In the steady churn of multifamily properties, a portfolio’s I.T. integrity can get lost. New acquisitions or operator changes can leave a company behind the times – and sometimes vulnerable – when on-boarding information technology, whether making improvements to existing equipment or starting anew to sync with the corporate office.
In most cases, upgrades of antiquated equipment or adding a new desktops or laptops are necessary to ensure connection between the property and corporate office. Typically, it’s costly and time consuming for the I.T. team from time of purchase to installation, licensing and onboarding. Getting new or existing users set up adds to the process and can drag out if not well coordinated or the right protocols are not in place.
And while I.T. at the corporate level may be up to date, tight and secure, the property may be operating in another time and place while becoming a gateway to security breaches.
In recent years, Microsoft’s Windows Autopilot and Intune have alleviated some of the burden so that new devices can be deployed and configured right out of the box. Through the Microsoft Modern Workplace platform, Autopilot and Intune users can manage devices via the cloud. Devices can receive security and management policies directly from there, from any location. They are essentially plug-and-play, offering businesses a fast solution to onboard new users, whether one employee or a whole office.
The concept has become a game changer. For multifamily, instead of having to spend thousands of dollars for network hardware to connect back to the corporate office, a monthly subscription fee per user is all it costs beyond the purchase price of equipment. Once the devices are registered to the main account they receive all the security and management policies from Microsoft in a jiffy.
The Modern Workplace is a way already over-stressed I.T. staffs can effectively scale with a portfolio’s growth. But as much as it’s a blessing on the install side, multifamily I.T. departments are still faced with the proper due diligence of maintaining a secure and visible system.
On the other hand, many companies continue to handle I.T. the old-fashioned way by buying devices (sometimes at retail outlets), staging them at properties and loading software with their own personnel.
Reducing the risk of exposure through effective I.T. infrastructure management
As portfolios grow, I.T. management by either scenario costs time and money, says Chris Cranfill, RealPage’s vice president of SmartSource I.T. Services. There is simply too much to keep track of and ensure system security is water tight from the leasing office to the corporate office.
Because management often changes at properties or they are sold, the onsite level doesn’t always get the I.T. gold.
“A lot of these properties are churning every month, and that’s the reason they become second-class citizens because they are bouncing between different PMCs all the time,” Cranfill said. “It ends up being old antiquated equipment that’s out of warranty, so I think that’s way in the property world. They need to be brought up to the modern workplace.”
Cranfill believes that, because I.T. now defines how companies do business, multifamily properties put their reputations and businesses on the line each day in a complex internet technology world. Company systems that aren’t safe, secure, visible and up-to-date from the top down put too much at risk. When systems are expanded to take on or reduce properties, the company can be vulnerable without the proper protection.
RealPage has brought to market in recent years an infrastructure management and cloud solutions management service that handles deployment and behind-the-scenes management to provide security and visibility to multifamily companies whether their I.T. in static or on the move. The aim of the service is to take deployment of Microsoft products to the next level – even handle time-consuming Microsoft desktop and user licensing audits.
Protecting a portfolio through active management of all devices
RealPage Solutions Architect Rusty Frank says SmartSource I.T. Infrastructure Management and Cloud Solution Provider are scalable and allow multifamily operators to focus on their core businesses rather than laboriously managing the day-to-day I.T. functions that sometimes get overlooked. He often sees properties fail to maintain operating systems to the point that security is jeopardized. Keeping up licenses and certificates is a full-time job that, if not observed can put the company’s critical information at risk of breach.
Also, taking on new properties can require significant investment to bring an office or system up to speed and fully protected.
“Without an active management system in place, they have no control over data protection on company files,” Franks said. “Are those files going to be accessible externally? You just don’t have control. There are very few property management companies that will spend that initial $4,000-$5,000 just to do it.”
Franks and Cranfill encourage multifamily companies to protect their portfolios by actively managing the system ensure that all devices are up to date and protected, from full desktop support services, continuing support, auditing and security compliance. If they are unable to do so internally, a third-party provider can provide the right solution.
Multifamily I.T. management and support essential to the modern workplace
The arrival of cloud-based deployment as offered by Microsoft is a sign of the times. Microsoft has essentially begun shifting product sales from capital expense item to an operating expense. Cranfill believes the days are numbered for companies that make a big upfront investment in multifamily I.T. and manage internally, given the complexity of today’s information technology.
While Intune and Autpilot are making deployment much easier, the core need of management and support is important to portfolios, especially if they are growing, says Cranfill.
“It’s the benefit of getting to modern work place and having someone manage everything for them so they don’t have to continually invest in their own personnel as they grow,” he said. “That’s usually the big decision.”