Searching for condo board software: getting the right tech
With technology moving into every aspect of our lives, it is no surprise that condominiums are following suit. As such, it can be daunting for a condo board to find software that fits their needs and their condominium community. There are lots of products on the market and deciding on the right one is a challenge. Moreover, most condominium corporations have tight operating budgets and may question how the cost of the software can be justified.
Even the way we buy software has changed. We used to buy a software license and then downloaded it from a CD or the internet. Now, software is purchased on a subscription basis and “rented” rather than purchased. Subscriptions are paid for on a monthly or annual basis. The industry refers to this type of product as SaaS (software as a service), which is a baffling term to anyone but industry insiders.
Even without specific experience in software procurement and implementation, it can be done well. Here are tips to ensure that the process will be successful.
Prepare, prepare, and prepare
Before embarking on the search for a software product, take time to prepare. Usually, the process begins when one person suggests that the board consider buying condo software. This is a good start, but take the discussion to a board meeting for decision and follow-up. Buying software is a significant decision, and buying the wrong software can be costly and waste a lot of time and effort.
Purchasing any product for a condo requires a majority of the board to be interested and ultimately approve the decision. If only one director is interested, the project is doomed to failure unless other directors can be motivated. Therefore, it is important that the condo’s property manager (PM) is also interested. That said, the PM’s interest will vary depending on the type of software under consideration.
Assign a director to lead the project and consider creating an ad-hoc committee to take the lead. Also, engage non-board members such as owners to help. If a knowledgeable outsider with experience in software can be enticed to join, then, by all means, get him or her on the committee. If a committee is not created, the next steps will have to be done by the board. Even still, having a committee will lighten the workload for the directors.
Decide on a timeline
Work backwards from an expected start date for using the new product. Make sure to leave enough time for product consideration, review, and decision making. It is a good idea to select a start date during a less busy time for the board.
What are the problems that the board thinks can be solved with software? Have a brainstorming session that includes the directors, managers, and perhaps a few owners as well. Have a thorough discussion and let everyone provide input. Make sure that all identified problems are considered.
Create a ranked list
An important next step is for each director or committee member to score the identified problems on a scale from 1 – 5. Using this scale, ask: How painful is the problem for the board? How often does the problem occur? Calculate a pain score by multiplying scores from the first two questions. This will identify the most significant issues to solve first.
Next, sort the problems into one of the four typical categories of software that a board could consider, including board management, financial management, property management, and social and communications. The category with the highest cumulative pain score identifies the most significant problems and will inform the board as to what type of software it should pursue.
In addition to creating a ranked list of problems, ask: Does the problem negatively affect the condo’s mission? If the answer is no, then the board should not be investing time and money in fixing it. Every condo board has the same mission: to maintain or improve property values. Boards must be focused on their core mission and governance, and not be sidetracked by other issues.
Decide on a budget
Software costs vary widely and could range from $50 to $500 per month (or more). There could also be an onboarding fee that needs to be included in the costs. Sometimes this fee is hidden, so make sure and ask specifically.
Onboarding fees can be OK since migrating data into systems can be a bit complicated; however, if this fee is high, consider what happens if the condo decides this software is not a good fit. When deciding a budget, it is also important to as the following: Is there a contract to sign? Is there a money back guarantee? And remember, once a budget is determined, stick to it. This will eliminate some products, but keeping on budget is important.
Set evaluation criteria
An evaluation grid will help make an informed and collaborative decision. The evaluation could be done by the committee and then approved by the board, or the board could create and hand over to the committee to use. The purpose of the checklist is to provide a scoring system for evaluating products. Using the identified problems, consider the type of features that solve those problems.
It may be necessary to narrow the list of features, but it is good to start from a big list and then narrow down. The more specific, the better. Comparing apples to oranges presents challenges. Rarely do two software companies provide the exact product. Some have more features, some have less, and some have features that the condo won’t need.
For each potential vendor identified as a possibility, gather details about solutions or features that address problems, cost, access, ease of use, type of support available, and customer service standards. Also look for information about data storage, security, additional data costs, and what happens if the corporation decides to move to a new management company (e.g., Can the board take the software with them? Who keeps it? Who keeps the records?) Once the evaluation grid is complete narrow down potential vendors to three (if possible).
Now the fun begins. As the board or committee gets down to work, be open to learning about new things. There are many new and exciting products on the market that might not be familiar to the board or property manager.
The broader the consultation, the better the recommendations will be. Contact fellow directors to see if they are using any software, talk with other boards, and remember to ask people from different backgrounds. It can also be helpful to reach out using professional associations or via LinkedIn or Twitter possible to contact other condos.
When shopping around, research potential products and contact vendors and ask questions, request demos, or watch demo videos.
Make a decision
Take the finalists to the board for the final decision and present the results of the evaluation grid.
A decision has been made. Now it is time to get started using the new software. Implementing new products is a challenge, so accept that there will be bumps along the way. No product is so simple that anyone can pick it up and become an expert power user in a few minutes.
These are exciting times, but they come with the need to make changes to procedures. Not everyone is as willing to learn new things or has the time to do so. It will be helpful if there is a champion (a keen director) to help the board and managers get started and stay motivated.
Success will be greatly increased with a champion to guide the process, encourage users who get frustrated when they can’t figure out something, and overall keep the implementation on track and get everyone up to speed and comfortable using the new product. The champion understands that all software has bugs, could have downtime and might be unavailable for service at various times.
The journey has been long, but if it has been followed it will result in the selection of software that will improve the condominium community.
This article was originally published in Condo Business Magazine on Wednesday, August 28, 2019.