How Do Your Software Providers Stack Up?

On-Site was recently approached by UNITS magazine to comment on trends we’re seeing in software for multifamily. We turned to Randy Jones, On-Site’s Director of Design, for his thoughts on the topic.

Rather than give us the answer that UNITS was looking for, Randy took the opposite tack and pointed out five essential trends that are mostly absent in the world of multifamily software developers, but are cutting edge here in Silicon Valley. These are principles that have enabled On-Site (based in Campbell, California) to stay on top of the technology curve and bring solutions to market that meet the rapidly changing needs of today’s user. Multifamily would do well to sit up and take notice. They are:

Continuously upgrade your technology stack

As a product team, we are constantly balancing how our engineering team spends their time. There are many conflicting demands, and we are tempted to focus all our energy on new products and revenue streams. Fortunately we have a forward thinking group of engineers that is passionate about not taking on technological debt. To this end they advocate strongly for time to implement the latest technology or best practice. Kicking the debt down the road by refusing to invest the time saves some pain now and may bring the next enhancement sooner, but the interest on your debt will eat you alive. Soon your product only works in certain browsers, or requires a plugin to continue support, or doesn’t work on a mobile device. Nobody intends their products to work this way, it’s the unintended consequence of neglecting your stack and codebase.

Embrace and contribute to open-source tools

Our stack is almost entirely open source. The only exception is our database. The wrong reason to choose open source is because it’s free. Though that’s not a bad thing! The real benefit is in being plugged into a much larger community. Our USA-based engineering team is quite small by some standards, yet we are able to get so much done by leveraging the larger open source community. In many cases we don’t have to re-invent the wheel, and can focus on the parts that are specific to the multifamily industry. When we build something that would be useful for the larger community, we package it up and put it on GIT Hub for others to benefit. The result is better code. How many multifamily teams would be excited to expose their code for the world to see? When you know it will be scrutinized, you avoid the shortcuts and hacks that might otherwise seem expedient.

Collaborate with your customers

Every single major product launch this year was built in collaboration with several customers. Not a beta program, but an iterative and collaborative process from requirements gathering, wireframes, during development and beyond. Bad design decisions are weeded out before significant time is invested, and the focus is squarely on usability. Nobody know the problems you’re trying to solve like your customers. Read about the topics covered at our 2013 User Group Retreat here.

Design for the future

There are very few renters today who will find an apartment online, tour the apartment online, apply online, sign online, pay online, and ask you to mail them the keys, all from their mobile device having never visited the property. That sounds absurd to many property managers and renters. Unless you are talking about student housing. The student of today is tomorrow’s renter. What will be their expectation the next time they rent? Please sign this printed stack of paper? No. We’ve committed to address the needs of student housing. Sure it’s a niche market, but we’re betting we are addressing the multifamily needs of the future.

Free Integration

This industry is gripped by fear of integration. If we integrate, then we will help our competition so lets drag our feet, or charge an arm and a leg. But almost nobody considers: if we don’t integrate we will also hurt our customers. They can’t work the way they want to. We’ve taken the approach that customers are best served by the freedom to choose their workflow. Every company, region and property has unique needs. This is especially true in fee managed companies. I want everyone to choose our products, but the reality is that they may not be the best option in every case. Integration lets us serve our clients best interests, and it also serves as a kick in our pants to improve our product offering!

What do you think? Did we leave anything out? Leave a comment on our Facebook page.