A property rental management company might not be the first example that comes to mind when you think of digital transformation, but as the Canadian Apartment Properties Real Estate Investment Trust (CAPREIT)’s tenants have discovered, there are some real benefits to your landlord embracing the latest technology.

CAPREIT, which owns interests in some 48,770 residential units, making it one of Canada’s largest residential landlords, has been nominated in the Large Private Sector transformation category of ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards for developing a three-year strategy that, among other things, has digitized its HR, tenant monitoring, and bill payment operations.

Though nominations for this year are now closed, we’ll be covering every nominee that we’ve received in ITBusiness.ca ahead of the big event, which is taking place on June 14.

In his nomination form, CAPREIT head of enterprise business solutions Arn Kashino was unusually frank in describing the uphill battle his company faced in implementing a technology-driven business strategy, noting that while CAPREIT had previously invested in a few operational process efficiencies, overall, the technological revolution had passed it by.

“Prior to its digital transformation, CAPREIT was best described as an organization that was unaware of the possibilities and potential offered by a technologically integrated business model,” Kashino wrote, noting that from its IT department’s perspective the company “risked ceding competitive advantage in a highly favourable national national rental market, where supply exceeds demand.”

“The organization did not fully appreciate that the value of technology emanates from its application to solving problems for our business, our residents, and to achieve greater growth and revenue,” he continued, adding that it “had yet to understand the risk of continuing on the path of the status quo.”

Fortunately, Kashino wrote, while CAPREIT did not immediately realize that relying on outdated technology was leading to such money-draining issues as higher payroll expenses and inefficient operations, its board did undergo a thorough search of innovative ways they could improve tenant service delivery – and in 2015, settled on appointing 18-year IT veteran Roberto Israel as its first-ever CIO.

Once Israel was appointed, a business case was presented to CAPREIT’s senior executive team outlining the importance of digital transformation to future revenue growth, operational efficiency, and competitive advantage, Kashino wrote.

Crucial to this mandate, he noted, was the development of a three-year digital strategy led by CAPTECH, CAPREIT’s technology arm, which thus far has resulted in more than 20 initiatives, including:

  • A budget and forecasting solution that was integrated with the company’s existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, improving data and reporting;
  • An employee portal that provides workers with centralized access to HR services and functions, while also creating a single source of employee information;
  • Lead-to-lease automation, including automatic responses to certain client inquiries, which has reduced average response times;
  • A suite turnover mobile app, which has resulted in faster rental unit availability.

Getting management on board

Of course, ensuring CAPREIT’s digital transformation would be a success required a fundamental change in how technology was viewed across the company, Kashino wrote.

To enable this transition, the company’s CAPTECH team underwent two internal strategic shifts: First, it implemented a flat organizational structure, to integrate the department’s previously siloed teams; and second, it enhanced the company’s IT infrastructure with business solutions to ensure that projects were deployed and supported successfully.

Then it reached out to other departments to find out how it could improve their operations.

“Across CAPREIT, [our] approach has been to engage business leaders to structure how technology is approached and evangelize how technology can be a powerful tool in resolving complex issues,” Kashino wrote. “Meetings were facilitated with all areas of the business to understand their areas of urgent need, underserviced opportunities, and key success factors.”

In each department, CAPTECH’s teams would first collaborate with their colleagues to identify their unique challenges before presenting them with technological solutions.

“This process helped the business areas understand that technology is more than just a supporting function to their work, but a core tool to move ideas, solve challenges, and galvanize opportunities forward,” Kashino wrote.

CAPREIT’s digital transformation efforts have extended to the company’s business model, which is now focused on applying innovation to property rental management, with “innovation” defined as “solution integration plus information.”

The automated suite turnover mobile app alone resulted in the company expending 80 per cent less effort to prepare a rental suite for new tenants, boosting CAPREIT’s revenue by significantly reducing suite vacancy time, Kashino wrote – not to mention improving its reputation among tenants.

And it’s not finished.

“Moving forward, CAPREIT is focused on developing an executive-minded property hub that will [use] technological solutions to present an integrated view of information across the enterprise,” Kashino wrote. “2017 continues the digital transformation of enhancing the tenant experience, while 2018 and beyond will strive to accelerate innovation and relevance to our customers.”

“The more CAPREIT embraces digital transformation,” he continued, “the more it strengthens its ability to compete, grow, and retain our valued tenants.”

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