Brad Perry, VP of technology, and Greg Tantum, lead full stack developer, have a discussion around technology and Action.
[00:00:25.470] – Matthew Holbrook
Welcome to The Uncommon Area. I am Matthew Holbrook and I am joined by Greg Tantum, our lead stack developer Action Property Management, and Brad Perry, our vice president of technology. Today’s topic is we’re going to talk about the theme of homeowners associations and technology. I wanted to just start off by asking Greg, I said your title is Lead full stack developer. What is that?
[00:00:58.230] – Greg Tantum
Basically what I do is I oversee the entire development team. I have myself and three other developers, and even past being a lead full site developer, I also oversee the infrastructure for us. I manage all of the website servers, the back-end servers, AWS for all of our cloud computing, and on top of managing the team and making sure that we hit all of our goals.
[00:01:21.340] – Matthew Holbrook
Just to be clear, when you say our development team, you’re specifically talking about software development.
[00:01:27.420] – Greg Tantum
Yes, software and web development. We’re trying to build everything as much as possible on the Internet, on websites, because we have people across the entire state and then even out of state for homeowners, so that anyone can access anything they need at any given time.
[00:01:42.240] – Matthew Holbrook
All right, so again, our theme for today is technology and homeowners associations. Brad, I wanted to get the ball rolling on this discussion by posing the question, what is our philosophy at Action with regard to how do we see and think about technology as it relates to homeowners associations?
[00:02:03.030] – Brad Perry
Well, the way I see it is it goes based off of, first of all, our values, which is innovation and creativity is one of the core values that we have. I always think about that when we’re building our technology. But I think to answer that a little bit more succinctly is our number 1 client or our number 1 user, in my mind is all of the employees that work for Action Property Management.
[00:02:29.890] – Brad Perry
When we develop things, we’re always thinking under that rubric, even though there are board members and there’s homeowners and there’s vendors and all these other people that end up touching our technology. But really my goal is to make sure that our employees or our team members at Action Property Management have the products and the resources that they need to be able to do their job.
[00:02:54.630] – Matthew Holbrook
For any board members or homeowners that might be watching this, the value of that, why they would care, is the more effective, productive, efficient our team members are, the better service they can ultimately provide. That would be the thinking behind that, right?
[00:03:08.650] – Brad Perry
[00:03:11.070] – Matthew Holbrook
How do we guard and either one of you can answer this, but how do we guard against the idea of just creating cool technology or things that you guys as technology geeks might get excited about versus what the end user actually is going to care about?
[00:03:27.230] – Brad Perry
Well, there’s a couple of things, and I’ll throw a little bit over to Greg what his team essentially does. But going back to what I was saying, we design all of our products around the first and foremost our main user, which is going to be our team members, the managers, on-site people, and team members from front desk all the way up to senior vice presidents of regional areas.
[00:03:52.770] – Brad Perry
But the interesting thing is that we never just go and develop things just by Greg and I talking about them. We have people that we always get involved. Typically when we develop something, we have general managers, managers, assistants, front desk people, we get all of their input first before we just think, oh, this has got to be a cool tool that everybody’s going to want to use.
[00:04:19.230] – Brad Perry
A lot of times you can see software that’s designed by the engineers and not by the people. We design software for the people, by the people. One term I always use is, for instance, the management app, the management app is designed by managers for managers.
[00:04:35.730] – Matthew Holbrook
Greg, do you have anything you would add to that?
[00:04:37.560] – Greg Tantum
Yeah, actually, to take it a step further, I mean, I started on-site, so I started even as a front desk person in action and moved my way up. I’m always cognizant of how would I use it if I was in that situation where I’m working as an assistant or as a manager or as a front desk. I always come back to that because having been on the front lines, first thing I think about is, okay, am I building something that’s looking to look cool or am I building something that’s useful?
[00:05:02.690] – Matthew Holbrook
Right. How do you see changing technology, changing expectations? How do you see the trajectory of where homeowners associations are going and how they’re affected by technology?
[00:05:18.330] – Brad Perry
Yeah, well, one thing I can tell you that just technology, the development ability for us to develop different applications has changed immensely. Even Greg, when he first started developing, just the tools that he had to develop were very cumbersome and over the years they’re becoming easier and easier and easier. The platforms between a phone to an iPad to a computer are starting to all blend together.
