5 Ways to Future Proof your Smart Apartment

Implementing smart technology in rental communities can be a bit nerve racking. The investment can be significant, and you are making a choice that must last at least a few years. How do you ensure that your investment won’t be obsolete by the time it is installed? You don’t want to end up like those hotels that installed iPhone chargers in their rooms, only to learn 18 months later that Apple was changing their charger connection.

Technology undoubtedly changes rapidly, but following a few simple rules can help you stay ahead of the game and ease your nerves. Here are 5 ways to future proof your investment.

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1. Lay a Good Connectivity Foundation

The backbone of all smart technology is connectivity. The devices you are installing need to talk to the internet. So before you even start thinking about the devices you’ll put in, you’ll want to think about how you will address connectivity. During new construction the opportunity is there to address this for today and the future. For example, if you’re pulling one CAT5 ethernet cable to a unit, you should pull multiple even if you’re not sure you’ll need them - the only cost difference is the wire itself. You might even, for more high-end projects, want to run fiber. " Every MDU and Commercial project we have in the development stage today is being architected with fiber optic based service delivery to every unit. Today’s fiber optic technology can scale up to 1 Terabit of throughput and is easily capable of delivering data, voice, and video services for decades into the future", says ave Carlson, CEO of Summit Technologies, a provider of connectivity infrastructure. 

Regardless, the number one thing you should absolutely positively do if you cannot justify pulling extra wires now: oversize your conduit and run it to every single unit. Pulling wires without conduit is extremely expensive, but simply putting conduit in place can make that a substantially less costly investment if you can’t get yourself to pull the trigger today on extra wires.

2. Invest in Open Platforms

Innovation and technology moves exceptionally fast. Buying into a proprietary or semi proprietary system leaves you tethered to the innovation capabilities and advances of one company. This is a dangerous place to be. You are better off partnering with an open platform that excels at integrating and adapting the best others. That platform will give you access to the full innovation of the market and allow you to build onto that platform. A hallmark of this is an open API and cloud-to-cloud integrations with a range of partners.“We’ve invested in an open API, which is unique in our line of work, because we believe our partners will do really interesting things with the data from our smart metering system. We make cutting edge hardware, but they’re better able to come up with user-facing software innovations because they are closest to their customers,” says Mike Clements, CEO of NextCentury Submetering. 

When it comes to consumer devices, an even greater level of openness is required around the communication protocols. Lutron has an open API AND makes top of the line lighting hardware, but they have their own proprietary communication protocols, which limits the devices that can connect to their hub. Going with a platform that is capable of speaking multiple protocols means you have access to a far larger universe of devices. Furthermore, you will be able to add devices over time that speak different protocols to the same units without having to replace the communications hub you already invested in or add a second hub.

3. Invest in Truly Connected Devices

Just as important as choosing an open platform is investing in truly connected devices. Some platforms or devices are semi-connected or more offline than online. Think about “data on card” lock solutions like those offered in hotels - the locks themselves are not connected to the internet, with the data carried on the card.This is often referred to as a “sneakernet” because your sneakers are moving the data! If your devices aren’t connected, you will miss out on some cool innovations. 

“Without real-time or connected locks, not only can software or firmware updates from the manufacturer not make it to the device very easily, but you are completely cut off from innovative integrations from third party software vendors,”
— Evan Tree, CEO of ProdataKey, a cloud-based commercial access provider.

Take for example Amazon Key. Amazon Key allows packages to be safely delivered by granting delivery personnel access into a home, but it only works with a connected lock. Unconnected or partially connected solutions, while often a great leap over “dumb” technology, will ultimately leave you stuck with last decade’s feature set.

4. Choose Timeless Designs

With all the changing tech in our homes and apartments we often miss that at the heart of these devices is mechanical or electrical functionality that doesn’t change that much. Devices primarily function to turn on or off, lock or unlock, and heat or cool. Look at Nest - the fundamental function of the actual hardware device has changed almost not at all since their first version nearly a decade ago; aside from software updates, they’ve really only changed the colors. And light switches are subject to even less change over time. The fact is that the innovation is in the software and in the cloud. Because of this, you should resist the temptation to make a statement with device designs. If you pick something that says “modern” today, it might say “dated” tomorrow. With a timeless design, a device that is open and connected will stay relevant for a much longer time.

5. Give Your Residents Choice

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There is a constant battle being waged by consumer tech giants and smart tech is a front in that war. Don’t pick sides where you can avoid it. If something is in the walls, well, you’re forced to make a choice. “Luckily, very few people have brand preferences for light switches and locks - after all, they have pretty basic functionality when you think about it,” says Mike Rovito, CEO of Dwelo, “but certain devices, such as virtual personal assistance or voice controllers essentially dictate which tech world someone is living in.” Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple Homepod are all devices that work better if you are personally invested in the associated ecosystem, such as iPhones if you have a Homepod, or Android devices if you have a Google Home. Invest in platforms that allow your residents to choose the products that they want in a category like voice controllers. Avoid pre-installing devices that make that choice for them. This doesn’t mean you can’t buy and advertise the latest in voice controller tech; if you want to provide a voice controller for residents, offer it to them as a move-in gift or a leasing incentive and let them choose, which one.

Not so scary after all, right? Implementing a smart apartment doesn’t have to be hard, and it won’t be, as long as you start with a good plan and the right tools. The key takeaway? Choose devices and platforms that are open and connected. Do that and you will stay nimble and avoid the iPhone charger trap.