Technological advances have allowed industry executives to exponentially
expand the amount of data collected on just about everything, from
their customers and communities to their employees and service
providers. However, for many, the volume, velocity and variety of the
information create a crowded data landscape, making it difficult to weed
out important insights and emerging trends.
“The more data elements you have, the less they matter,” said Scott Wesson, senior vice president and CIO at UDR, Inc., during the Tech Guys Gone Wild session. “[Getting to the takeaways] is not a technology issue, it’s a leadership issue. It’s important to figure out why you want to track what you want to track and what you want to do differently once you have that information.”
But getting a grip on the tsunami of data isn’t just a struggle for apartment firms. Other industries-airlines, retail, hospitality-are wading through similar issues.
During an engaging roundtable with key executives from hotel giant
Hilton, Michael Donahue, senior director of sales strategies for Hilton
Worldwide, said, “We’re being bombarded with lots of terminology. We are
littered with acronyms and descriptors that seem to be conflicting.
There’s database marketing, business intelligence, which is basically
bolting on software, and data mining-and that really has to do with
cloning and predictive analytics. People use those terms interchangeably
and they're not really.”
But how well apartment firms are leveraging their data to make informed business decisions varies dramatically based on where along the data curve they are. Many smaller firms are just getting into strategic business intelligence, learning to use Excel databases to the fullest degree. Others have moved into more sophisticated systems but are struggling to make the data being collected more actionable. And still others have prioritized business needs, allowing them to better find specific answers to specific questions.
During several discussions, industry executives a little further along in the evolution of business intelligence made mention of the many ways they are using their data to effect change. The key was thinking “hyper local” by focusing on one specific relationship. For example, some were looking into overlaying weather data with community traffic data to determine the strength of the correlation. Another firm was looking at tracking residents’ prior addresses to figure out how they could more efficiently direct marketing dollars. Another revamped its compensation programs based on a deep dive into some data.
For Blerim Zeqiri, vice president of asset management for Alliance Residential Company and a panelist at the session Business Intelligence on a Budget, there area couple major areas where better business intelligence could significantly improve apartment firms’ performance.
There are two categories we can dig in more detail,” he said. “One is
marketing with pay-for-click campaigns. ... The other component is
revenue management, where we have a lot more information on what's
working and what's not. We're learning, for example, that it makes
sense sometimes to do something that in the past we thought was heresy
and do a six-month lease versus a 12-month lease.”
However, some apartment companies are still taking some critical missteps that are preventing them from truly unlocking the potential of their data. Poor data quality was an oft-cited issue, and executives recommended that firms establish standard definitions for specific data points and eliminate useless data categories such as “other.” They also encouraged firms to pare back the number of data users, as well as the number of individual and/or customizable reports, and think more about data visualization, so emerging trends can be identified more easily than in columns of numbers.
Shawn Mahoney, vice president and CIO for Windsor Communities and GID Company, added, “There should be no on-site analytics. Data should be aggregated at a division or regional level. The sales floor should be like a factory. You want the on-site people to just focus on doing their job. You can give them a report generated from an analytical system, but it’s not necessary for them to have an analytical tool.”