Winning the big data game

One of the biggest changes ever-yes, ever-is coming upon the multifamily industry. It is a technology wave that will touch every aspect of how properties conduct their business.


Tech insiders whisper about big data as if it is the pandora’s box of the future, and everyone wants to be prepared to take advantage of its value. Many are familiar with the basic concept-that the billions of bytes of information collected about us via the Internet and social media might be used to derive valuable marketing information.

One prime example: President Obama’s re-election campaign used big data methods and media optimization technology to send targeted advertising to potential voters based on demographic information.

However, big data is much more than a marketing tool. It is an overarching term for an extraordinary suite of solutions that affect everything from finance, legal, HR, and operations that will revolutionize the way owners manage, profit, and eventually win at the multifamily game. Fortunately a strategy, spearheaded by global technology leaders, is emerging to help owners and operators in multifamily succeed at harnessing their big data potential. Here’s how.

A new platform emerges: Are you a Blockbuster or Netflix?

When the Internet arrived, and people started buying music online, the platform for music shifted from record stores to iTunes. Many micro labels were crushed. The same happened for buying books when the platform changed from Borders to Amazon. And again for renting movies with the change from Blockbuster to Netflix. The cloud was a platform change and a game changer.

Companies are realizing that it is faster, cheaper, and simpler to use cloud-based offerings as their IT platform, instead of installing software, adding the necessary hardware and hiring IT staff to support it.

According to the American Institute of Information Management (AIIM), “business executives are adopting cloud computing 2.5x faster than IT people, and an internal IT department might end up like Borders or Blockbuster if they do not commit to the cloud.”

This same phenomenon will occur for property management firms, as they decide how and where to budget future IT expenditures. The advantages of the cloud to centralize data storage, intelligently index information automatically, connect customized systems, and extract the depth of meaning from business records are profound. Executives become nimble with faster, proactive, and smarter operational decisions. These will be the property management firms that succeed, and a noticeable gap will emerge in the ability of legacy IT systems to keep up.

Such a platform shift is already being embraced by the future leaders of multifamily. Still, the industry spends an estimated $5 billion annually on back-office administrative and related IT activities. What has evolved is a complex environment for property operations that are dispersed, fragmented and built on legacy, one-trick software. Cloud-based solutions not only complement a multifamily operation’s IT investments, and but improves operations making them better, smarter, more efficient and secure.

Emerging solutions not only analyze existing and incoming data, but alerts users to appropriate action, prescribing specific steps based on the integrative meaning of their existing business information, combined with external sources of knowledge residing in the cloud or external databases.

Understanding Big Data

Big data starts as data sets whose size is beyond the ability of commonly-used software tools to capture, manage, and process within a tolerable elapsed time. Big data analytics afford the ability to slice and dice that data into meaningful information for your property operations.

Big data is made of structured and unstructured information. Structured information is the data in data-bases, such as your property management system or A/P system. Unstructured information is 90 percent of Big data and is human information like emails, videos, tweets, Facebook posts, call-center conversations, closed circuit TV footage, mobile phone calls, website clicks, and resident portal interactions. Essentially, big data refers to the data that your properties collect every day whether it be structured like leasing document contents or utility bill amounts, combined with unstructured data from resident emails, website interactions, and social media content.

Big data analytics refers to the ability of an organization to not only centralize their data in a common location, but also to filter through information using derivative algorithms that will give meaning to the data. Using predictive analytics in managing a portfolio will enable property owners to develop action plans that will culminate in more successful, targeted outcomes.

Big multifamily data: use cases

A community receives a call from a resident. Using sentiment analysis, big data analytic solutions can recognize the human language, determine if a caller is unhappy, monitor the phone call, and alert the regional manager that they need to speak with the resident to resolve their issue.

A prospect contacts the leasing office. The system profiles the prospect using information from unstructured data sources, a customized script appears on the leasing agent’s desktop with automatic pop-ups to help structure their conversation and sell the prospect on the property based on their interests and needs. Using demographic metrics, lease terms and amounts, the conversation may be can be tailored to the appropriate price-point and close. Throughout the entire process, the leasing agent can also be measured on their skill of selling a unit to a prospect.

Anytime a property needs to conform with regulatory requirements, such as low-income housing credits or Fair Housing regulations, documents and forms may be instantly analyzed to ensure they meet legal requirements for processing. If there is anything marked “non-compliant,” the system will recognize and alert the appropriate person, and that the document will be rereviewed. In addition, such systems will automatically read all of your documents and alert you to any expiring terms or renewal dates.

If a property is struggling with over-reaching maintenance costs, systems can be deployed to help monitor equipment performance, replacement requirements, as well as maintenance staff performance assessments. Since a building is a myriad of moving parts, these systems help enhance management and operational decisions to ensure the best bang for your buck.

