Tenant Portals - Redefining Tenant Service!
Looking back to the dot-com period, tenant portals were one of the hottest topics at the conference. The promoters had us convinced that if you didn’t have a portal for your tenants, they would all leave and your building would be empty. As with the introduction of any good idea, the early hype was a little over exaggerated and over the last few years we’ve seen slow and steady adoption.
Although still not mainstream in the Commercial Real Estate industry, most major firms have adopted a tenant portal strategy of some kind. While maybe not the "killer" application once promised, these tenant service sites are slowly becoming part of a tenant’s daily routine. The services offered in a portal range from very basic (maintenance request) to very sophisticated (personal lighting and environment controls). Depending on the level of interest in technology by the owner or operator, the number of applications offered in these portals will vary.
It seems that the concept of a portal has had a great level of acceptance in the residential environment. Some of the high-end apartment and condominium projects offer a wide variety of services and applications. Some of the services we have seen provided through these portals are room service, building repairs, management requests, building clean-up, porter, concierge, valet pick-up, food ordering and virtual butler. There are also some that offer physical control of the building systems such as lighting, HVAC, security, access control as well as some home automation such as appliance management.
We have also seen a steady rise in the utilization of tenant portals in the office and retail sector. While you will not see applications such as porters or virtual butlers, there are a number of similar applications found in the commercial environment the most common being maintenance request, rent status, and possibly access to a limited number of building security cameras. While some commercial owners have shown interest in individual lighting and climate controls, very few have made the investment in the technology. Part of the reason this has not been as widely accepted in the commercial is that there is a constant debate as to who should actually make the decision for this advanced technology…the tenant or owner. There is also the question of cost and ROI and only until recently the investment in this technology has been somewhat cost prohibitive.
The next generation of tenant portals is under construction and we should soon see the next wave of innovation. We’ll be seeing advanced applications such as parking management (validation from your desk with no more paper ticket), advanced security and access control. Soon we’ll be talking to a virtual, live concierge (via video in a browser) who’ll be available 24/7/365 to answer your questions, take your service requests and provide other sophisticated concierge services such as arranging transportation, ordering food as well as other related tenant services. In any event, as the technology gets better and less expensive and the competition for good tenants continues to increase, it is fair to say that these applications will continue in their use and sophistication.
For those owners and operators who have not yet invested in this concept, now is the time. As more and more tenants are using technology in their daily lives it is becoming increasingly more obvious when a landlord is behind the times. Having to call the onsite manager with a maintenance request, simple question, or needing to adhere paper stickers to parking tickets may indicate an owner’s lack of vision and sophistication. After all, our marketing material always states that "our" building is the best, most advanced and the most conducive to doing business in the 21st century. While the building may be attractive from the outside, if there are no contemporary amenities like tenant portals offered to the tenants, the building may not ultimately be the kind of place people will want to spend their working hours.
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