How Owners Influence The Implementation ProcessArticle
We recently spoke with David Beenfield, Dwelo’s Founder and SVP of New Operations, to discuss implementing smart technology platforms in multifamily. The conversation leaned heavily toward owners; the role owners play during implementation, how they can influence the process, things they often overlook, issues they can directly prevent, and more. David also recounted experiences from Dwelo’s early days that owners will enjoy and learn from.
What is your perspective on what owners can or should do to ensure success with their smart technology platform?
Owners sit in a unique spot because they’re at the top of the stakeholder food chain of everyone participating in the implementation on the customer side. In order for it to go smoothly, the owner needs to align expectations across property managers, general contractors, and any other subcontractors that might be in the mix. They set the tone for communication and expectations on the customer side.
Another is that it’s important for owners to think holistically. Sometimes, when owners hear about smart apartment or smart technology, their thinking is too narrow. Yes, lights, locks, and thermostats that you control from your phone are Dwelo’s bread and butter, but there’s so much value in the interplay between these features with property management software, with access control, with self-touring, with other technology solutions inside the community. There’s a lot of synergy and so much peripheral value that can be derived by implementing a broad set of technology solutions that work together in the community. Owners who think this way experience the most value from our solutions.
Then, I think the other one is embracing what we call a one-hand-to-shake approach. We’ve seen owners bring consultants into the mix, for example, who try to do some of the same things that we’re already doing. Smart apartment design, low voltage strategy, things like that. Some of that’s helpful, I suppose, but having Dwelo as a partner means we provide comprehensive, end-to-end value on any solution we’re bringing to the table. Letting us take the driver’s seat makes it all a lot more seamless for everyone involved.
What’s the difference between an owner that succeeds with smart technology and one that doesn’t?
Communication. The better communication an owner demonstrates with us and the other stakeholders, the more likely they are to succeed in all the ways they’re hoping for. If they’re responsive and communicating actively when there are updates across the stakeholder front, this is incredibly valuable and a strong indicator of how well things will go, in general.
Another strong success indicator for owners is if they’re doing the strategic technology thinking early. The earlier the thinking begins, the more time there is to really flesh out the strategy. But anytime things get rushed and we’re asked to jump in last minute because the owner realizes something else they want, the more opportunity there is for mistakes and misalignment. So, the earlier they’re having these conversations and making these considerations and decisions, the better.
What can go wrong during the implementation process that an owner’s influence can prevent?
There are a couple of things I’m thinking of right away. One involves the property manager. If the owner hasn’t really brought along their property manager - who is an important stakeholder - through the implementation process, success gets riskier. The owner is the property manager’s boss, and like any good manager or boss/employee dynamic, setting expectations, listening, and working together are critical. If you’re actively listening to what they think is important and empowering their ownership while also establishing accountability, all of this goes a long way. If the owner isn’t aligning with them and making them feel a part of it, they’re missing another key indicator of success.
One other thing that we see is some owners decide to purchase hardware themselves rather than embracing Dwelo’s one-hand-to-shake procurement. They go hunting for a better deal on a piece of hardware in some corner of the internet. This almost always causes issues. They buy a Z-wave device, but it’s not one that works with our platform. Or it’s a very similar SKU, but the wireless protocol is actually Zigby, not Z-wave. Or they don’t know how to manage the distribution of it and it doesn’t get there on time, which throws off the implementation timeline. There are always complications that come from trying to piece this together outside of our curated approach.
What do multifamily smart tech providers miss or overlook when it comes to implementing their platform in a property?
There are themes that are reported pretty regularly with customers who’ve also done work with our competitors. I would say the main one is not setting proper expectations around the process. For example, it’s really easy and tempting to just say yes to all things in order to win the deal. For instance, you say, “Yes, we can be there in two weeks!” even though you know you can’t. But you say it anyway so you can move the deal through the finish line. Setting proper expectations can include uncomfortable conversations about timeline, supply chain, and/or cost. But, you have to have the hard conversations at the beginning of the process, not the end.