Your property website may be optimized by user-preference reflecting the individual visiting the site. If a prospect was referred by, say, AARP, your website may be instantly tailored to show a picture of an age-appropriate couple walking in your community green area. Or if a prospect comes from a social media site, the property website would display people gathering for a pool party. Property websites may be tested and analyzed down to the color theme to attract, and close, prospects.

The exciting possibilities of big data analytics in the multifamily industry are endless. Life-cycle property performance reports, marketing optimization, alert notifications for calls-to-action, and demographic information gathered from census, economic data and other sources can alert you to the best areas to buy assets all in real-time.

There are many possibilities, but what is certain is that those who move to adopt a strategy for big data will be the market leaders tomorrow. They will be able to tap into their disparate databases, centralize their information, combine it with unstructured data sources and gain true meaning about all of the data they compile and how it impacts their bottom line. The big data advantage will enable omniscient management insights that actually tell owners and managers where and when to take action.

How do I get there?

Michael Radice, member of SyndicIT’s technology advisory board, co-presented with Hewlett-Packard’s keynote speaker at the AIIM conference in New Orleans, one of the world’s largest gatherings of information management professionals.

“Revolutionizing property operations begins with document management,” says Debra Radice, SyndicIT managing director.

“This establishes enterprise-wide data capture and connects customized systems onto a single platform. This means the ability for a universal search throughout all your information repositories.”

Radice highlighted HP’s latest product, Flow CM Professional, specifically targeting multifamily operators. The product instantly converts documents to digital, and sets the stage for big data analytics.

HP developed the product on the Autonomy IDOL platform. This means it’s fully scalable to any size operation. HP manages the largest private cloud on the planet at over 50 petabytes (1 petabyte = 1 million gigabytes), or the entire contents of the Library of Congress 179 times. Information indexed on the platform uses meaning-based computing to essentially learn the contents of a document and know how to process it throughout an organization.

HP’s 500 patented functions include sentiment analysis, a process that hyperlinks and automates a document for greater searchability and usefulness.

Multifamily operators can now store electronic documents, emails, videos, photos, and paper documents, in a single location where they can be easily searched and accessed. It also works on mobile devices where users can snap pictures and insert them with a smart phone. Every document is automatically enhanced, cropped, converted to a file that instantly stores to the cloud. On HP Flow, it’s also indexed using advanced optical character recognition or “intelligent character recognition.” The cloud’s engine deciphers the meaning of document, connects its context to the document making any part of the document instantly searchable without tagging or further data entry.

This specific advancement is the backbone of big data analytics and provides the ability to interpret data, gather its meaning, properly handle the file based on constantly-learning workflows, and automatically alert users when action needs to be taken based on the content of the document itself.

HP Flow syncs your network, including leasing agents’ desktops, and seamlessly backs up information and records enterprise-wide. The user interface allows for easy sharing, previewing, and collaboration from all-company computers, laptops, tablets, or mobile devices.

HP also released enterprise-ready multifunction printing devices which connect directly to the HP Flow CM library. The dual sided scanners, large display and pull out keyboards on the Flow MFP make it easy to route any paper document to the right location, person, or folder.

Property managers are able to access and print directly from their library. SyndicIT works with HP to further tailor HP Flow to multifamily with its product, the Virtual Property Assistant. The SyndicIT product lets leasing agents scan lease files, invoices, and bills, and route them to the correct location or person for review. Essential to manipulating big data is capturing information from applications and leases to derive potential asset performance.

SyndicIT was selected by HP to capitalize HP’s process automation footprint into multihousing. The SyndicIT version of HP Flow for property management, Virtual Property Assistant, enables property operators across the country to take the first step in centralizing their data for analytics.

Once data is centralized, connecting legacy systems and databases on a single platform is simple. The end goal: a unified property management enterprise that communicates in real time.

“HP Flow brings immediate benefit starting with profitability. Apartment operators reduce costs, improve security, increase compliance, and improved process speed.”

The research agrees. AIIM has found that by work-flowing processes using data capture, staff productivity alone increases on average by 33 percent.

“Profitable multifamily operators will take advantage of these advancements. By converting to digital document storage, your properties will be at the forefront of analytic capabilities only now tapped by the largest companies,” says Radice. “With your systems and information connected, managers can gain meaningful insight into the data you already possess.”

You can’t manage what you can’t see

The competitive advantage of big data is lost unless you have data to analyze. Make your volumes of content visible, whether lease files, utility bills, maintenance requests, service contracts, or invoices.

As the old adage goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t see.” Digitizing paper is the first step to getting a clear view of your operation, and taking steps to analyzing it toward maximizing margins to their greatest bottom line values.

In the near future, property owners will have vast amounts of new knowledge about their properties, and make informed and better business decisions. To do this, they must recognize the immediate benefits brought by advanced digitalization.

The cloud will unleash technology where big data is not just processed, but intelligently captured to derive real-time meaning and insights, accelerate decision-making, and help property owners know the best course of action for a most profitable bottom line, and solvent operation.

Author: Lauryn Schimmel is managing director of SyndicIT Services.