As part of the program for the 2014 NMHC OpTech Conference & Exposition, NMHC President Doug Bibby engaged three of the industry’s most high-profile CEOs-UDR’s Tom Toomey, AMLI Residential Properties’ Greg Mutz and Pinnacle Family of Companies’ Rick Graf-in a candid discussion of how technology is fitting into the overall business plan. Here’s a recap of the big questions and a selection of the executives’ best responses.
How does your company use technology?
“At AMLI, we want technology to help us manage our business better and to make our residents’ lives easier. Our goal is to uniquely impact and empower both,” said Gregory Mutz, chairman and CEO of AMLI Residential Properties
How are tech decisions and investments made in your companies?
“Our decision-making process for new technologies is focused on collaboration through our tech steering committee where we make all our decisions, such as broadband vs. T1, and much more,” said Mutz
“What does my customer ask for? What do my associates need to function? I ask these questions and then decide what we’re going to do to fulfill it. Then, we determine how to spend the money we want to spend,” said Thomas Toomey, president and CEO of UDR Inc.
“We also reallocate money spent on old technologies on new technologies, so there’s no ROI because we’re simply reinvesting,” said Toomey.
What’s your level of involvement when it comes to new tech hires?
defer the bulk of the hiring of the technology leads at AMLI to other people on
my team. I’m just not as familiar with that environment, so it doesn’t make
business sense,” said Mutz.
Where is technology playing the biggest role in your operations?
“How we market
our projects and communities is completely different - just in the last three to
five years-including the technology we use, as well as adopting more integrated
training through technology,” said Rick Graf, president and CEO of Pinnacle
Family of Companies.
“What’s really changed is how we interact with our residents when it comes to mobile devices and apps. For example, making the experience easier, as well as user-friendly for our residents by ensuring that they have strong signals in common areas,” said Mutz.
What keeps you up at night when it comes to cybersecurity and data breach?
“Security has always been an issue. So moving to the cloud was part of this and helped the business in a lot of ways. The second thing is building a system that can monitor traffic in and out to help prevent data breach. Also, limiting access for employees in areas where they don’t necessarily function - then, monitoring the traffic is easier,” said Toomey.
“I’m concerned about disgruntled employees and our third-party providers. I wonder what my protection is in terms of data breach when it comes to them. So I realized we are going to have a broader level of protection from our third parties. Password protocols and changes, and how to deal with that, require continued attention,” said Graf.
As technology gets more and more sophisticated, how has the communication and quality of the information you’re getting improved?
“As we’ve added best of breed to our platforms, if you haven’t truly integrated them, the result is ‘clunky.’ We need to migrate toward having everything in one system, something we’ve struggled with,” said Graf.
“Our attitude is
that we would rather partner with someone than build our own. So when we work
with third-party vendors and they don’t have an open architecture, then we
won’t be with them in the future,” said Toomey.
“Agree with Tom, we are in the real estate business, not the technology business, so we partner with others to deliver what our residents and associates need. We are always pushing hard to get the best products in the specific areas where we need them,” Mutz added.
How do you manage risk?
“We have a senior vice president of risk management-legal, state law compliance, etc.-all flow up from this risk management group. It’s silly to build something up without putting things in place to appropriately address risk so you continue to be successful,” said Mutz.
Where do you see technology playing the
biggest and more transformative role in the future?
“Definitely marketing. Kids with cell phones come into our leasing office at all times. All our properties are LEED certified, so we’re using technology to reduce costs there. All parts of our business will be impacted because we will become more technology reliant,” said Mutz.
“We are capturing more behavior patterns and we’re going to start getting smarter about how to keep the quality resident. We are going to get a lot more data in order to get into this predictive nature, which will also include our associates. We are essentially going to get better at getting our associates’ skill sets to match up,” Toomey explained.
“I agree with Tom. The big department stores are getting good at understanding who their customers are and predicting their behaviors. They are meshing all the things that are happening - snow storms with promoting shovels at Home Depot, for example. It looks like this is way out there for multifamily, but it’s really there for multifamily in terms of residents and associates and predicting their behavior,” said Graf.