The World Wide Web has changed everything. Today, those Americans not online have shrunk to less than one-tenth of the nation’s total population, from 48 percent in 2000, according to Pew Research. For our residents, the internet is integral to daily functions including communications, purchases, transportation, logistics, and everything else.
For property owners and operators, internet connectivity facilitates smart building operations and many internal functions including transactions and utility monitoring. So what makes a property ready, even hardened, for the future?
The internet has been called the fourth utility, just behind electric and gas, water and sewer, and trash and recycling on apartment properties. Once an optional amenity that gave a competitive lift to a property, the convenience of online services and entertainment is compelling, even addictive, and is quickly moving connectivity to a top spot for residents in their list of must-haves.
More adults report being online “almost constantly,” according to a recent Pew report. Twenty-six percent of Americans rarely disconnected from the internet in 2018—among the 18-to-29 demographic, that number jumps to 39 percent, according to Pew Research.
Amid the digital evolution of property management, tracking and managing utility consumption and cost is long an objective of many apartment operators. To control the once-believed uncontrollable may be the ultimate challenge. Tim Haddon, director of strategic business services for PK Management, LLC headquartered in Greenville, S.C., has spent a career creating scores of pay-back models on apartment retrofits and processes in order to find profitability through greater efficiency. His latest focus—internet infrastructure—speaks to the near-complete transformation of the internet from amenity to utility.
“As an industry, we once thought of the internet as an amenity. New technologies have transformed the internet into a must-have, like electricity,” said Haddon. “You could live without electricity, but you probably wouldn’t like it long term.”
“Each community is different. The location, the people are different. What plays in different parts of the country in terms of speed and options varies,” said Haddon. “Your community’s offering affects your ability to rent units. Sometimes you can just offer one great service, and sometimes you need choice. Additionally, offerings can depend on ownership. Some operators have a standard approach, and some don’t.”
Building out and including an internet service across a building or property is complex with many moving parts. In certain areas of the country, the construction company or market service providers dictate service type and availability. Haddon suggests that the optimal environment is having the space and infrastructure to offer multiple providers. The caveat is that multiple providers must operate in a given market in order to offer a choice to residents.
Open conduit is the bottom line, said Haddon. This means unused, open for any wiring that comes along. “That way, whatever the new technology, you have space and are ready for installation. For existing buildings, it is always tougher and costlier to change infrastructure,” said Haddon.
The internet is the backbone of all this IoT (internet of things). Having a flexible, property-wide infrastructure ready for the next big thing will be critical. “You cannot have the internet of things without internet,” he added.
As with any utility, regulations have already begun to emerge. And that’s the next chapter in the brave new online world.
This article originally appeared in the Journal of Utility Management.