[00:05:50.250] – Brad Perry
The tools in the way that they’re being programmed are a lot more efficient through and he can get into the technical knowledge of it. But the libraries, so you build basically these libraries, but yet they work for all of these different things where before you’d have to build basically all the plumbing for every single thing that you did.
[00:06:08.860] – Brad Perry
The development time has really increased. It’s given us the opportunity to develop a little bit more quicker, and also we can develop other things that are helpful.
[00:06:20.140] – Matthew Holbrook
You mean actually the development time has decreased, we’re faster and faster being able to develop?
[00:06:24.960] – Brad Perry
Yes. If you think about it, instead of sitting down, clean slate, and having to code every single little thing, Greg now has built these libraries that write the vast majority of the code, and then we just basically add the additional small little features and he can explain a little bit more.
[00:06:43.480] – Greg Tantum
Yeah, that’s exactly. When I first started, that was one of the first things I noticed, is that every project that we had was written from the ground up. Nothing was ever used again. If you’re talking to our accounting platform, it was rewritten every time. Every different product that we had was written every time differently.
[00:07:00.340] – Greg Tantum
To talk to our accounting platforms now, I’ve written a library that talks to the accounting platform. Now I just say, hey, I go to library, give me everyone’s ledger, give me the balances, give me this, as opposed to having to write it every time and then everything’s referencing the same thing.
[00:07:13.520] – Matthew Holbrook
What I’m hearing as a CEO or what our board members are hearing is there’s literally no excuse for our technology to ever be stale. That we should always be able to move pretty quickly and keep innovating, keep developing, and always being able to have new and better options for our end users.
[00:07:32.330] – Greg Tantum
That’s one of the things that I advocate a lot, is that I spend dedicated time every week making sure that we’re not in a path where something is stuck that we can’t move. If we can’t, and if it is stuck, then we’re going to spend some time over time making sure that it’s unstuck and getting to the next technology platform as new and new versions of things as technology, especially now, is just growing exponentially fast.
[00:07:56.200] – Greg Tantum
We need to have our platforms in a position to be able to transition faster. We’re working towards that.
[00:08:02.350] – Matthew Holbrook
Am I off base if I think of technology as it relates to homeowners associations, that it primarily revolves around different ways of communication? It’s the heartbeat. Obviously, there’s lots of other spheres, but is like the bullseye of how we use technology and how we think about technology, is it in terms of communication, or would you guys see that differently.
[00:08:31.350] – Brad Perry
When you’re asking that question the thing that comes up the most when it comes to homeowners associations is really integration. I want to be able to see my account, look at what’s going on in my property, communicate, get e-mails, get notifications, also connect to this side, also connect to this thing. It’s integration.
[00:08:55.430] – Brad Perry
As we move forward and now that Greg’s team has developed the management app and so many people, everybody in our organization uses it, they come to us constantly with, “Hey, can it also do this?” Normally that is, can it really integrate with this?
[00:09:13.610] – Brad Perry
That I think is the biggest thing. Yeah, there’s communication and going a little bit back to the libraries and the technical nerdy stuff. Really another reason why Greg has built those libraries is because like he says, he goes he’s built it in the sense of all he says is give me the ledger and that ledger could be on the resident portal, that ledger could be in the management app, that ledger could be on a mobile app and that calculation is exactly the same.
[00:09:40.140] – Brad Perry
If it needs to change, he changes it in one spot and it updates all of those different areas. That’s the communication piece and the integration piece together.
[00:09:48.710] – Matthew Holbrook
It’s about integration. I hear that we talk about that a lot. Really as we think of that in terms of homeowners associations, I don’t know if that’s unique to other industries, but we’re very very fragmented in how the technology has been developed, at least outside of Action property management.
[00:10:09.180] – Matthew Holbrook
There are companies that see opportunities and say, I’m going to develop software that will address this specific need, but it’s not necessarily integrated into all the other aspects. Is that a fair assessment of where the industry is?
[00:10:22.760] – Greg Tantum
Yeah, there’s a lot of different platforms that do similar items too, especially when you have properties that have managed access, like a Gargate or something. There’s any number of properties that can do that. There’s any number of programs that can do that.
[00:10:35.630] – Greg Tantum
Then trying to either work with those companies, integrate with them, same thing. There’s just so many security systems and Fob systems for access control and trying to integrate with all those. That’s probably the biggest hurdle.
