Apple held their Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) last week and received highly positive reviews from critics for the format of the conference, the openness of the presentations, and the evolution of their software. Keeping with tradition, Apple did not announce any hardware, instead focusing on software. Announcements included iOS 8, OS X Yosemite, and Continuity. I make a point to watch these events when I can and this time around, picked out a few trends that I thought were worth noting:
- The Development Ecosystem Matters
- The Computing Experience Is Evolving
- Good Software Requires Good Feedback
The Development Ecosystem
When choosing a technology platform, whether for your personal computing needs or for your multifamily asset management, finding a provider with an open and richly documented API is critical. Software is so malleable that it will never be possible for any company to satisfy the unique requirements of every user. The traditional method for resolving gaps in functionality has been for property management companies to beg and plead to get their requirements on to the road map of their chosen vendor. Nimble vendors have been able to adapt to these requirements and meet the needs of their customer base, but as vendors grow in size, changing products dramatically becomes much more challenging. It is, therefore, critical that vendors publish an API to allow Management Companies to build unique features on top of the existing software platform.
In fact, many property management companies are finding this a unique way to differentiate. They can build features and functionality unique to their business requirements that no other property management company can take advantage of, short of building the functionality themselves. It may sound crazy now, but I predict that in the coming years, most 2,000+ unit property management companies will employ a contractor or full-time staff to build unique functionality into their technology platform. The fastest and most economical way to get an ROI out of these resources will be to build on top of a robust API. Here are some examples of things they ought to be able to do with the API:
- Custom Student Roommate Matching Algorithms
- Preventative Maintenance Scheduling
- Unique Marketing Automation Schemes (automating communication to prospects)
- Brand-specific Communication Templates
- Integration into small, regional ILS’s
- Specialized Facebook Integration for Community Building
In the world of consumer technology, Apple empowers developers with tools and documentation— your vendor in the multifamily software space should be doing the same.
The Computer Experience Is Evolving
I was impressed with Apple’s announcement of Continuity. There have been many times personally where I’m drafting an email at my computer, and I stand up to walk away. In the future, I’ll be able to pick up where I left off right on my iPhone. This functionality extends into web browsing as well, making responsive design that much more critical for property management companies to consider as a necessary strategy for their websites.
At a technical level, cloud computing is what makes the apple ubiquitous experience possible. In the multi-family space, there ought to be comparable experiences. Here are some that do or ought to exist:
- Ubiquitous Lead Communication – Email, SMS, Phone, Instant Message
- Seamless device workflow for Leads – Start at computer, continue on tablet, finish on phone
- Context-aware Alerts – Detect which device the leasing agent is at and alert them to new leads
- Responsive websites that maintain lead data from desktop to mobile device, allowing prospects to continue their application on the go
You get the idea. Regardless of the device or browser, the experience should match the needs of your users. These ideas are likely primitive compared to what customers will demand even two years from now. It’s critical that you and your vendor both watch this consumer experience as it shifts, and answer appropriately.
Good Software Requires Good Feedback
Apple is going to do something unique in July— they’re opening their products to a public beta. Google has done this for years, most notably with GMail maintaining the beta tag for many years while they evolved the email client. For Apple, this is new territory. Traditionally, Apple has focused on perfecting anything they’ve released to consumers. This year, however, the public beta will open Apple to a lot of scrutiny. The products surely won’t be perfect this early, and customers might experience bugs, eroding some of the pedestal that Apple now sits atop. Why would Apple shift their strategy after years of a positive track record without public betas?
My theory is that customer feedback during the beta period will allow Apple to iterate more quickly, ultimately decreasing their cycle time on how quickly they release new versions of their software. Cycle time is a critical measure of how effective a software company is. In the multifamily space, cycle time is also critically important for property management companies to stay on top of the ever evolving technology space.
I’ve learned many lessons from Apple over the years, watching from the outside. As multifamily property management companies evaluate their technology platforms, considering how robust the development ecosystems are, how well the vendors adapt to changing consumer preferences, and how the vendors respond to feedback, are all measures to compare vendors against each other. What other measures do you consider when evaluating technology providers?