The Human Side of Multifamily Data: REBA Insights in Review

Audience Hands Up

Spring conference season this year is a bit more interesting than usual. It's mostly thanks to a couple of new conferences on the circuit that I think will further important industry conversations. A few weeks ago, the inaugural "Forum," Hosted by Funnel Leasing, established a new place to discuss the increasingly popular topic of centralization. Last week saw the inaugural REBA Insights conference in Vail, CO. There were parallels between the two events that I will discuss in this post. 

For those unfamiliar, REBA (Real Estate Business Analytics) is an emerging leader in multifamily data analytics and revenue management. Last week's event brought together users of REBA's analytical tools for the first time. Like Funnel, REBA proposes radically different ways for businesses to organize activities and the levers available for improving performance. 

Funnel's not-so-secret sauce lies in the way its tech supports centralization. REBA's is an all-encompassing data platform that places all analytical functions (reporting, dashboards, budgeting and now revenue management) on a single data model. It's the antidote to an ailment the industry mostly doesn't realize it has (yet): we tend to use point solutions to solve problems that are much better addressed by a single enterprise data model and toolset.

These are big ideas, and big ideas need time and space to explore and discuss and once again, I had the privilege of running a large workshop at REBA's event. Attendees brainstormed and developed ideas, which encouraged them to think more broadly about business context and objectives. Once again, when we asked people to prioritize things they were working on or planning to work on, the overwhelming focus was not on technology but on people

Why People Get a Vote

Data is interesting. REBA is offering its clients data resources previously only available to large operators with the resources to custom-build them in-house. It essentially allows operators—for the first time—to skip the costly design, build, and implementation work that typically takes companies years to accomplish. But that still leaves change management, which, it transpires, cannot be automated away in our people-driven industry.

One fascinating panel featuring a head of IT and a senior asset manager revealed various ways companies have encouraged different parts of their organizations to accept and embrace a more data-driven approach.

One initiative succeeded in substantially reducing turn times, but only after the organization had brought together disparate actors in the organization. Maintenance teams got involved in validating data, building trust and engagement and improving performance through a level of collaboration that was previously unavailable. 

The technology lead noted the importance of overcoming defensiveness, adding that when a data source identifies operational issues, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the data source! Both companies shared that identifying and nurturing champions within the organization had been the key adoption tactic. Unlike the typical top-down structure used to implement change in organizations, the successful adoption stories relied on a combination of bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication supported by strong executive leadership. 

This "ecosystem" view of change management was a theme throughout the event. In one fireside chat, Chief Executive Donald Davidoff emphasized the importance of letting go of data. He noted the executive's natural inclination to fine-tune every dashboard and control every report, instead encouraging leaders to get data out into the field. People will figure out what to do with an imperfect report or dashboard and, from there, forge a path to perfecting them. 

Many of the best and most powerful analytical insights discussed were the result of leaders letting the chips fall where they may. By the conference's end, this message had resonated deeply; one senior asset manager confessed to the group that her department had been gatekeeping data, and she realized the need to relax control and let the data flow more freely.

Why Our Industry Needs More Events Like These

Our industry is unusually fragmented, which goes a long way to explaining why we generally need a lot of conferences. 

One of the most exciting things about the REBA project is its potential to broaden vastly the number of companies that can operate in a truly data-driven way. Like Funnel's vision for centralization, it's a vision that's greater than the sum of its technological parts. That requires time to understand context, perspectives and stories from myriad other companies in our highly fragmented industry. 

Events like REBA's and Funnel's provide room for those conversations to develop in a way that the more familiar commercial industry conferences can't. And for that reason, I thank my friends at REBA for involving me in this year's show. I look forward to learning about next year's!


How Data Transforms Multifamily Property Management


Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash







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