[00:10:50.420] – Matthew Holbrook
The biggest downside for that is both from the management side and from, let’s say, a homeowner or a resident side, they’re having to learn different programs, they’re having to have different access to those programs with different logins and passwords and all of that. That creates just an overall more cumbersome dynamic for each individual residence. Is that an accurate way to put it?
[00:11:17.440] – Brad Perry
[00:11:18.370] – Greg Tantum
[00:11:19.620] – Brad Perry
In some places, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. If there’s systems out there, we don’t necessarily want to become a gate access controller company. There’s really good companies that do really good job of that. Our process is basically looking at those applications and finding ways to integrate with them.
[00:11:39.640] – Matthew Holbrook
How do we become the hub and be able to connect all the different spokes that are coming off of that?
[00:11:43.920] – Brad Perry
Yeah, and we’re poised as one of the largest privately owned management companies in the city California and we have the resources with Greg’s team and the whole IT team to be able to do those types of things because we’re basically taking our platform and we’re picking and choosing the different tools that will make it better and integrating with them.
[00:12:08.190] – Matthew Holbrook
Now back to the communication aspect, because the integration I think is really important. I’m not sure that that is as sexy of a topic, even though it’s super important. I think that’s the thing that when things are not integrated, everyone notices and they’re frustrated, but maybe they don’t even always know how to articulate what they’re frustrated about. But when it is integrated, it’s more like, yeah, that’s just what I expect. That’s how it’s supposed to work in this era.
[00:12:37.770] – Matthew Holbrook
But on the communication from a resident in one of our communities, that’s what they’re thinking about. How do I communicate with management? How do I communicate with board members? How do board members communicate with each other? How do committee members communicate with each other?
[00:12:54.580] – Matthew Holbrook
Even getting to the point of how do board members and committee members potentially communicate with other, like buildings or like communities in their general geographic area? How is their shared knowledge? All of that from a communication standpoint are places where there’s opportunity for technology to facilitate and to help accomplish things that maybe have never been accomplished before. Is that a fair assessment?
[00:13:24.150] – Brad Perry
Yes, I think I would change, in my opinion, with what homeowners and even managers, again, going back to our primary users of our certain applications that we use, they’re looking for communication. But it’s interesting nowadays they’re looking for communication and ability to get information, notifications, communications in many different platforms. Some people are like I want to get a text message, I want to get an e-mail, I want to get a phone call, well I would rather chat.
[00:13:54.900] – Brad Perry
Now we have to take those types of methodologies and be able to make it available in whatever format that end user wants. Some people are saying I would rather call, I would rather chat, I would rather get an e-mail. Greg’s team is now having to figure out ways to how do you create those preferences for those individual users and create the technology behind it so that it’s seamless? That’s the difficult challenge.
[00:14:19.970] – Matthew Holbrook
It comes back to another form of integration. How do you integrate all these different platforms’ means of communication?
[00:14:24.750] – Brad Perry
How you integrate the proliferation of the information is really also the name of the game nowadays is preferences. People have preferences in how they want to receive their information.
[00:14:38.080] – Matthew Holbrook
I’m sure there’s a better technological way to put this, but how about just organization of information, ease of access of information? How important is that for homeowners associations and users of homeowners associations?
[00:14:51.210] – Brad Perry
Yeah, that’s Nick’s job.
[00:14:53.610] – Matthew Holbrook
Nick is not here.
[00:14:56.670] – Brad Perry
Well, he could explain what Nick does.
[00:14:58.870] – Greg Tantum
Yeah. Nick is our UI UX developer. He really spends the time trying to think out how the user would go about those things like making sure that things are arranged in a way that do make sense when you’re reading through it. That it doesn’t seem like it’s just jumbled together in one spot. Making sure that what the user is experiencing is what they would expect. Not a random assortment of information on the screen.
[00:15:25.570] – Brad Perry
Yeah. Greg’s job is full-stack developer. He deals with the entire stack from the way it looks, the UI to the UX, which is the user experience, to the middleware, which communicates, and to the back end where all the information is stored. He’s that full stack. That’s what that means. The beginning portion of that is what Nick does. Nick and Rick together are other developers.
