Cover Image for Innovation Means More Than New Devices

Innovation Means More Than New Devices

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Bryan Jenks
Bryan Jenks

As we dig through the clutter that is the IoT sphere, we are beginning to understand that traditional purchasing processes in the MDU are becoming more disparate. Every level of usual vendor, software firm, or solution provider offers different takes on the status quo, the immediate need, and the future proof concepts where their audience may find value. This is the obvious Innovation Adoption Lifecycle of innovators, early adopters, majority, and laggards still hold true. Let’s dive further into the levels of responsibility since we understand why you may want some clarity. Consider the following variables.

Variable A = Physical Devices or Assets

I’d venture a guess that those interested enough to get an intro (via yours truly) to know a firm, a friend, or have yourselves have your hands on some devices for the technological advancement of your communities. I mean, we all started with “smart thermostats” that were simply programmable, didn’t we? We were the innovators. The ones that went from granite to quartz, from natural oak to grey, and LED to Edison bulbs. Those of us that ventured further into the deep end were met with USB outlets, with video intercom systems, and package lockers. 

All great ideas—all value adds for our residents—and all quickly outpaced by the speed of the next round of Innovation. Who did we source these devices from? I know I sourced them from our traditional vendor chain. Need 300 thermostats? Call your maintenance supplier. Need an intercom system? Call the folks that put in your security cameras. The list of examples is endless. These traditional contacts—the “A” if you will—always had what we needed.

And we got by! The residents like the innovations when they work. Or they like the new color scheme, when it’s dry. They enjoy the gas heater added to the pool, though maybe not the additional increase in common area utilities. They’re easy installs that require very little implementation as they are mostly static advances. The USB outlet is a plug. The countertops don’t need servicing. The bulbs went out, yes, but were easily replaced. These were all things that WE did. WE developed the strategies for our portfolios. WE advised our ownership groups. WE were responsible for the overall success of the “solution”. But now in the world of IoT, WE have almost certainly tried something that failed. WE have almost certainly had a “smart” device go absurdly haywire. 

After those attempts it is also the WE that reached out to our traditional “Variable A” vendors to help. Unfortunately, those vendors vend, they don’t mend. So, to save the physical assets we put in place, we reach out to software firms for help.


Variable B = Software

I don’t have to go far to hit a software company many of you are in business with. Yardi was always one of my favorites. I get the nuance of OneSite, and the user friendliness of Utah’s Entrata, but Yardi and I go way back. We in the MDU are used to software, patches, renewal contracts and increases in licensing premiums. We’re happy when the things work and we’re happy with the new versions that generally work the second time around. These purchases come from a different level of vendor as we receive support on the software as part of our agreements. Trouble logging in? No sweat. Need a new user? Easy peasy. These folks operate in cyberspace, in the cloud, over the world wide web. Tech support calls come with the territory. 

We put these soft assets on something we probably sourced from a vendor, like a laptop, desktop, or a tablet, if I still have the Innovator crowd at this point. We run our Doorking systems on a computer in the maintenance office. We run our Yardi in the leasing offices. Unfortunately, unless the system is sold with a proprietary hardware portal, ie: KeyTrak, we’re left to remediate our own computer issues. However, in today’s world those issues generally don’t require more than a basic understanding of computing. Replace RAM? Swap to sticks. Monitor goes out? Just buy another one. Not difficult unless we add the world of IoT to the mix.

Your device hardware loses connection to your chosen software/application? Problems stretch as far as the eye can see. Angry residents, faulty access controls, incomplete tours, and negative word of mouth all because a few residents can’t turn on their bathroom lights with the Alexa in their kitchen. After all WE are the ones that decided to buy the software that WE probably had the software company source or bought from our traditional vendor. See how these pieces add elements of avoidable risk? Maybe the way to run an implementation and installation of something that is designed to increase your NOI/ROI, elevate the resident experience, and add efficiencies and effectiveness to your managerial processes is to utilize variable C...the solution provider.

Variable C = Solutions

Some people like puzzles, and some people like paintings. When it comes to installations and implementations of something that will literally change the way that your residents move around their communities: spread the message of either their happiness or the painting. This is the solution approach. You simply don’t have to be the end all be all anymore. You don’t have to take the disjointed pieces from your traditional vendor, attempt to incorporate them into a software, and paint the solution that you intended for your residents. This is the majesty of device agnostic, solution providers that have no iron in the fire for any specific devices. You want the same brand of device for exterior and interior doors? Fine. You want them to be different because the unit doors can have biometric fingerprint readers? Absolutely. You had better reach out to a solution provider that can do both, otherwise it’s not only you that will pay the price, but your residents as well.

This IoT avenue that our industry is going down is complex and full of unexpected pitfalls. If an application patch doesn’t work and corrupts the physical device does the software know the device’s errors? Maybe. I don’t personally accept that level of risk and would scrutinize the implementation away from allowing for that. When the device begins to drain its last usable power, does the software instruct, through a series of automations, the maintenance staff to immediately address that concern so the resident doesn’t have to. It had better because I’m not going to risk the resident's satisfaction over it. 

That is what solution providers can offer, a system that works regardless of data input or brand. The solution is meant to bring your resident into a new way of occupying space, not be cumbersome to use or full of needless touch points because it wasn’t designed in unison.

You Get What You Pay For

You can buy all these things, including software contracts, from a traditional vendor (A). You can buy devices and service contracts from software companies (B). You can buy a complete solution that includes software, and devices (C). A=B=C. You cannot, however, rely on the effectiveness of any IoT if not included in the initial implementation, installation, training, delivery, and intended value proposition to your residents.

Robert Mudd

VP, Business Development


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