Howzee offers a hyper-local service to manage the tenant/property management communication challenge at an individual block level.
Alongside my main focus on ICT tools to help teams deliver construction projects, I have also taken an interest in how ICT tools can be used to help manage completed buildings or other assets. This includes online facilities management tools, such as CAFM applications, but has also extended to hyper-local Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms designed for the people who actually work or live in the completed facility.
At the October 2008 Be2camp event (which I helped organise), for example, there was a presentation about ResidentsHQ, a private social platform intended to help foster a sense of community among new occupants of urban developments and to enhance communications between those residents and the professionals responsible for provision of services to that accommodation. I was particularly interested in this system as it was apparently deployed by Berkeley Homes in its Woolwich Arsenal development, not far from where I live in southeast London. However, perhaps as a result of the private housing crash since 2008, things have gone very quiet regarding ResidentsHQ.
Now see Howzee
A year later, though, I met Tuomas Saarelainen at the October 2009 Be2camp event and he told me a little about Howzee (which I later wrote about alongside a look at US-based BuildingBulletins – post). Similar in concept to ResidentsHQ, but developed and initially deployed in Finland, Howzee is now being marketed in the UK (targeting block managers and property managers in residential property management companies), and I recently had an online presentation and demonstration of the system.
Howzee is an “internet-based communication concept that enables faster and more efficient communication between property managers and tenants”. Based originally on a Microsoft SharePoint platform, Tuomas developed his prototype SaaS system in 2003 to replace a frustratingly clunky website that had been set up to manage the affairs of a residential block where he was a tenant. Since then, adoption of the platform has expanded and it is now used by 90 residential property management companies, and has around 100,000 users (one company, Karimak, uses the service to support 10,000 households in the Helsinki area). As well as promoting communication between residents and the landlords, Howzee can also be used for communications with service providers (building managers, cleaning companies, tradesmen, etc), and to support the efficient running of tenants’ associations.
Websites are typically established for each apartment block, and within each block site residents can have individual, secure pages devoted to their own apartments (containing, for example, as-built floor plans, fuel economy information, details of home security or fire alarm systems, tenancy agreements, audio and video guides on household equipment, etc). Alongside calendars and task-lists (residents can schedule repairs, request keys, etc), there is also a block-level notice-board function that serves as a communication channel regarding shared areas, and allows the block’s manager (or tenants’ association) to survey residents about issues affecting the building. Email notifications are used to alert users to new information requiring their attention.
The Howzee service is priced competitively, currently around £125 per building, which makes it an attractive proposition to property managers, said Tuomas, particularly because – being a SaaS-based platform – there are no start-up costs, no software to install, and no bespoke development is needed. The web interface can also be customised to suit the corporate branding of the property management company, and can be easily adapted to support call-centre operations, he said. And being a browser-based service, Howzee could be accessed from anywhere – indeed, 83% of users interact with the service from places other than their home (usually from their workplace), and, as you might expect from a service developed in Finland, the service can also be accessed via mobile browsers too.
As a measure of communication effectiveness, Tuomas said call centres had typically experienced a 30% reduction in incoming calls as a result of implementing Howzee, in addition to time and paper savings from digital delivery of information to households.
Howzee’s parent company Mobimus hosts the 24/7 web-based service, and has encouraged both customers and end-users to provide feedback on the service. Tuomas talked enthusiastically about this “innovation bowl” and about “R&D 2.0”, which had provided a pipeline of enhancement ideas from its users – with the most popular ideas being implemented quickest (future ideas include integration with Facebook and with Twitter). The service is also regularly backed-up, with a full back-up weekly and incremental back-ups daily.