Making Sure MDUs Think of You
Commercial and residential multidwelling buildings represent vast opportunities for security solutions sales and service. Here’s what you need to know and do.
By Erin Harrington
Proptech, short for property technology, basically refers to any technology for the real estate space. Often synonymous with property-specific innovation, it impacts how users experience and extract value from real estate. It also represents a market from which today’s systems integrators can extract a whole lot of value, as well.
There has been explosive growth over recent years of high-rise and standard apartment and condominium dwellings both in and within close proximity of metro centers across the U.S. These residential properties in commercial settings represent enormous opportunity for technology solutions providers — both with the real estate management firms and tenants/homeowners ― to deploy and maintain security, life-safety and automation systems. Other buildings with multiple dwelling units (MDUs) — such as hotels, dormitories and retirement communities — present similar needs and opportunities.
Here we take a look at some of those opportunities and practical advice on how integrators can leverage them.
Insiders Identify Needs
Bates Security is a systems integration company that’s already working heavily in the MDU space, and reports that, in most cases, these types of customers often have interest in access control and fire.
“Intrusion alarms are typically requested for offices areas specifically, or in cases where it is multiple businesses, the need to install intrusion alarms in each individual business suite may be present,” says Danny Goodpaster, vice president of sales, Bates Security. “Video is often requested, especially when there are parking structures connected to the buildings, and in common use areas of the buildings.”
Many commercial real estate buildings focused on a mix of multitenant units — offices, residential buildings or a combination of the two — are implementing systems from surveillance and management software to access control and other kinds of technology like building automation, notes Josh Gerena, segment development manager, multidwelling units, Axis Communications.
“By implementing building automation systems like Control4, Crestron and similar systems, they can manage most aspects of the buildings from one platform,” he says. “This allows them to add more features like fire alarm system health monitoring, paging, or SMS messaging to individual tenants.
Kastle Systems works very closely with all types of MDUs. Kyle McAdams, Kastle’s vice president of marketing, reports demand for fire alarm systems is high, and directly related to the requirements of local building codes.
“Most MDUs employ management software to consolidate key operational administration to a single platform that ties key elements like leases, rent payments and maintenance requests to the resident account, streamlining and simplifying operations to maximize efficiency,” he states. “The ability to communicate with people in the building through paging and mass notification has greatly increased in recent years. This can be accomplished conveniently through integrated smartphone apps.”
McAdams further advises that commercial office buildings with multiple tenants are increasingly interested in conference solutions that enable them to plan, reserve and host in-person, hybrid, and virtual conferences. In terms of video surveillance, he says systems, particularly those that employ AI-driven technology with cameras that use predictive analytics, are often used to alert administrators to perceived risks and support security without adding security guards.
Gerena adds that it is now a requirement for most buildings to have video on their intercom door stations. “Building owners and tenants no longer want to rely on an audio call only, they want to be able to see who is coming into their building and possibly record that video footage into an NVR or other similar solution,” he says. “The built-in camera becomes an important part of the surveillance system for these properties and serves as a deterrent for crime, package theft and other incidents.”
Video Intercoms Answer Call
There are many benefits to implementing video intercom systems in MDUs, but the biggest, says Brad Kamcheff, marketing manager, Aiphone Corp., is better building control. “Multitenant intercoms systems add value to the building by not only enhancing building security, but also because they allow tenants to have some control,” he notes. Tenants can screen visitors by seeing and talking to them from the safety of their apartment by using either an intercom system installed in their apartment or a mobile application on their smartphone.
As McAdams points out, because lobby traffic has shifted significantly during the transition from people going to the office from 9-5 to work from home and now with various hybrid work schedules, building owners have had to reconsider how to best utilize their concierge staff. Secure video intercom systems facilitate authorized access for guests, visitors, vendors and deliveries without interrupting building staff.
For multitenant properties, amenities like a video intercom system also help to attract established renters who are looking for convenience, ease of use and service, Kamcheff adds. “These tenants are typically Millennials who are not first-time renters, and they expect high-tech amenities and services. On the other hand, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are looking for family-friendly communal areas, security systems, high-tech home furnishings and concierge services. Because of this we are also seeing increased demand for video intercom systems in luxury senior housing.”
