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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Mobile Inspections, Multifamily Residences, and the Power of BI

Reliable business intelligence is revolutionizing the multifamily residential market.

There are more than 18 million rental apartments in the United States, and the 35 million residents who live in them generate more than a trillion dollars in revenue annually. Those are impressive numbers, but for all of its bottom-line success, the multifamily industry is surprisingly behind the times when it comes to technology.

Property managers have historically used paper inspection forms to track the problems they encounter, and most operators lack the business intelligence (BI) tools that could analyze the data collected and spot trends, predict patterns, and make decisions that could boost net income.

How BI Can Help Property Managers

Effective BI starts with quality information, but paper-based property inspections record only single instances, such as a broken dishwasher in a unit or a flooded laundry room in a building. It's nearly impossible to aggregate hundreds (or thousands) of paper forms and uncover larger, portfolio-wide issues in a timely manner.

That's where BI plays a vital role in helping property companies discover trends, not just instances -- in this case BI could alert the manager to suspend purchases of that dishwasher make and model, avoiding a flood of unnecessary repairs and frustrated residents.

Here's how a typical inspection goes: A property manager walks through an apartment complex with her paper checklist on a clipboard. She finds a pair of malfunctioning refrigerators and water damage in the drywall. She has the fridges repaired and the drywall replaced. Problem solved, right?

What she doesn't know -- and has no way of finding out -- is that the drywall (bought in bulk by the multifamily company) is unusually susceptible to water damage, and hundreds of fridges in dozens of locations are from a faulty production run. Individual property managers can successfully solve isolated problems, but they can't unearth wider trends. Without companywide data collection, individual property issues remain segregated, with no ability to connect the dots.

Mobile Apps Bringing Analytics to an Analog Industry

In this analog world, how is BI even possible? In short, it isn't, which is why mobile apps are quickly gaining a foothold in an industry that has been notoriously reluctant to go digital.

Mobile inspection tools give property owners the ability to see patterns across their entire portfolio. Every time a problem is logged on a mobile inspection platform, the platform sends that information to a BI tool. Analytics software catches the uptick in faulty fridges and damp drywall and analysts notice the connection between these problems and the company's buying practices. They do what only business intelligence makes possible: they spot trends so enterprises of any size can take corrective action. In a trillion-dollar industry, identifying trends can save millions of dollars. Rather than quashing problems one at a time (I think of it as playing Whack-A-Mole), business intelligence empowers multifamily companies to handle multiple issues with one swing of the mallet.

The business intelligence difference is significant: multifamily firms get a $13 return on investment for every dollar they spend on analytics and see a 968 percent return on investment, according to Nucleus Research.

Reliable BI Transforming Property Management

Reliable business intelligence is beginning to revolutionize the multifamily residential market. Leaders can now spot patterns instead of patching isolated issues as they crop up, helping them save tremendously on repairs and retrofitting over the long term. Residents will live in better conditions as managers solve problems proactively, which will increase resident satisfaction and make forward-looking properties more desirable places to live.

For the multifamily industry, business intelligence is about more than going from analog to digital. It's about understanding systems and seeing the whole night sky instead of one star at a time.

About the Author

Jindou Lee is CEO of HappyCo, a San Francisco-based technology company that develops cloud- and mobile-based software for the commercial and residential real estate industries. You can contact the author at [email protected].

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