Next, I would say subpar inspections. Other companies often do only tertiary property inspections as part of the design process when they really need to run a fine tooth comb through it. For example, let’s say there’s a property that’s qualifying for retrofit, and the smart tech provider misses something because they made a sight-unseen assumption about the properties HVAC system. Inevitably a change will need to be made to scope once installation begins and it ends up costing owners extra. At Dwelo, we’ve got a very tight process that makes sure this doesn’t happen.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that many smart tech providers still don’t invest in ongoing community success. At Dwelo, the Customer Service Manager’s job is to take the ball and continue making investments in the property team, to make sure they’re getting the value that the owner expected when they signed the paperwork. Is the property management team getting training on the core aspects of the system? Do they get real time responses from their dedicated CSM if they have an issue? Are they getting proactive communication about updates to software or features or new options in the provider’s catalog? All these things are functions of a community success team. We’ve really invested in this from the beginning and I think it set us apart significantly.
Dwelo has a reputation for being an excellent facilitator of what we call the smart community journey, effectively taking a multifamily community from zero to fully operational. Why do you think Dwelo has become so good at it?
I think one of the critical success factors at play when we were starting this company is that we had integrity. We cared about the customer a lot and tried to have an empathic mindset. But we didn’t have a lot of experience with this technology to pair with that. So, to make up for our shortcomings during the learning curve of an early-stage tech company, we showed up. We stood in the storm and figured it out. Back in these early days, sometimes the technology was not performing the way it needed to. I even remember me and Mike Rovito, our President, personally spending whole days (and nights) at properties, making sure that every problem was solved and every wrinkle ironed out. We knew we could always fill the gap with service, learning, listening, and intention. We did that over and over again. Then we hired people who really cared that the customer got the kind of value they expected. I think this seeded a culture of operating that way, of having that level of attention and just letting that muscle develop. We care a lot and our customers know it. Today, our technology and processes have gotten much better, but the spirit of it all stuck around and is a big part of what we do.
Can you talk about a time when you were proud of how Dwelo handled an unusual implementation situation?
Two memories come to mind. One is about how we really try to guarantee value to the customer and own our mistakes. We did an inspection a while back as we were tightening our processes where we missed a detail. In order to make the system work, having made this mistake, we had to acquire tens of thousands of dollars in additional equipment and eat the expense. But instead of putting that on the customer, we absorbed it because it was something we should have caught. We said we would catch it and we didn’t, and it cost us a lot of money.
Another one is when Ned and I were doing the first-ever install in Texas. We went to put the lock on the door and realized that there was a privacy lock on the backside of the door that prevented our lock from fitting. We thought, “Darn it! I wonder if it’s just that unit.” So we checked and learned that it wasn’t just that unit. It was the whole community. And then we went, “Shoot. I wonder if this is happening in other communities.” Come to find out, privacy locks on the residential doors of rental properties are mandated by law in Texas. So this is how we handled it. We communicated the issue with the customer. Ned and I went to work creating a solution and, in the end, we created one that worked with device manufacturers, installers, and other stakeholders to create the approach that pioneered the smart apartment approach for the whole of Texas.
This was a big moment for us because we were the first multifamily smart apartment provider to come on the scene in Texas. If we hadn’t succeeded, that could’ve really thrown a wrench into things in that space. And this is just one example where we innovated our way through an issue that ended up solving an industry problem that unlocked a lot of value for our customers. It was critical that we developed this muscle as the first significant provider of smart apartments, and I’m really proud of it. I think we’re good at doing that for customers, doing the extra work, showing the extra care to make sure the solution is doing what we say it will do.
What advice would you give owners who’ve closed the deal and are prepping for implementation?
Remember that when you’re dealing with a complicated technology project, there will be something that doesn’t go exactly as planned. Even when you dot every I and cross every T, there’s always something. If you go into the implementation process with a problem-solving mindset and stay on the side of the technology provider, be their ally, you’ll have success.
Dwelo is such a good partner for groups like that because we communicate really well, take ownership, and genuinely care about customers getting value from our products and services. Everything in the implementation sequence goes so much smoother if everybody is of the same mind in the approach.
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