Savvy community managers have adopted technology innovations throughout the years to improve efficiency and increase margins. Think back 10, 20, 30 years ago – can you imagine a community management world without mobile phones? Or the internet?
Mobile phones allowed managers in the community to reach out and take immediate action if there was an issue that needed resolution. Community websites have brought a 24/7 self-service aspect to communities, reducing calls into the administrative office. Those innovations improved the experience for communities, their managers, and administrative staff.
So what are the technological innovations of today that will shape Community Management for the future? To better appreciate the current state of technology for community association management, let's first take a look at the past...
Welcome to the 70's!
The 70's were an age defined not just by groovy disco music and bell-bottom jeans – the 70's began the boom of Condominium and HOA communities. If you were in community management in the 70’s your tools for the job were:
- Ledger books
- Rent roll cards
- The “yellow legal pad”
- The desktop calculator
That latter item, in fact, greatly improved community accounting by giving administrative staff a time-saving tool to perform accounting. Up until this innovation it was manual tabulation or using a comptometer (anyone remember these?). This innovation helped to streamline operations in the 70’s.
Moving on to the 80's
Like the 70's, the 80's had an innovation that greatly impacted community management: the personal computer! Goodbye ledger books and rent roll cards! That information could now be stored in a computer for quick retrieval and easy manipulation. Management companies that adopted the PC found huge time-savings over their previous manual processes. That said, managers were still using the “yellow legal pad” and many aspects remained manual, like keying in receivables.
Booming and Busting in the 90's
The “Dot.com” boom/bust of the 90's ushered in a lot of technology – the most ubiquitous being the mobile phone. This innovation allowed managers to keep in relative contact while they were on property. No more running to a payphone or knocking on a board member's door to borrow the phone when an issue arose, this technology helped reduced the workload of managers that adopted it.
A New Century
After the Y2K paranoia subsided and the “Dot.com” bubble fully popped, the Internet became a new resource for community management. Community websites arrived on the scene giving homeowners and communities tools to access information 24/7. While managers were still using the “yellow legal pad” while in community, owners were given a resource to lessen the burden on administrative staffs.
Here and Now
So here we are in 2013 and the question becomes, “What technology(ies) are coming about today that I need to fold into my management operation to help us better compete now and in the future?”
There are two (among many) that are especially promising for the community management industry today: Smart Phones and Cloud Computing. In fact, while separate technologies, they are linked in many ways.
No one could have foretold the impact the iPhone has had on consumers and how it, and its' imitators, have bled into the business sector. These amazing devices are more powerful than those early day PCs, while fitting comfortably in your pocket or purse. They can take pictures and video, provide GPS navigation, send and receive email, and have a library of thousands of apps.
What we’re beginning to see in the community management space are applications designed for managers to use in the field. Whereas the first generation of mobile phones allowed a manager to make calls, these smart phones can be used to document violations and maintenance issues, access reports, manage owner information, contact vendors, and so on.
In fact, one client I spoke with said the use of smart phones for his management team saved his company 10+ man days per month!
Here are some tips to help you go about finding the right apps for your management company:
- Contact your software provider to see if they offer an app for community management. It’s important that with a mobile app it communicates with your back office systems and is not a standalone solution.
- Check with industry discussion groups to see what your peers are using.
- Know what you’re looking for – If all you need is document retreival, there are many free apps for online file storage, like dropbox and cloud drive, that might be all you need.
- Be flexible – new apps are coming online daily, so be willing to adjust based on what is out there.
The “Cloud” likewise is a game changer for community management.
Per Wikipedia, “Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet). The name comes from the use of a cloud-shaped symbol as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it contains in system diagrams. Cloud computing entrusts remote services with a user's data, software and computation.” Basically it means working online versus on a localized server.
So why is this important for community management? There are many reasons actually, but we can break them down to three categories – economic, efficiency and core competency – all of which make cloud computing worth considering.
- Pay as you go model
- Limited CAPEX
- Year to year commitment
- Use only the resources your organization needs
- Tie in remote offices
- Enable telecommuters
- Core Competency
- Eliminate internal IT expenses
- Focus on management business not systems administration
- Leave systems management to experts
Smart managers are already leveraging the cloud and this, coupled with smart phones, can allow you to recapture hours of administrative and IT time, gain budget predictability, expand into new markets, and improve your margins.
Community Management has come a long way in the past three decades, and technology has played a big role in helping make that happen. Smart management companies will continue to push the technological envelope to increase efficiency and improve service levels for community members.