READ TIME: 4 minutes
This year's NHMC OPTECH conference was the biggest ever...ok, well it's pretty much that way every year! And it's no wonder - the technology push in multifamily has been rolling for the last few years and it's not slowing down.
Being the first year for ServusConnect at the conference, we were obviously excited to meet industry leaders in a very focussed, like-minded environment and share our vision for automating and optimizing maintenance operations. But we were also keen on wrapping our heads around the mega-trends with technology in multifamily and consuming as many sessions as possible from industry experts.
Considering OPTECH is well covered by media outlets and various industry technology enthusiasts, it's likely you've already seen some analysis. So rather than re-boil the ocean, we wanted to take a different approach and share a couple of points on how some of the content and our experience at #OPTECH18 made us feel.
1. Thinking about 'Smart Apartments' hurts my brain.
Unless you completely skipped out and went to a nearby amusement park, you might have noticed the plethora of smart apartment vendors in the expo hall - locks, hubs, cameras, leak sensors, assistants, bots....I think I also might have seen a smart toilet valve???
Anyhow, you name it, it was there. Seriously - it kinda reminded me of the Consumer Electronics Show! There were also plenty of sessions on the topic.
Apartment operators have a lot to think about. Which of these technologies are just fads? Which ones (and companies) do you place a bet with? What is their useful life? Will they positively impact occupancy? Can we charge an amenity fee for them and for how long? The scariest one of all: are they secure and what sort of legal liability are we under if one of these things go sideways???? (more on that in #3)
Brain hurt. Ugh....
If you are an apartment operator and are reading this, I'm sorry, this is going to hurt a little. There are no blueprints for success here and you will make mistakes, but that's ok - all in the name of learning and progress right?
From our purview, Smart Locks seem to be here to stay, though there are many open questions around centralized management capabilities, support, integration, security, upgrades, etc. These will be answered in due time.
Our advice, if your portfolio is such that you can wait on apartment smart-tech, then wait and see how this plays out over the next 6-12 months. If you need to make a move, then start educating yourself in this area - learn as much as you can and make an informed decision based on available data. (Actually, you should do this if you are in wait-and-see mode as well.) If you are big enough, and you haven't already done this, identify someone in your org to focus on innovation, research & practical implementation (yes, this is a real job).
In either case, optimizing onsite operations today should be a focus, especially maintenance. For better or worse, your maintenance teams will be on the front lines as you move forward in the smart amenity wars. So best to start preparing and implementing operational technology today to help manage, track & digitally document current workloads today so you can be informed and agile for increased load when you start layering in some of these new technologies. (BTW - ServusConnect can help with this - click the button below learn more!)
2. Packages. Sooooo many packages!
Stupid Amazon Prime.
Literally...I don't have enough fingers and toes to add up the number of times I heard executives mention the challenges of dealing with increasing package volumes and where to put them on-property!
Similar to the number of smart lock vendors on the expo floor, there were a similar amount of package-handling solution vendors.
Our takeaway is that package handling is maddening, but also kinda cool in a way. Not one approach or technology fits every community and there are enough innovative ideas on how to deal with them that operators can sample. Some apartment communities may warrant high-tech digital lockers, others a storage room with scan-in-scan-out mobile app solution, or maybe you outsource the whole dang thing!
That being said, if there was one commonality, it had to be the use of push notifications, whether SMS/txt or app-based, to deliver automated package updates to residents. This functionality is a must have with any and every resident-facing service!
3. Who invited the Lawyers?!
Ahh, no one knows how to bring the sobering facts of life to light like the lawyer-crowd! Get used to seeing them at industry events related to technology. Here is a quick synopsis of Thursday morning breakfast discussion on Internet of Things Technology Legal Trends & Best Practices styled after SNL's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer skit:
Presenting Attorney: "I'm just a simple caveman. Your world frightens and confuses me and sometimes the chaos makes me want to summon an Uber from this magical handheld device and have it take me off into the hills...or whatever. How does that work anyways??? My primitive mind can't grasp your technology....but I do know this: the inherent language of contracts currently being circulated by IoT vendors are woefully insufficient to address the amount of risk associated with deploying this new generation of technology. Furthermore, contractual language around intellectual property rights, data usage & ownership, security, support and data privacy must be reviewed and brought up to, at least, a mutually agreeable standard. And finally, it is imperative that the liability insurance coverage of IoT vendors have policy limits that are associated with the risk..."
All humor aside, anyone who was in the room (it was standing room only) can attest that this a pretty good synopsis! The session and the content were timely considering the IoT mega-theme of the conference...and Ian and Scott of David Craig PLLC know their stuff in this space. Nice job guys!
4. Why Didn't We Book a DJ for our booth?
It's always fun checking out the highly-customized booths that show up at big trade shows. #OPTECH18 was no different. Posh white-leather seating areas and in-booth open bars are old news. This year LeaseLabs takes the prize by mixing earthy barn/pallet-wood backdrops with modern styling, lots of LED lighting and....wait-for-it...an in-booth DJ spinning custom mixes!
Yes, that is a real hashtag. It's good to live the #leaselabslife. Bravo LeaseLabs, bravo.
5. And the Best Display & Use of a Technology at #OPTECH18 award goes go....
Anyone who had to live offsite from the Rosen Conference center, and there were a lot of us, made constant use these popular ride-hailing apps. If you stood outside of the convention center at the Rosen, there were a constant stream of pickups and drop-offs.
Seriously, is this not the best app-based technology service innovation of the 21st century?! It is literally like magic. The apartment industry can learn a lot from this technology...