Howdy, Howzee

At Be2camp@WorkingBuildings last month, I met Tuomas Saarelainen who told me to have a look at his Helsinki, Finland-based company Mobimus and its service – which I have just done.

It is an intriguing concept, but currently only sketchily described (and with no website screenshots to give some idea of what the service looks like). Basically, Howzee is an internet-based platform designed to support communication between parties involved in residential lettings. It is intended to enable faster, more efficient communication between property managers, property owners, tenants and other stakeholders. In use:

… each flat in a property will get their own web service that is open 24 hours daily. Through that channel property managers, tenants, landlords and other stakeholders are able to take care of daily matters and access to the vital data concerning about the flat.

Apparently, over 70 property management companies are using the Howzee service daily (no customer names are provided, though I understand the business is active in both Finland and the UK).

Echoes of other conversations

The Howzee concept is something that some of the leading UK construction collaboration technology providers have previously considered; I have also seen a Web 2.0 tenant communication platform marketed by a UK company, ResidentsHQ, whose Asesh Sarkar presented at Be2camp 2008 (which I co-organised); and I recently read a ReadWriteEnterprise article on a very similar US-based business, BuildingBulletins.

While at BIW Technologies, for example, I heard clients ask if its project management platform could provide information down to individual units – for example, individual houses or apartments in a residential development, or individual stores in a shopping centre. The requirement was basically to provide a “micro-project” view of each plot or floorspace that could then be used to share information with the owner/tenant and any contractors or other service-providers involved in fitting-out, providing utilities, refurbishing, etc. It was envisaged that each micro-project could be populated with design and construction data from the parent project and then modified according to how each house/apartment/retail space was fitted-out and serviced by its owner/tenant.

Technologically, I think it was relatively straightforward; the main issues were (a) getting buy-in from the development master-planners and/or architects to sub-divide their information down for micro-project use (issues of intellectual property) and (b) selling the concept to each owner or tenant and their respective supply chains – some of whom, particularly when it comes to shop-fitting, might be using other collaboration systems. Potentially, the approach could also be applied by local authorities, housing associations or private landlords to create detailed records of the facilities provided and to then manage the history of repairs and maintenance, etc.

Though with slightly different approaches, ResidentsHQ and BuildingBulletins both offer social networking targeted at the ‘hyper-local’ level – an individual building or group of related buildings – allowing residents to exchange views with their neighbours online on anything from local restaurant recommendations to arranging squash partners, and/or to interact with the development’s management (perhaps a residents association, or – as with Howzee – the owner/facilities manager).

While the latter two products (and Howzee) are not appropriate for managing the design and construction of a development, it is conceivable that construction specialists like BIW could work with hyper-local community platforms, populating their systems with as-built information that could then be progressively updated by the likes of Howzee, thus ensuring that the owner/tenant always has an accurate and up-to-date record of their property’s fabric. I can see advantages already in using an online system to manage condition surveys (including photos), inventories, contracts, service level agreements, etc. This might also be extended to cover environmental sensor data – a la Pachube – so that owners/tenants can monitor the energy efficiency of the building’s design. Moreover, in the UK at least, think how much easier it will be, if you have all the data in one place, to compile a Home Information Pack (HIP) when it comes to selling one’s property.

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