How Owners, Architects and Contractors Can Partner With Tech Providers to Raise the Standards of Connected Properties

Contractors can benefit from partnering with an experienced tech provider on projects.
By Don Jensen
November 15, 2022

Developers need to future proof their buildings. The pandemic has left an indelible mark on how and where we work, play and live—a recent NMHC survey showed that over 91% of apartment residents say high-speed internet is an important factor when considering an apartment with nearly 75% stating that Wi-Fi should be pre-installed. According to that same survey, an additional 69% of residents indicated that community Wi-Fi ranked as an important amenity.

Meeting the increasing requirements of a more demanding and technology-hungry tenant pool has become table stakes in the quest for occupancy, and many owner/developers are still playing catch up to this new reality. By relying on legacy know-how that has been developed over the past 15 to 20 years, some are finding themselves ill-equipped in the race to develop and open today’s smart buildings. An example that illustrates how the current process may be splintered can be found in how the proptech platforms are purchased or “bought out” by the general contractor. A developer may have different vendors for low voltage, bulk Wi-Fi, security cameras and access control, but these four systems typically have a requirement to “interoperate” or function in unison, which can be challenging if you have four different companies installing them.

When planning technologies for a new property, developers can benefit from partnering with an experienced technology build/design provider that offers consulting, design and budgeting guidance from early in the project, but also provides uniform project accountability and scope alignment for all services deployed.

Understanding the Current Landscape

As part of the design development (DD) effort the owner/developer works with an architectural firm that provides overall designs and floor plan backgrounds. These drawings will advance and lead to the permit stage. Also, if the developer is looking for a third-party general contractor, that evaluation process is also happening in the DD stage. You may ask, "What does all of this have to do with technology deployment?" Well, quite often this group of three—owner/architect/contractor—form the nucleus of the directional decisions made on all elements of the project, including what types (and the level) of technology used. Very rarely will you see a technology company influencing these decisions and integrating them into the planning and design, which can be part of the problem.

The result of the above can be a fragmented, fractionalized and poorly coordinated proptech project, which increases the risk of scope misalignment and cost overruns, with a final product that can be less than ideal. Buildings built as recently as in the last three years can have services that do not align with current residents’ expectations or have installed wiring that does not future-proof the building, which can lead to immediate resident frustrations and increased TCO down the line for property owners.

Understanding the New Landscape

As noted previously, the pandemic has forever changed how most of us live and work. This evolution will require buildings to implement increasing levels of automation, bandwidth and conveniences enabled by technology.

Delivering a distinctive and differentiated residence experience takes significant planning. Advanced and holistic IT design from the start of the design/build process can be established by having a clear vision of the final product. Once you envision the experience you want residents and staff to have, working backward from that point will allow you to construct a tech stack that works in concert to provide that experience and avoid unbudgeted expenses due to overlooked project scope. Additionally, this technique allows for a fair bit of value engineering, as the reality of budgets mesh with the final deliverable.

The Battle for Project Scope

Ideally, a developer should determine the technology budget and scope early in the process, even before engaging with the general contractor. However, many developers may have trusted or established relationships with their general contractor and end up stratifying the purchasing decisions for many of the technologies between the general contractor and their other trades. Ultimately, this can create confusion between the parties which can and does, lead to implementation issues down the road.

The Efficiency of Network Convergence

A tech partner can design a network that leverages one physical network by introducing multiple platforms and converging (adding) those applications on top of one host platform. The secret to doing this correctly is in the ability to design the network during early planning and include a specific group of applications on the same converged network. When planned effectively, convergence offers versatile network utilization and the expense or delay caused by adding an unplanned service in the middle of a build cycle can be avoided.

Increase Resident Satisfaction and NOI Simultaneously

While investing in proptech is just one sliver of the entire new-build budget, when done correctly it can have a large positive effect on the resident experience. Careful and well thought-out technology investments can raise the level of convenience, value and service for residents. Today’s renter will pay for this value. Therefore, when implemented efficiently, a billable tech package can reap dividends and increase property NOI, contributing to the monthly income of the property and increased asset value.

Win-Win Mentality

The increased demand for rich, secure bandwidth, "Internet of Things" devices and interoperable automation require that developers, architects and contractors approach the plan/build for a new property differently. The build team can meet these challenges by taking a holistic approach when designing the technology package. When that build team collaborates with tech partners early in the process, the outcome can be a win-win situation for all, and most importantly for the resident.

by Don Jensen

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