The future of open data in proptech [Interview]

Tony Maiella
Tony Maiella | 22 min. read

Published on July 7, 2020

On the heels of the most significant release to date in Buildium history, we talked with Patrick Rubeski, VP of Engineering at Buildium, about how he views the future of open data in proptech and what it means for the property management industry.

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The company recently launched an all-new Analytics and Insights for property managers to peer inside their business performance with real time, insight-driven dashboards that will help them make better decisions. On top of that, an Open API for Buildium is here, which opens up a whole new realm of possibilities with how property managers can use their data.

What we discussed represents more than just a single platform, it also demonstrates a philosophical shift that’s at the forefront of what we think the new industry should be.

The below interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Could you tell us what’s going on with the latest Buildium release?

So you hit on it right out of the gate, that this is a philosophical shift—and I think that’s what gets me most excited about it. Certainly, we’re bringing new value to market, but that’s something we try to do over and over again.

Here, what you’re seeing, is more of a pivot in the industry around access to your data and ease in enablement of using that data to help you make good business decisions. And that’s really exciting. That’s exciting for us. It’s exciting for our prospects. Hopefully, it’s exciting for our customers. When we think about our analytics package, you’re going to be able to start seeing your data in different ways, not only seeing it, but you’re also going to be able to start evaluating how you’re doing against benchmarks of like-sized PMCs.

And then on the API side, again, you’re opening things up. You start thinking about the limits of creativity that property management companies have. You now have access to that data to use as you want throughout your ecosystem, throughout your technology stack. And that’s a really empowering thing.

What do you think SMBs deserve that they haven’t been getting in their proptech stacks?

I think some of it gets to that empowerment in terms of what they deserve that they haven’t been getting. They’re using some of the systems like Buildium to capture their system of record data—it’s the backbone of their technology ecosystems. And then, subsequently, it’s really hard for them to access that data in a way other than the mechanisms we provide through our UX.

So, when you start thinking about analytics and you start thinking about open APIs, well, that changes the game a little bit. Now you actually have the ability to access your data through myriad tools, and even to build your own tools. And that becomes really important, because, in the industry we’re seeing an enormous amount of activity.

There are really great products up and down the stack. What this gives you the ability to do is integrate with those products with ease—and also do it in a really custom way if you want. Throughout the industry, we’re seeing this notion of the return of the CIO, and I think you’re seeing that in proptech especially. And when you think about that, it’s our job to really enable them to be able to use their platform data, their system of record data, to really work throughout their whole tech stack.

What are the proptech and data trends that you’ve been seeing?

I have personally been on a lot of calls with prospects where they’re very interested in how they can integrate to our product—not just how can they use our product—but how does it fit in their ecosystem. So, I think that’s a big trend and one that’s going to continue.

I think the other big one is just the challenging environment we’re living in right now. We’ve all been in pretty unprecedented times dealing with COVID. I think that’s especially interesting in proptech. What does that really mean for the industry? And how do you know that you’re weathering it well? I think you extrapolate that out, people don’t want to necessarily have to be in contact with people unless they absolutely have to. So I think, you see a big shift towards, “Hey, I want to run my business in as contactless a way as I can.”

And we’re seeing that a lot of the industry is wanting and demanding that, especially around payments. I don’t want to go out and pick up a check or touch a dollar and move the dollar to someone else. I want to be able to do that in an automated way. And I think you’ll continue to see that as this progresses. I think it’s a little bit of a bellwether for how things are going to go for at least the foreseeable future.

Where do you see the most opportunity for development in the SMB property management space?

Zero-touch [property management], of course, is huge throughout property managers’ ecosystem. I think everyone really wants to try to get as far into that as we can. And the plus of that is that also means you’re automating more of your ecosystem, so hopefully it means easier for you in terms of how much work it takes. Beyond that and connected to that, I think it’s this idea that the residents are king.

Our customers (the property management customers) are dealing with customers who are living in a world where residents are demanding, as they should be. And I think that they have grown accustomed to, and really want, a self-service world—where they can do things on their timeline with their mechanisms in an automated and easy way. A common saying we say around here is “if they can’t do it on their phone, then they’re not going to do it.” And I think that’s really important.

What makes Buildium’s Analytics and Insights different?

Yeah, that’s a great product question. In a word, I would say, simplicity. Big data is the thing you’ll hear in the industry a lot. AI, is a thing you’ll hear a lot. Those are the kind of data buzzwords that are floating around. Really, when I work with products that claim to be big data, generally what you’re seeing is a mountain of data just being thrown at you.

And it can look good, right? You can look at it in a piece of marketing material and you’d be like, “Hey, that looks kind of neat.” But then you use it, it can be really overwhelming. Again, this access to data is really about empowerment. And I think a lot of times it ends up disempowering people because it’s so overwhelming.

Buildium, as you know, has founded itself on this idea of consumer-grade technology and really making things easy to use. That’s really what we did here. We tried to bring the data to you. Now, can you take it to depths where you can get that mountain of data if you really want to get there? Of course. But, we’re really going to try to bring it to you so that you can have the data when you need it, where you need it, and it’s the salient information you want to help you make the key decisions you need to make for your business. And I think that’s really what sets us apart.

What kinds of analytics and insights are available in Buildium?

