Association Education Conference & Expo in Atlanta. “We just have to take time to understand what metrics drive our business. When we’ve identified those, how do we automate those functions so we can give back time to the team and ensure there is additional accuracy around those metrics? Then, once a quarter, we focus on evaluating a different area of our business.”

A ‘laser-like, surgical’ approach to business intelligence

When Marcellus Mosley got into the business in 1993 – 10 years after WOPR was lighting up like a Christmas tree – information overload was comparatively well under way. Yet getting to and understanding the data at CWS Capital Partners was a laborious process. What the accountants and site staff generated via pad and pen or on a computer spreadsheet took hours to assimilate.

That’s all changed.

Since launching YieldStar Business Intelligence about 10 months ago, Mosley, CWS Capital Partners’ Senior Vice President/Director of Operations, has witnessed a revival of operational efficiency within the company’s portfolio. The platform has helped CWS become “exceptional at data analytics.”

“When you think about most of what you require today in property management, it’s available through big data,” he said. “If you have the right tools in formatting, a dashboard allows your organizational teams to manage from every level. We are highly focused on how we take this data, prioritize it, communicate around it, utilize it for training and affect the most important parts of property performance.

“It’s laser-like, surgical focus.”

Transparency and visibility available at every level

CWS adopted the business intelligence tool to lessen the number crunching at the site level so more time could be spent focusing on improving performance. By removing the burden of compiling reports and information for the corporate office, property managers have more time to tend to day-to-day issues in the community, Mosley said.

With an organization that includes 100+ managers, deploying the software was strategic to ensure that everyone was on the same page and not reverting to spreadsheets. There was a learning curve, but it wasn’t rocket science. Once everybody got the hang of it, adoption went quickly.

Mosley, who says he is a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information coming at the company each day, said the new process has energized the way CWS’ asset management team functions, from regional directors to community managers and supporting operations.

“The transparency and visibility that’s now available to us at every level has transformed the way we manage,” he said. “It’s really important to figure out which components of property management are most important to your organization and to your investors, and to isolate those and have a focus on it that is consistent across all of your support platforms. When those synergies are created and you have a consistent focus in the field supported by asset management, by marketing, by operations, what comes out of that is this improved performance because there is an increased awareness at the site level. That increased awareness leads to solution finding.”

Each morning, Mosley and his team have up-to-date, accurate property performance information at their fingertips. The company’s Tuesday morning report that previously took hours to compile is ready in a matter of minutes. The latest information on move-ins, occupancy trends and leasing renewals has been integrated into a financial snapshot and budget comparison specific to the property for key stakeholders to see.

Holistic view of property operations and more time to devote to residents

The true win is how much time CWS is giving back to its management teams to do other important things, Mosley says.

“Everyone would agree the most important aspect of a community director or manager on site is focus on the customer,” he said. “How do you improve your product presentation, how do you drive higher engagement, resident satisfaction and reputation.”

Another benefit is CWS now has a universal view of how its properties are performing.

“Big data has allowed us to create this holistic view,” he said. “What you’re looking at is a short version of a process audit. The processes behind renovation reports and Tuesday morning reports have to be accurate and we’re able to go in and pull that information and see what’s happening.”

Company leaders can now better measure performance of its managers and leaders.

“We can really see who’s on top of things based on metrics of performance,” Mosley said. “Our internal promotions are a lot more objective, driven by results, rather than, ‘I kind of like what I see in this person’.”

Ready for more big data

The information stream isn’t expected to quit flowing any time soon.  Analysts say that human- and machine-generated data will increase 50-fold from now until 2020.

Whatever data comes at CWS, the company is prepared to manage and use it to its fullest, Mosley says.

“We’re pretty excited about what we’re seeing in our use of big data. We’re just really scratching the surface.”


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

author photo two

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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