Mobile Access Becoming a Must
MDUs also represent a hotbed of opportunity for integrators when it comes to implementing mobile access solutions. Bates Security is testament to this and reports seeing interest in mobile access on some recently deployed projects. “Property managers and building owners seem to be interested in ways to make their buildings more modern, and mobile access is often identified as a way to accomplish this,” Goodpaster says.
Gerena echoes that trend: “We have seen more and more buildings add access control to multitenant buildings, specifically in the residential market. As they install these systems, there has been an increased demand for solutions with a mobile component, because it is convenient, cost-effective and well suited for today’s mobile-enabled society. These types of systems are increasingly used for building main entrances and in common areas like shared laundromats, parking garages and rooftop patios.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a noticeable increase in demand for touchless access control because it is a perfect solution for building entry, elevators, shared spaces and tenant spaces, McAdams points out. “Mobile credentials are more secure than prox cards because they cannot be copied or transferred. Your phone can provide two-way communication for future innovations such as tenant experience apps.”
Adapting to Hybrid Habits
Since the pandemic, many offices have gone to a hybrid working model, and some companies that operate in multitenant office buildings are opting to share workspaces with other organizations. This is having an impact on the general security needs of MDUs, in particular limiting access to some employees based on varying days and times of entry. As Goodpaster attests, the effects of the pandemic can be seen in many customers needing additional solutions.
“We have seen business go to hybrid work models where office hours may be irregular, not as many employees are in the buildings at any given time, which decreases awareness overall,” he says. “In that scenario, controlling doors electronically and implementing video solutions has helped our clients maintain safe buildings. Shared workspaces have created the need to further implement user levels in workplaces as well to ensure control over who is in the building and at what time.”
Tenants and owners are now demanding more from their technology: more robust management of access control systems and intercoms, better surveillance systems and better overall management platforms, Gerena echoes. “They want a single solution that can be managed from a single platform, preferably with remote Cloud capabilities. But it is not just a want, they need their solutions to be able to handle their security system from anywhere in the world. People will continue to demand more value and functionality from their building systems.”
Moving Into the Market
Gerena advises integrators to start small and continue to learn. “When you start small, you’re able to lay down a stronger foundation. This applies not only in your craft or for your company but in the overall knowledge of the segment. It enables you to learn the market and find innovative ways to distinguish yourself from the others.
“A majority of the time, when you look at system integrators and dealers that have worked in this industry for decades, they get to a place of comfort and stop growing. Years later, their companies start to struggle, and this is due to their failure to continue learning and innovating. This market changes every couple of years, and it is crucial to stay as current as possible with the industry.”
McAdams cautions that residential MDUs are a very demanding client type because you are securing people’s homes, and their demands and expectations of flawless operation are higher and broader. He recommends integrators anticipate a much more intensive relationship with those property management operators.
As a seasoned pro in working successfully with MDUs, Bates’ Goodpaster advises other integrators to develop relationships with local property managers, general contractors, electrical contractors and developers. These individuals tend to see value in deploying solutions with companies they can trust and can count on, not only to implement a viable solution but also to stand behind the solution over time through service and maintenance of the systems.
“Property managers can serve as a single point of contact for multitenant buildings,” he says. “They tend to place high value on working with a company they can rely on and that saves them time and energy. The easier we can make the solutions to manage and maintain, the more value a property manager will see in the integrator. Property managers can be a great advocate for integrators and often a deciding factor in who is used to implement solutions of this type in multitenant buildings.”
Tying It All Together
Deploying security solutions in MDU environments is not without its challenges. In addition to ensuring all unit systems and facility systems work as intended, and are integrated when desired and possible, contending with the complexity, logistics and limitations of the building can play a prominent role in such a project. All the while integrators must satisfy the wishes of tenants, property managers and, when applicable, codes and local AHJs.
“The challenges integrators and dealers face in this type of application, especially when offering a complete solution, are due to a large majority of multitenant projects being in older buildings,” says Gerana. “Most of them still use old infrastructure wires and the cost to upgrade these buildings is massive. There is an alternative option on the market that offers two wires to PoE conversion. Still, the use of this type of solution is limited, depending on how the wire was installed initially.
“It’s a different story when you have a new building with an IP network infrastructure. Thankfully, not all of those facilities want to upgrade every tenant station inside an office or apartment. Living in a world where apps are used daily, we can offer multiple alternatives — there is always a way.”
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