December 01, 2022

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10 reasons property management needs a digital transformation

Digital transformation is changing the way businesses operate, and the property management industry is no exception. Property managers can now automate processes in property inspections, maintenance requests, lease renewals and other tasks.

Photo of Joe Russo

Joe Russo

Strategic account manager at Hyland

Two adults and one child stand in front of a house under construction.

Property management takes many forms. It could be a commercial property with many different types of businesses as tenants. It could be a collection of single family homes or a multi-unit apartment building. It could be a student housing property with a unique set of needs and circumstances, something I myself have some experience with.

There are, however, quite a few things that are common among the various forms of property management. You have tenants to take care of, staff to supervise, facilities to maintain, and files to manage.

Wouldn’t it be nice to manage your people and your properties without having to manage mountains of paper along the way? Even if you have started down the path of digital transformation, does your system today actually make you smarter and more efficient than paper?

Wouldn’t you rather manage the people and property you’re responsible for rather than the processes?

To help get the conversation started in your organization, there are 10 ways a content services platform can completely change your approach to property management and bring your processes into the 21st Century.

1. Make property inspections easier

I still have memories of the dreaded “RCR” or Room Condition Reports, a three-layered carbon copy form that never seemed to come clear all the way through. We used these forms to assess rooms both at move-in and move-out.

Sure, they are straightforward, but what happens when you need to attach a picture? You use your phone and transfer it to a computer, print it out, and hope it’s clear.

What if you could use that same phone (or tablet) and attach that picture to an electronic form? What if you can automatically add to the tenant’s file based on a few keywords? Any disputes become easier to manage and the process of compiling those move-out condition reports becomes far more efficient by removing those extra manual steps.

In the student housing industry, there would be hundreds of these reports every summer. The sheer volume alone makes this a big win for those types of organizations. 

2. Connect your accounting and leasing systems of record

Whether you use Yardi, MRI, or even something homegrown, these systems don’t always talk to one another well. Maybe there is a nightly update, but you cannot see related information between the two.

I remember having to go all the way to another office to see accounting information about a tenant because all I could see about their leasing information was in a different system. In a different office.

What if I could perform a simple double-click on a tenant’s last name and get every relevant document about that person’s rental history? What if I could use that same action to get a report of what rent they owe or damages that have been assessed? What if I could see relevant correspondence about those collection efforts without pulling a physical file?

Getting that information at my fingertips would have been very helpful and ECM can streamline that information access by integrating with your core systems.

3. Make paying the bills easier and free your staff

Quick: name every unique vendor that sends you a monthly invoice. It’s a lot, right?

It could be all the utilities you deal with, your maintenance suppliers, service organizations that perform cleaning, rug service, cable, internet, or services and amenities like a fitness center or tanning bed. There’s landscaping and snow removal that occur seasonally and contractors that pop up when things get hairy with the physical property itself.

These folks all send out invoices and they all like to get paid on time.

Even if you have locations across the country, you can make this process more effective for your teams by incorporating ways to automate the capture and routing of those invoices to ensure you pay what is owed, verify method of payment, gather the needed approvals, and issue a payment.

Instead of relying on paper files, your staff onsite or in a central office can benefit from having electronic copies of invoices to map to the relevant purchase order and then document that proof of payment, all while maintaining the security of the information being viewed amongst all your team members.

4. Help staff and tenants access contracts

How many pages is your lease? Is the only copy your tenants have access to a physical copy they have to hope they don’t lose? Can they electronically sign a lease agreement?

When I was still in leasing, if I wanted to track who had looked at a lease, I had to rely on a “check in/check out” log to do so, and even then I couldn’t see the specific parts of the file they had looked at or when they did so. Additionally, storing and managing the retention policies for these leases was time consuming.

With a true content services platform, you can manage all of this without relying on physical file cabinets or trudging through a storage room to find a file from three years ago.

As for retention, you can set timers to adhere to local, state, federal, and company policies for preserving and destroying documents without having to hire a service or take a staff member away from their assigned duties to clear out old files. 

5. See the full view of your resident and applicant files

Back in the day, we used a physical checklist on the inside of a person’s file to track what parts of the application were missing, communications with the applicant, and to store any relevant documents.

While the checklist was helpful in keeping us on track, I still had to pull the physical file to see what was missing, and even that wasn’t always accurate. I cannot tell you how many times the document marked as missing was in fact in the file or vice versa.

How much easier would it be to audit what is missing from those files by pulling a report that showed missing required documents? With the right ECM solution, you can accomplish this with the click of a mouse instead of pulling the files themselves and creating a working spreadsheet.

Why not take the guess work out of it? Relying on the physical files doesn’t help you manage your information, only the file itself.