This is really just the start for us so we tried to focus this first release around the things that we thought would be most important to some of those challenges we talked about earlier. And there’s 4 real key areas: Resident Center usage, ePay adoption, Leasing performance, and then your Company performance [revenue].

The Resident Center usage is going to do things like let you know how many of your residents are using the Resident Center. How many of them are adopting some of the features that are in there? How frequently do they sign in? Are they paying their rent that way? We think back to what we just talked about, about the idea of resident being king, how do you measure that? Well, this is one really good way to measure that, right?

You could extend that to the ePay adoption. Again, they want that contactless delivery. Okay, are they using it? And when you deal with money that also impacts your bottom line. How are they paying? Right? Are they using ACH? Are they using credit cards? Are they paying at retail stores? Are they using PayNearMe?

And leasing performance—that’s going to become really interesting when you start to think about the impact of COVID too. You already have some federal help in terms of assisting people in need. How long is that going to continue? What’s going to happen after that? Are we going to see evictions? Are you going to see turnover? Are you going to see changes in how we do leases? That’s one I would personally want to keep a really close eye on in the next couple of months.

And then the last one is the company performance bit. You just want to know how your company is performing. We’re all feeling the struggles of COVID right now and what better time than now to really take a look at your business and see, “Geez, are my KPIs where I need them to be? And if they’re not, what should I be focusing on?”

If you had to pick your favorite real-time reports, what would they be?

Good question. So I think, for the most important parts, I think I’d look at two. The first being able to compare against benchmarks. I think that’s so important. I personally use tools to help manage my teams, but if you look at those numbers in a vacuum, well, they’re just numbers and you can spin them this way or you can spin them that way.

What I really want to know is, what does this number mean? Right? A number in isolation is just a number. I really want to know, how am I doing against a cohort of my peers? Am I considered good, bad, average? And that sort of information really helps me make decisions about what I need to do to make my business better.

And then the other bit would just be this idea of bringing the data to you. And we’re, admittedly, early in this journey. When I think about the users of the system, you will definitely have people who want to get in there and get deep with analytics, but you also are going to have the people who really just want to get in, use the system for what they need to do that day. And if we can successfully bring that data to them where they need it, that’s just so impactful. And we’re calling that the “did you knows.” So, throughout the application, hopefully, we’re going to want to interject these ideas of, “Hey, did you know there’s a data point about what can help you with what you’re doing?”

It’s very easy, in any business, for the data analysis in the business to become very disjointed or separate operations. The idea of bringing them together, hopefully helps support business efficiency and really letting people make those decisions when and where they need to.

Could you explain what an open API is?

At its core level, it is programmatic access to your data. So, if you think about how you access your data right now, typically, you probably go log into Buildium, you go to a page and pull some data out and do something with it, right?

What this allows you to do is not log in, not go through the UX, access your data, pull it into whatever process or system you’re going to consume that data in directly, and be able to use it in different ways.

How can property managers most easily leverage an open API?

Out of the gate, thinking of that ease, the first thing I would recommend for anyone (and we have this in our getting started documents) is to get in there and try to use it. I think there’s probably a hurdle for someone who hasn’t done it before. And most of it is just confidence, right? Hey, anything you haven’t done before is going to be challenging. And our documents are pretty straightforward. Get in there, provision yourself a key which is going to allow you to use this, and then go through our steps to use a tool called Postman, to actually pull some data.

I think once you see that you can make a simple programmatic call and then you can get data that you know and recognize from your experiences in our platform, it’s going to click for you. And then, you’re going to be able to actually think, “how can I use it?”

And the second thing I would do is once you realize that power, spend some time with the people in your business to talk about, how you can use it. Because you’ve conceptualized Buildium as a platform or whatever system you’re using as a platform. Start to think about, “How does this fit into my whole ecosystem? And what are some creative and unique ways that I can start to use this data?”

How do you envision different verticals and business types using this?

Honestly, the beauty of an open API is its flexibility, right? So, I’ll go back to what we were just talking about with that, using the creativity and imagination of the people in your business. I don’t want to use terms like limitless, but there are really no guards on how you can do this, right? The data is there, you can build around it with whatever you want. Now, of course, the building is…you have to do work to do that. But, I think the only real guard here is what you can conceptualize. So the applicability to just about any vertical goes as far as your imagination can take you.

Internally, we’re already using it for a few integrations with some other products and services. But through our beta, we had a client [GreatWest Association Management] go and create a Ruby client based on our API, which was just so exciting. I think part of it was just getting to know what we had to offer and how we could work with it, which I love—and, again, I think that gets you over that hurdle of knowing how to use it.

Any plans to start naming releases in the future?

Always looking for help naming releases. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. This one did have a name. It was called, “Dolittle.” I can’t share a lot of detail as to what that means, so I will let people’s imaginations run wild with it. But some folks will understand it and probably get a kick out of it.


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Tony Maiella

Tony Maiella is the Director of Content, Creative and Experience at Buildium. With a deep appreciation of storycraft, Tony leads Buildium's creative team and content marketing strategy to connect and educate property managers with the latest insights to grow their businesses. In addition to being a writer, he also has an affinity for Brazilian culture and will pick up a guitar any chance he gets.

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