[00:15:48.370] – Brad Perry
That is one of the things that I’m actually really particular about, too, which is I want someone to be able to get to what they need in three clicks or less. I want you to be able to click click click and get exactly what you need, which is kind of what you’re talking about. The other thing is that it’s extremely intuitive. Extremely intuitive.
[00:16:11.220] – Brad Perry
We don’t do training classes on how to use the resident portal. You just log in and it should by just looking at the screen, you should be able to figure it out within three clicks to get the information you need. It’s the same thing with the management app, too.
[00:16:25.490] – Brad Perry
We do have training that goes along with the management app, and the management app is an extremely extensive multifaceted product, but most managers, they log in and they can figure it out without any training at all. That’s because Nick does a great job of the UI the UX.
[00:16:42.100] – Matthew Holbrook
Yeah. People don’t want to have to be trained in order to use software. You go pick up your iPhone and you just want to start using it. That intuitive nature of the software is an important part of how we’re thinking through development.
[00:16:59.260] – Brad Perry
Yeah. My pet peeve is when you open up an application, you can almost instantly notice that it was designed by an engineer, not by a UI UX person or not by someone that’s going to use the product. Just like this is definitely designed by an engineer.
[00:17:14.250] – Matthew Holbrook
Is there any cool product or application that either of you can think of that’s outside of the realm of what we specifically work within our technology department, but it’s related to homeowners associations and we’re like, yeah, that’s something technologically that works really well, and we see the value in that from a management standpoint?
[00:17:37.240] – Brad Perry
You’re saying a product that is used by our industry?
[00:17:40.500] – Matthew Holbrook
Yeah, something used by our industry. We don’t have to necessarily name names, but a type of product that doesn’t fall within the range of what we would actually develop or we would try to integrate with. We can just look at it from a technology standpoint and say, “Yeah, that’s something that’s really helpful.”
[00:18:00.750] – Brad Perry
Yeah, the only thing I can think of is I can’t think of a specific product. Because it’s funny because I was thinking well maybe one of the cool things now is you’ve seen these Amazon Lockers or there’s all the other companies that do package locker systems. Which by the way we’re looking to integrate with those package locker systems.
[00:18:21.840] – Brad Perry
Which is obviously, like I was saying, we’re not going to go into the package locker business but these properties that some of these properties that we manage have these from, for instance, on the large-scale associations they have the gate systems. We’re not going to go into gate access security cameras. We’re not going to go into the security camera industry.
[00:18:44.920] – Brad Perry
All of these different things are different products that we’re not necessarily going to build, but we have these intentions and currently do have integrations with all these different products. But I think the thing that I think you’re asking is everybody wants a mobile app. Everybody wants a native mobile app.
[00:19:04.670] – Brad Perry
That’s one of the things that I think is inherently, we’re always looking at what ways that we might be able to build a mobile app for different resources that we use or different things that we use.
[00:19:21.070] – Matthew Holbrook
I was even thinking and maybe this does ultimately integrate, but I know one of the frustrations that some of our high-rise buildings, for example, that they have is, let’s say a front desk person needs to let somebody up in the elevator and right now, in a lot of our buildings, they have to physically walk over fob the elevator, push the button for a resident going up, let’s say a guest going up to visit a resident.
[00:19:50.370] – Matthew Holbrook
It would be super helpful to be able to do that from the front desk and have some technological resource to be able to do that. Some of our buildings do. The challenge is the cost to implement that for buildings that don’t have that has generally been prohibitive. The buildings that don’t have that feature are usually not able to add that feature.
[00:20:17.850] – Matthew Holbrook
I’m curious about your thoughts on would we expect something like that to be developed for the market in a more cost-effective type of way?
[00:20:31.030] – Brad Perry
Well, I can say this is what Greg doesn’t like. I would always say, “Of course, there’s a way to do that. Of course, there’s a way to connect those systems.” Then Greg just starts thinking of all the things that would have to happen for that to actually work. My job is easy. My job is, sure, we can do that. Then Greg’s job would be to figure it out.
[00:20:51.080] – Matthew Holbrook
My job is to hear what Brad says and say, “Okay, I guess I’m going to go out and tell everybody we can do that.”
[00:20:57.190] – Greg Tantum
Yeah, those are always a mixed bag. Just as both of you have. I’ve visited probably half of our high rises at some point in time over the years, and they’re all different, and a lot of them are closed loop, which always adds and they do it for security reasons. They don’t want someone to accidentally get access to an elevator or the Fob control system to be able to unlock the doors and get in.
