Property Managers Go Hi-Tech

Advancements in technology are improving efficiency in nearly every professional sector and property management is no exception. Property managers now have the power to monitor everything from communications …

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Advancements in technology are improving efficiency in nearly every professional sector and property management is no exception. Property managers now have the power to monitor everything from communications to energy consumption via smartphone apps and tech-equipped buildings, and improved data collection is expected to prove helpful in lowering costs and increasing safety. For example, being able to monitor parking lot lights and security systems give managers the tools to protect their properties and their tenants as if they were onsite all the time. For more on this continue reading the following article from National Real Estate Investor.

Whether it is smartphones or smart buildings, today’s property managers have their hands on a variety of new and emerging technologies.

The list of high-tech tools is long and growing with technology playing a role in everything from communication and budgeting to monitoring energy consumption, parking lot lighting and security systems.

“From a property management standpoint, technology makes us more efficient. It makes us more accurate, and it is something that makes our managers’ lives easier,” says Sam Martin, product manager, national property management at Jones Lang LaSalle in Chicago. “So rather than spending most of their time blocking and tackling, managers can do a lot more value-added activities.”

Providing the education and insight to understand and utilize those evolving technologies is certainly a big priority for industry groups such as the Washington, D.C.-based Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). For example, BOMA introduced a new “Technology Pavilion” at its annual Every Building Conference and Expo, which was held June 23-25 in San Diego. As part of the larger expo, the technology hub featured a concentration of firms showcasing the latest building technologies, systems, data management solutions and business tools to help property professionals create and sustain high performance assets.

Managing smart buildings

Among the many technologies at their fingertips, property managers are keenly focused on mobility. Smartphones, mobile platforms and cloud-based platforms that allow property managers to access information from anywhere are becoming standard tools. “So, they don’t have to just sit in their offices. They can do things while they are on the fly meeting with tenants,” adds Martin.

Another notable shift is the demand for integration between solutions. “One of the big trends in the industry is to have single platforms that enable the property managers to have their finger on the trigger of the building and real time information at their fingertips,” says Tobias Rafael, president of Rafco Properties Inc. in St. Louis. For example, if a manager needs to create a report for parking revenue, make a change to the lighting system or create a security card for a new employee, all three tasks can be performed through the same building automation system.

Integration and automation began with the shift to direct digital controls in the HVAC sector. That has evolved to the next level with open architecture and full building automation systems such as BACnet, LonWorks and Modbus. Generally, building automation starts with managing HVAC systems such as air handling units, heat pumps and chillers. That also expands to include lighting, power, security, plumbing and water monitoring.

For example, if property managers are buying a new security system, they are looking for a system that also can be integrated with other existing systems such as parking ramp revenue controls or window shade controls, notes Rafael. So when engineers are designing buildings they are now writing specs to ensure that equipment is compatible with systems such as BACNet or LonWorks.  Those are really the languages or protocols that are necessary for integration, according to Rafael.

The 485,000-sq.-ft. Centene Plaza in Clayton, Mo. is a prime example of a state-of-the-art property that empolys a full building automation system. In addition to managing the LEED Gold certified building, Rafco provided consulting services to the project during construction to help create the sophisticated automation system now in place. In addition to fully integrated building controls, the property has features such as a smart elevator system. The elevator system takes employees to pre-selected floors based on a sensor read on their security badges.

Such automated building control systems create valuable efficiencies for managers. For example, a property manager can use automated building systems to set specific alarms and notifications to alert them if a problem is brewing. “You can give yourself plenty of runway so that you are not scrambling four guys to chase a problem,” says Rafael. Creating those efficiencies allows managers to eliminate down time on equipment and devote more time to adding value for a property owner, which ultimately helps property management firms win business in today’s competitive market.

Finding new ways to add value

Property management firms are always on the lookout for fresh ideas that will create added value. For example, Jones Lang LaSalle gives out a da Vinci Award each year for innovation. This year’s award winner was a property manager who developed a new app specific to Southeast Financial Center in Downtown Miami. The Southeast Financial Center app is a single portal app for the 1.2 million-sq.-ft. office tower. Listings agents can use the app to list space, while tenants also can use the app to report work orders or log concerns.

Such property-specific websites or “portals” are standard fare today. Yet apps such as the one at Southeast Financial Center take that to the next level. In addition to providing some efficiencies, it also distinguishes the building in a competitive market, signalling that the the owner is forward thinking and the management team is looking to make tenants’ lives easier, says Martin.

Another issue managers face is trying to figure out how to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to their advantage. “That is something that we are cognizant of, and we want to make sure the message we deliver is in line with what the building owner wants, but at the same time it is a great way to connect with people,” says Martin.

Certainly, property managers are sifting through a myriad of new technologies related to everything from mobile apps and social media to operating a new generation of smart buildings. Property managers can power up a building or lock it down from their smartphones, while sensors note when people enter or leave the property. “At the core of all of it is how do you create high tech and high touch so that you can still provide high quality service to your tenants,” says Henry Chamberlain, BOMA president and COO. 

This article was republished with permission from National Real Estate Investor.

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