Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Look at ActiveBuilding's New iPhone App

There was a lot of conversation surrounding mobile at the NMHC Technology Conference, mostly related to marketing via SMS, websites optimized for smartphones or iPhone apps from companies like Apartment Guide and UDR.

I recently had the opportunity to interview one company that's taking a different approach to mobile -- here's the transcript of my interview with Kobi Bensimon, CEO of ActiveBuilding, about their recently released iPhone app, which is targeted to residents living at properties that use the ActiveBuilding resident portal software. Here's what Kobi had to say about their app:

MT: What is ActiveBuilding?

KB: ActiveBuilding is a platform that provides best-of-breed resident portals to residential properties. The offering includes a service component in which the resident portal is customized and tailored to perfectly fit the unique needs of every property. On-site teams are trained by the ActiveBuilding team and are being guided on how to best utilize their resident portal to achieve maximum effect on the property and residents
MT: 'Resident portal' is a loosely-used term these days ... can you be more specific?
KB: I was hoping you'd ask this question. In a nutshell, we automate and streamline all the processes and services at the property level; we also help residents fully realize the social potential in the property they live at. With over 70 different modules and a prominent social media component within our Resident Portal, Rent Payment and Maintenance Requests are just a couple of components, and not the entire resident portal.

MT: So you guys released your iPhone app. Why is that important for a resident portal?
KB: 1. Reach 2. Convenience 3. Cool factor

You see, at residential properties not everyone is connected to the web, and even if they are, it's easier to do stuff on the iPhone; and it is way cooler. We’ve seen registered residents download the ActiveBuilding iPhone app, and more so, residents that register to their property's resident portal because of the iPhone app. We have seen a surge in new registrations since the launch of the iPhone app.

MT: What does your iPhone app do?
KB: We focus on a combination of social and utility value. On the utility side, you will find the usual suspects, such as maintenance requests, package tracking etc. On the social front we enable residents to communicate with their on-site team and neighbors, without the need to have their neighbors’ contact info (such as email, or phone number).

MT: How is that achieved?
KB: We let residents send messages to their neighbors using only a unit number; if you know your neighbor's unit number, go ahead and communicate. It's that easy.

MT: And it works?
KB: Oh yes. You could have always done that through our Resident Portal, but this functionality is now enabled through the iPhone too; and thus makes it easier for people to communicate with their neighbors with greater convenience and freedom.

MT: Are there any privacy risks with this mechanism?
KB: Not really; at the end of the day, residents living in the same property can still stick notes on their neighbors' doors; except in that case they're anonymous. In our case, when you send a note to a unit number, they can see which unit messaged them; they can block messages from certain units, or become friends, and so it goes and the in-property social network is born.

MT: Can you tell us how many downloads you’ve had thus far?
KB: We just launched our app a little over a month ago, and we are already in the hundreds of downloads.

MT: What are the features residents use the most on ActiveBuilding’s iPhone app?
KB: Messaging and package tracking.

MT: Is your iPhone app free?
KB: It certainly is; but, you have to be a resident at a property that is using ActiveBuilding's Resident Portal for the iPhone app to work for you. Otherwise, it'll just be a waste of space on your iPhone.

MT: Any plans to expand the application to other platforms beyond the iPhone?
KB: Yes, both Android and Palm are things we need to do.

MT: Are they works in progress, or future goals?
KB: We’ve done some initial research and experimentation, but they are still in the future.

MT: What's next for your iPhone app?
KB: Version 2.0, of course: guest authorization, community marketplace and more. Somewhere between ground-breaking to revolutionary; we'll let our clients decide.

For more on the ActiveBuilding iPhone app (and a link to download it in the App Store), check out the ActiveBuilding blog.

Have you tried ActiveBuilding? If so, what has been your experience?

Are you using a resident portal at your properties? What are the features your residents use most? What are the most features that aren't yet available?

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