Friday, November 02, 2007

Dallas in Review: Emerging Technologies

Day Two of last week's Apartment Technology Conference started with a packed room anxious to hear about "Emerging Technologies."

Web 2.0:
Mike Mueller of VaultWare focused on the sharing and collaboration opportunities presented by 'Web 2.0' sites -- such as Facebook -- and SMS text messages. (Personally, I think Facebook and now Google's OpenSocial are huge opportunities for the apartment owners who get them right...)

Mike talked about viral marketing and the importance of making your online marketing interesting and easy to share. As an example, he used the most popular landlord in the world -- Pearl from FunnyorDie:

Pearl is a viral success ... Over 48 million people have met her in the last seven months!

There are all kinds of places online where your apartments should be listed: MySpace, Craigslist, Facebook, Google Maps, Google Earth, and so on. Mike asked the question: Is your apartment on Web 2.0? I'll take it a step further: Are you controlling the conversation about your community? In addition to these websites, a property blog gives you a great place to drive all of that traffic and show prospects what your community is all about.

Steve Winn of RealPage talked up his company's latest offer: IPTV. Steve calls it a "potentially disruptive technology," especially considering the fact that the average consumer spends over 27 hours per week watching TV.

Already available throughout Europe, IPTV presents the possibility to offer some completely new services: converged platforms, place-shifting, and two-way TV for gaming and video conferencing. Steve made the point that residents don’t go to the property portal online, so IPTV could be used to integrate community services into the TV channel guide.

The RealPage IPTV solution looks promising, but it will be interesting to see if gains any traction in a multi-provider environment. Steve did note that bandwidth needs are inevitably going to grow, and many existing networks will not support the bandwidth necessary for tomorrow's services.

Dynamic Bandwidth:
Dave Daugherty of Korcett talked about the need not only for more bandwidth, but also for better bandwidth management to improve network performance. Money quote: "Kids don’t practice safe Internet."

Dave's company enables service providers to offer dynamic bandwidth services and give residents online tools to edit their account and handle their own issues. Residents can turn services up or down as you need to, and property staff can utilize a private messaging platform that's built into the system (ex: “Pay your rent now.”).

Korcett's next plans are to extend messaging to campus-wide events via email or text messaging, and also to enable more two-way communication opportunities between residents and staff.

In the panel Q&A, property infrastructure became a clear concern. Steve encourages a flexible network that enables expandable bandwidth needed as technologies evolve. Wi-Fi is also a requirement, as residents don’t want to be tethered to a desk. Dave would like to eventually see "dynamic provisioning" of service providers, and Mike pleaded for property managers to make it easier for residents to find properties and interface with staff.

Final Thoughts:
I'm a software and 'Web 2.0' guy, but I think that there's way too much focus on software as the savior. In an industry that is focused on building community and increasing resident retention, it's counter-productive to focus entirely on TV and Internet services that keep residents cramped in front of a screen in their units.

While these guys are all clearly experts in their fields, it's disappointing that an hour-long talk about 'emerging technologies' didn't offer a single mention of any opportunities to incorporate technology throughout the common areas of a community … and maybe more surprising, there wasn't any mention of sustainable technologies.

What are some unique 'emerging technologies' that you've seen recently in apartment communities?

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