We've talked a lot about the community association management industry and the technology that powers it: from the industry's reluctance to embrace tech advancements, to the benefits industry-specific technology can bring to your business, it's always a hot topic--and we aren't just saying that because we're one of the founders of the CAM technology industry!
As time goes on, as it does, more and more communities are beginning to house the next generation of homeowners: millennials. I promise, that's not a scary thing! This is just how life works: people grow up and they have to live somewhere. But technology isn't just a generational gimmick anymore. Technology is sinking it's teeth into generations outside of those millennials, too, and I'm not talking about Gen Z or whatever comes next. Boomers, Z-ers, Millennial-ers, whatever you or they may be, instant gratification is the trend right now, and if you aren't giving it to your homeowners, you risk losing them to another community that will.
A Look Back
The community association industry has, historically, been years behind the curve when it comes to technology. There are a number of theories as to why, but in the end it primarily seems to boil down to the fact that technology simply isn't a driver for communities.
Think about it: Community Associations have mandatory membership - when a homeowner buys a condo or home in an association, they don't get to opt out or choose another. The homeowner chooses the home, and buys based on location and amenities. They don't ask what technology the association uses--they might not even consider that an HOA would HAVE technology in the first place.
But like every other industry, technology can actually help community associations achieve their real goals - reduced costs with higher service levels. And that, homeowners do think about.
Technology doesn't influence the planet uniformly, or all at once--it takes time, and some technologies are more easily adopted than others. This is a good thing, because it means that homeowners aren't going to expect some elaborate, full-scale adoption of every life-changing technology they use on a daily basis.
Instead, technology slowly grows into new environments over time, only after it has made a noticeable benefit to the day-to-day lives of consumers on a personal level.
24/7 access is a prime example of that slow technological growth. With the rise of the smartphone came a series of years in which constantly evolving access to the internet became the next new frontier. Sure, the internet existed, but you were limited to accessing it from your shared home computer, or a work computer, or a library computer...lots of computers, and not a lot of mobility.
Now, even the most basic smartphone has some kind of internet capability, whether that's a web browser function, or an app store. People have grown accustomed to having immediate, unfettered access to the World Wide Web and all of it's offerings, and businesses that fail to provide that (like local shops that don't offer a website with basic information, or restaurants that don't allow for online ordering) stand out in a bad way.
Similarly, a community website is a facet of technology that even a few years ago was rare to find. Today, any community worth its salt is actively using one. Websites are so prolific that even the law has caught up with them - a law in Florida recently went into effect (Jan 2019) that requires communities have a website with specific information for homeowners and home buyers.
I once attended a certification class where the instructor told us her favorite quip when confronted with questions by the board on monthly financial reports. "I tell them, 'I don't carry my accounting department in my pocket!'," she said.
Now, that's a real possibility! Cloud-based applications mean managers actually CAN carry their accounting department in their pocket. And if that application is TOPS [ONE], it means they can access the full application, including accounting, on their phone, from anywhere. It means less windshield time for the manager, and more effective communications for the board.
Internet of Things, or IoT, is a really popular new landscape in the technology world. Even if you haven't heard the term before, you definitely know what it is, or maybe even use it yourself. IoT is the concept of completely interconnected technology designed to completely eliminate human interaction (and thereby human error). Alexa by Amazon, NEST home thermostats, electronic door locks--all IoT.
There are some very exciting technologies that are on the horizon for community associations that incorporate the Internet of Things - those electronic door locks, for example. Imagine a homeowner who can allow entry to authorized workers, but only on the date and time-frame they specify, so the repairs they asked for can be completed without the hassle of finding a time and date that works for all parties involved.
There are also technologies that can actually make the community money, like solar panels on roofs, allowing the community to sell the excess energy they generate back to the power company.
Probably the most controversial technology for community associations today is social media. Many boards are afraid that if they provide an open forum for homeowners, they won't say nice things and the community's reputation will suffer (and if Reddit is any indicator, they're not exactly wrong).
But to that I say: your residents are already talking about your community on social media (again, Reddit). Forgoing social media presence isn't stopping the chatter--it's just putting the conversation out on the Internet in way more places with absolutely zero way control over what's being said. The board can choose to be a part of that conversation, or not, but they cannot prevent it. By embracing social media platforms and creating and curating specific spaces for homeowners, the board can regain some control over the conversation, and steer it in a positive direction that will ultimately better the communication within the community, and foster trust and understanding with homeowners.
The simple fact is that your residents encounter technology on a daily basis. The phones we carry in our pockets are better computers than the desktops of just a decade ago. We are more connected than ever, and a community that fails to acknowledge (or take advantage) of that will continue to fall behind. People will still buy homes without asking about the technology the community uses, but their expectations will be higher once they become community members.
This industry is ripe for disruptive technologies - tools that can change the face of community associations as we know them. Not only can technology help streamline and increase efficiency for the back end of community management and accounting, it can also greatly improve communications, build trust through transparency, build awareness and improve the daily lives of community members.