6. Make all your forms work smarter

Think of all of the forms you complete as a property manager. There are facility inspections, room inspections, resident feedback requests, employee feedback requests, time off requests, work order requests, incident reports, and many more. How do you manage these today?  

Back in the day, we used massive three-ring binders with no way to search for common offenders in incident reports. We also didn’t have a way to identify trends among our facility inspections. You either remembered or you didn’t. Maybe it was in a resident’s file. Or maybe it wasn’t. 

Why not digitize these forms so you can use them in a smart way? 

By making these paper forms electronic forms, you accomplish two key things. First, you simply eliminate the binders and physical forms. Staff no longer shoves paper in a binder or file cabinet, where no one will ever see it again. You no longer lose track of binders on someone’s desk. Paper forms no longer sit in an inbox until someone remembers why they’re there. 

Second, you can manage whatever process those forms kick off. Maybe a regional manager wants to audit all of the inspection forms or incident reports weekly. Maybe a PTO request or feedback form has to be routed to someone who isn’t based where the form was completed. Short of snail mail or attaching to email, an ECM platform offers a secure way to manage those forms and the accompanying process. 

You can also utilize workflow management to automatically forward these forms through processes while alerting stakeholders along the way. 

7. Don’t let paper manage your HR processes

Just like tenants fill out applications and turn over regularly, your on-site staff does too. This is especially true in student housing, where the makeup of an office staff changes by the academic year as part-time student workers graduate and leave campus. 

Just like leasing applications, is there a physical set of employee applications that you have stacked on your desk? Do you perform every interview evaluation by hand? How do you track what is missing without the dreaded physical checklist we’ve already talked about?

It’s proven that millennial job seekers value a modern and engaging process. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that an online application is necessary, but it is only the first step. By taking the HR files themselves into the digital age, the same visibility, accuracy, and ease of use we described for leases remains true for this set of documents as well. 

8. Get your work done from anywhere

Quick, where are your lease files? Potentially, you have them locked and secured in an office somewhere. 

But what happens when you are away from your office and a mission-critical issue comes up? You can’t access the information you need to make that decision in real time. What if you are out at a property and an issue arises that needs a copy of a lease or the incident documented right then and there? 

I once had a resident drive a car through an exterior wall. I kid you not. I needed to take pictures and document communication with the resident and my boss. I couldn’t do that from my phone, so I had to trudge back to the office, upload pictures, save them, and then attach them to an email. 

Why not make it easier to do the work where the actual work is? 

OnBase’s integrations with Outlook and a variety of mobile platforms empowers your teams to perform their work where they need to.

They can even take relevant information with them to work on and upload the changes once back on the local network when they are finished. They can complete forms, approve requests, or attach pictures of exterior damage to a building – all on the go. 

9. Unleash the power of your business applications

Beyond accounting systems and ERPs, your team members more than likely use the full suite of Office™ applications like Word, Excel, and Outlook.

With only physical files, staff members need to save, print, or email any work they perform in those applications for anyone else to see it. When someone receives an email with an attachment that is important for a lease file or employee record, they have to print it and then place it in the file.  

That costs money for printers, ink, paper, and time off value-added tasks that improve curb appeal and resident satisfaction.  

The right ECM solution will offer a wide range of integrations beyond the aforementioned mobile applications. Integrations with Office Business Applications like Word and Excel can send those documents right into the system without having to print.

For example, OnBase’s ability to “print to OnBase” cuts out the printing process entirely. Integrations with Outlook allow your users to add whole emails or attachments into the system to make necessary approvals without ever leaving Outlook. By saving that kind of time and operational costs, your team can focus on real value-added tasks during their day. 

10. Don’t be bound by the size of the filing cabinet

There is a finite amount of paper you can store in a filing cabinet or in your desk. You can only put so many banker boxes in a storage room. There are only so many pieces of paper you can stuff in a resident file before it simply overflows. The paper, the storage, the cabinets themselves all have a cost and are bound by physical limitations in your office space.  

With ECM, you expand your ability to store, retrieve, and process everything that is important to your teams, whether they’re on-site or in a central office.

On premises or in the cloud, an ECM platform like OnBase turns your file cabinets into searchable databases of business critical information that makes your people smarter and by turn your residents and tenants happier. By increasing visibility, increasing accuracy, and increasing efficiency, taking your file cabinets into the digital age can only have a positive impact. 

There you go. Ten reasons to ditch paper and go through a digital transformation. 

From the ability for people to get work done when they’re on the go to lowering the costs and risks of dealing with paper, it’s time to manage your properties without paper. And that’s something to write home about, but only by email. 

This blog post was originally published on Pulse.