In late 2020, One11 Advisors conducted a comprehensive study of the multifamily industry’s perceptions of its needs for new technology purchases and implementation. Senior Director Kevin Thompson, a 20-year multifamily veteran, presented findings and their implications for tech companies serving the apartment industry.
The survey provides detail and context on key areas of technology adoption that drive implementation and sales including: barriers to innovation; areas of greatest outsourcing; challenges with property management systems; cybersecurity needs and challenges; and how IT leaders perceive their companies’ needs for technology/software.
Job description. The IT executive’s role, his or her title, and who he or she reports to vary greatly, and even more so, based on company size. The survey measured small- (100 to 10,000 units), medium- (10,001 to 25,000) and large- (25,001 to 60,000) and largest-sized (60,001 or more) companies
The head of IT in 63 percent of the responding companies fulfills other roles in the company, most notably those related to telecom and project management. More than one-fourth (26 percent) do not have any supporting staff members in their department; 74 percent outsource some functions; and more than half (54 percent) hire contractors.
“Most of what is outsourced are core competencies,” Thompson says. “The in-house IT team is still needed and plays a valuable role. What to outsource is often based on ‘picking your battles’ on what to deal with based on your company’s priorities or needs.”
Vetting technology. Some 68 percent of companies do not have a committee designed to vet technology; and 59 percent do not have a technology steering committee to suggest needs and wants.
Of those with a steering committee, the IT director plays a collaborative role in the process at 62 percent of the responding companies; is the decision-maker at 31 percent; and is an observer at 7 percent.
“Steering committees are an important part of IT strategy,” Thompson says. “Most companies don’t have one. Committees should include a diverse set of employees – different tech skills sets and representatives from a variety of departments.
“Committee members’ jobs is to rank initiatives and discuss which solutions are needed to achieve them. Among the common mistakes these committees make is using a popularity contest to determine IT decisions. Decisions shouldn’t be made based on ‘everyone’s favorite.’ You have to focus on what’s important, and not just on what’s fun and new.”
Thompson says committee members should have an understanding of how they will contribute to the conversation and outcome. Is the committee there to lead? To follow? Or to equally collaborate?
Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is top of mind for everyone, Thompson says.
“You need to find ‘what’s evil’ out there, especially during times of COVID-19 when so many people are working from home and are susceptible to real vulnerabilities,” he says. “Our industry has a history of ignoring what scares us – like cybersecurity. Pfishing and ransomware are everywhere. You need to use technology to solve a crisis.”
When it comes to cybersecurity, 57 percent of companies handle it in-house, including 100 percent of those in the “largest” survey category; 61 percent perform penetration testing; of those, only 17 percent conduct them monthly while 53 percent do so annually.
“With so much work-from-home going on right now, it’s even more difficult to test and train for cyber prevention,” he says. “But you have to do it. You’re never ‘done’ with cyber security training.”
Data protection. Protecting resident data is critical, as well; 64 percent of responding companies, a single-stack property management solution is used, and it’s applied throughout the portfolio.
“You have tens of thousands of resident records,” Thompson says. “That’s enough for a small city. And you need to hold your supplier partners to protecting your data, too.
Final thoughts. The main barrier to technology adaption is integration, company respondents agree. Of the leading topics that IT professionals will focus on for the next 3 to 5 years, AI/machine learning and robotics was atop the list.
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