[00:21:20.890] – Greg Tantum
Those are always interesting because they’re always a little different. The newer systems, because buildings I’ve been at, some of them, you can the front desk hit a button and it unlocks the elevator. Other ones, the systems are so old that they can’t. That’s one of those mixed bagged ones where I feel like every property I’ve been to operates a little different, and that definitely adds it a little bit more complex when they’re all different.
[00:21:45.440] – Matthew Holbrook
All right, well, we’re probably going to need to bring this episode at least in for a landing here in just a minute. But I wanted to conclude with asking both of you who are very invested and interested in the technology side of the equation.
[00:21:58.630] – Matthew Holbrook
What do you say to somebody who says you’re in the people service business and if you take the technology things too far in certain directions, we’re going to lose the human touch, we’re going to lose that personalized human experience? How do you respond to that from a technology perspective?
[00:22:18.450] – Brad Perry
Yeah, I think about that also. My background originally, before even coming to Action, was in the hotel industry, and I’m very in line with that hospitality. I remember back in the day when you would have these very very personal interactions with all of your users in the hotel industry, and I still think about that type of stuff.
[00:22:45.210] – Brad Perry
I think what Greg and his team and what we’re doing here at Action is that we are very purposefully building products that allows the managers to be more efficient in what they do. That gives them more time to have that personal touch. The last thing I want is a manager to be spending four, five hours behind their desk doing all these arduous tasks when they could be interacting with homeowners at the property or board members during board meetings.
[00:23:17.840] – Brad Perry
That’s really our main goal is because we don’t want to lose that personal touch. We’re hyper-focused on what can we do to build those efficiencies for those managers so they can have that personal touch.
[00:23:30.510] – Matthew Holbrook
Anything you’d add?
[00:23:31.400] – Greg Tantum
Yeah, no, I 100% agree with that. That’s pretty much what we do every day is try and find a way to make things more efficient and more faster, opening up more time. If you just think about it, what, five years ago, just opening up the accounting program took 30 seconds to a minute to open and then just arduous task of getting through the cumbersome of that program.
[00:23:54.550] – Greg Tantum
Now they can just pull up the management app within a few clicks. They’re applying something to their account, they’re updating some information and then they’re on their way in a very quick manner as opposed to going through… I even struggled to get through the program every time because you’d have a lot of pages that looked exactly the same, showing similar information.
[00:24:13.300] – Greg Tantum
The manager would go somewhere and be like, no, I’m in the wrong place. Starting over again, starting over again, starting over again.
[00:24:20.180] – Matthew Holbrook
Really what we want to do is to leverage the technology in the right places to where we can free up space in other places where that personal interaction is going to be really important. Also recognizing that in today’s world, there’s lots of aspects or functions that the vast majority of people actually would prefer to not have to deal with a human on the other end to go through a process. They just want it very simple and easy to do a couple of clicks.
[00:24:50.610] – Matthew Holbrook
Just a quick example of that. A lot of times I know for me personally, I would rather just go through, let’s say, DoorDash or something to order a meal than to have to pick up the phone, call, talk to somebody and tell them what my order is.
[00:25:05.790] – Matthew Holbrook
We want to make sure that we are providing those opportunities for the people that actually prefer that for certain types of functions and then having the freedom to have those personal interactions where things maybe more inherently are a little bit messier and need that type of attention.
[00:25:22.780] – Greg Tantum
Yeah. I think adding… Recently with the new rebranding of the website, adding the chat feature too, so homeowners do, they can send an e-mail, they can send a chat or they can send a phone number.
[00:25:33.660] – Greg Tantum
Giving them those ways to talk because there’s definitely times where I’m like, okay, I want to send an e-mail because I don’t need it now, so I don’t want send phone call, but then also I don’t want to make a phone call. Then I’ll chat them so they can do other things at the same time while the research is being done or I’m talking with them back and forth. I think those avenues have been great.
[00:25:52.800] – Matthew Holbrook
Well, that’s good. Well, I think we’ll wrap things up here. I hope that was helpful. I think we will probably end up doing some additional episodes on technology. There are other subjects to cover, but I think this is a good place to stop for now. Thank you for watching.