I had a refreshing interaction this past weekend on LinkedIn with Gladly founder, Sterling Jenkins. He posed a question to the CAI Group forum asking for the kind of advice one should offer to homeowners associations "navigating all of the different software solutions" searching for the right one for their community.
I loved that question (which is unsurprising, because I love Gladly) because at TOPS that's very clearly a topic we want addressed as often and as thoroughly as possible for all stakeholders in the Community Association Management (CAM) industry searching for technology solutions.
I fired off a quick response saying that the best way to tackle this topic is by addressing these three industry pain-points: accessibility, industry-agnostic software, and unlimited access to data. I also said that it's important to note that this isn't exclusive to established self-managed HOAs and condo associations--Property Management Companies (PMC) looking for a successful software platform also need one that can solve these problems.
To my delight, Sterling agreed that these are the topics it takes to help HOAs understand the technology they need, and find the one that works best for them.
Why These Three?
Because these are the three things that provide relief for the pain points throughout the CAM industry. Communities that self-manage, with a manager or without, and boards that hire a PMC all expect increased transparency in the community, efficient reporting, and a decrease in manual processes.
If you're a self-governed community, or you're hiring a PMC to manage your association, be sure to consider these three things in the software being presented to you:
Finding a software platform that can do the job only gets you so far. It's like buying a bicycle for your 15mi work commute. Yeah, it'll get you there, but you're going to be doing a lot of extra work and feeling a lot more pain than you would if you had a car. At least with a bike you get killer calves and glutes, though! Industry-agnostic software in the CAM industry gives you nothing but struggle with little to show for your effort.
Reporting is probably the most obvious point of weakness that industry-agnostic software platforms generate. James Long of J&L Management of North Florida, Inc. recently spoke to us about the struggles his first HOA board had with preparing accurate financial reporting, and how those struggles ultimately are what led him to start his own management company where he implemented TOPS [ONE]. He said in his interview that off-the-shelf accounting products operate on an cash accounting. "But HOAs and condominiums are not on a cash accounting. They're on accrual accounting.”
Obviously, you can make it work. But you're not making it work for you. The first check box on any software search should be that the platform is specifically designed for the HOA and condo association management industry.
Smart phones have really overhauled the way the general population engages with the rest of the world. I know that seems super off topic, but just hear me out. You probably do a majority of your personal work on your smart phone, right? You can bank on your phone, buy groceries on your phone, you can even book a full vacation, complete with flight details, hotel accommodations, and daily activities all from the palm of your hand!
So why shouldn't your accounting and management software have that same level of access?
Granting unlimited access to a software is a method of 'automation.' No, the software isn't doing the task for you, but it's making it easier for you to do it yourself. Finding a software that is browser-based, for example, is one way of getting that kind of automation.
Imagine violation management that you can access on the go from your phone (or tablet, or phablet, or whatever pocket-sized computing device they come out with next) while you're actually in front of the violation in question. Accessibility helps eliminate the tedious, unnecessarily time-consuming manual processes that have to get done, but, without an industry specific, cloud-based solution, force you to run back and forth between the task and the office.
Unlimited Data Storage and Access
Community transparency drives a lot of the CAM industry, but it's especially true in communities looking to make the transition to self-management. Being able to have all stakeholders (homeowners, management team, board members, etc) understand the day-to-day activities in their community is crucial to the continued financial health of the HOA or condo association. When everyone is on the same page, the community can progress forward together easier.
Now I know we just talked about access, but let's talk about it in a different way: external access. Not just your access to your software 24/7/365, but your stakeholders' access as well. Granting that same unimpeded access to your homeowners, for example, is a huge time saver for your management team.
Say goodbye to time-consuming phone calls from homeowners about static information like assessment amounts or due dates or violation information. Even less-common questions, like information about governing documents or meeting information, can be answered with software that allows for unlimited storage of community documentation and data, and equally limitless access to that data by all parties.
At the end of the day, these three aspects of software should be your guiding light when navigating the software options available to community associations. Whether you're currently self-governed, considering self-management, or a PMC looking to win over new clients, these are the most shared problems encountered by CAM professionals and board members alike, and a software offering that speaks to all of these is the foundation of a strong, vibrant community.