As smart-home automation moves inexorably into the multifamily space, property managers could find themselves wondering how to implement technology into their communities. Entrata reached out to Google to find out what approach a multinational internet giant is taking to helping management companies offer smart spaces within their communities.
Tommy Deserti joined Nest just days before it was acquired by Google in 2014 and works for the company as Head of Real Estate Partnerships. At the Entrata 2018 Summit, he provided insight into Google’s process for applying and adapting new technologies, and their recommendations for multifamily operators.
There’s a process to building smart spaces, according to Deserti, that runs its course whenever a new technology is offered. Right now, he estimated, 70 percent of multifamily management companies find themselves on the first step: Adoption. Most are still trying to figure it out.
“This step is the least fun, but it’s the most fundamental,” said Deserti. “This is where you have to deal with barriers to adoption, including security, protocols, and cost.”
Google acknowledges that multifamily presents its own challenges; it’s a two-customer situation where both the user/resident must be given a positive experience and the operator/manager must see a return on their technology investment. This makes navigating obstacles more tricky, but not insurmountable.
Security issues must be addressed by selecting unobtrusive tech and partners that don’t cut corners or leave room for data breaches.
“Consumers don’t like intrusive technology,” said Deserti. “Google did a global study showing that when technology is in-your-face all the time people are fearful and don’t want to adopt.”
With artificial intelligence acting as a de-facto translator, Deserti asserted, protocols will become less of a barrier as different hardware learns to speak to each other.
“People don’t care if it’s Z-Wave or Zigbee,” he said. “They just want it to work.”
And finally, rather than focusing on cost, Deserti suggests shifting perspective to meaningful use cases that help people embrace the new. Interactions like getting instant directions to a restaurant in a new neighborhood, or paying rent with a simple voice command, create unique and convenient experiences for residents.
The second step, where the fun really begins and where perhaps 20 percent find themselves, is the Learning phase. What if, Deserty posited, every light switch, door lock, and thermostat were smart? What if you had access to a learning AI back-end making sense of it all?
An intelligent hub can provide insights into occupancy rates at different times of day, peak hours for traffic in and out of the community, and more. And that insight is what leads companies to the final step of the process: Evolution.
Evolution is when you take your insights and use them to build products and services that help you differentiate. Where in the past, adding newer brighter amenities involved significant cost or meaningful changes to units and buildings, if you have a smart-home infrastructure in place, you can do the same thing at minimal cost because it’s software-based.
“Thermostats, locks, and lights are relatively low-cost products. Infrastructure is built once,” explained Deserti, “and generates raw data. Artificial intelligence makes sense of the data, you learn from it, and then you can make educated decisions to differentiate your properties.”
Google has identified connectivity as the primary obstacle facing the adoption of multifamily smart-home systems.
“The vast majority of buildings don’t have building-wide wifi,” said Deserti. “We’re looking at two solutions to the connectivity problem. First, we’re designing products and services that can still deliver some magic if, for example, wifi-is lost. Second, we’re looking at how to improve connectivity across portfolios.”
Google is focused on building a beautiful unified experience for residents and working closely with multifamily-specific platforms like Entratamation that need to be hardware agnostic partner in creating those experiences. The future looks very bright indeed.