NextGen AI: Risks and Rewards

by Doug Pike

Multifamily has barely scratched the surface when it comes to AI applications in property technology, but deployment opportunities abound across the entire chain of operations. During the 2022 OPTECH session, NextGen AI: Risks and Rewards, industry leaders including LeaseLock CTO Sudip Shekhawat discussed AI’s promise and potential pitfalls moving forward.

“AI is currently being used for very specific purposes in multifamily, but we don’t yet fully understand how to use it to drive business decisions,” said Stephanie Fuhrman, SVP of Corporate Development at Entrata. “I don’t think we actually understand all of the areas that it can impact and how other industries are actually using artificial intelligence. One of the biggest things that we probably aren’t paying attention to is how much artificial intelligence is pointing us to consumer purchasing decisions in other industries. We’re not quite there yet today.”

Panelists said much of multifamily’s hesitancy surrounding AI stems from a basic lack of understanding of the technology and awareness of its prevalence in other industries. 

“I call it the augmented or assisted intelligence. So, whenever you hear the word ‘artificial’ or ‘AI,’ just replace that with ‘augmented’ or ‘assisted,” Shekhawat said. “’Artificial’ was a great marketing term, but I think of it as an assistant that helps human intelligence to increase. When you start from that definition, you recognize that many things happening around you that are forms of assisted intelligence.”

Shekhawat said multifamily will begin to make greater strides in AI when it embraces the wealth of data it has at its fingertips. 

“The intelligence that machines are providing us with is all based on data. The more data you have, the more value added and the more augmentation you can provide from the data,” Shekhawat said. 

Chatbots were among the first examples of AI used widely in multifamily, but the industry is poised to finally push past leasing and revenue management applications, said session moderator Adam Demuyakor, Founder and Managing Partner at Wilshire Lane Capital.

“You can program an algorithm or machine to do a specific task, like bring a new potential resident through the funnel and bring it close enough so that you can have a person who then closes the new lease,” Demuyakor said. “We’re kind of crossing a threshold where, instead of doing a specific task, generative AI is actually an opportunity where the machine can create something based off data that’s ingested over time.”

Companies like LeaseLock have already developed AI-powered platforms that go beyond customer-facing leasing funnel technology to create operational efficiencies on the back end to improve revenue recovery and claims management. Innovative suppliers are also deploying AI to enhance training, maintenance workflow and employee engagement.

Amy Weissberger, Senior VP of Corporate Strategy at Morgan Properties, said AI has tremendous potential in associate training and retention. 

“We’re looking at technology to help us attract and retain talent. How do you onboard them faster? And once you have them, how do you continue to help them learn and grow in their roles and keep people engaged?” Weissberger said. “What would be great is if there was one product that could put it all together, but right now we’re looking at what pieces we want plug and play to help us continue to grow and engage residents and employees.”

While AI solutions have the potential to revolutionize multifamily operations, and new technologies will further shape the landscape, data integrity and protection remains critical to AI success. The selected scope and diversity of data can have significant and sometimes unintended impacts on how AI tools learn. One of the biggest risks is the introduction of data bias into algorithms, which can negatively impact output. 

“In the end, AI is in fact a tool,” Shekhawat said. “Like a car, you could use that tool to go to work, come back home, buy groceries, or also create harm by not driving safely. The same thing with AI. So, there’s accountability there to use the tool for the right purpose. You are only going to be as intelligent as the data you have.”

Panelists said they would eventually like to see AI-enhanced solutions woven through the entire resident journey, and across operations from front to back of house. While suppliers may be tempted to develop their own one-stop shops for AI products, panelists believe a more effective AI ecosystem can be created through open APIs and connected products developed by separate suppliers with expertise in certain areas.

“We have come a long way from being laggards, as an industry, from an AI perspective,” Shekhawat said. “Obviously, we have learned a lot about the technology and got up to speed reasonably fast. But we do have a lot of work left.”

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