David Walton – Drucker + Falk
- Written by: Jason Pafundi
- Produced by: Matthew Warner
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
David Walton knew right away that the technology he used while working in health care could be used in much the same way in the commercial and multifamily rental industry.
Leaving his job at Virginia Commonwealth University to move to Drucker + Falk last year, Walton was determined to show that his experience could be just as transferable.
“You have to be adaptive, especially in this environment, and the minute someone in information technology doesn’t want to change, they essentially become obsolete,” says Walton, chief information officer for the property development company based in Newport News, Virginia.
Walton’s big project right now—while working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic—is writing a program that can streamline one of the company’s most tedious and arduous tasks.
When Drucker + Falk onboards a new property, it gets information about tenants including rental rate, security deposits and other data. Then, someone manually moves all that data into the company’s system, which Walton says typically takes about four days.
“This thing we’re creating, and I’m coding, takes output reports, digests them and automatically converts them into a format our enterprise resource planning tool—Yardi—can ingest,” Walton explains.
That process should only take about an hour, freeing up the person previously charged with the manual work to focus on more important tasks.
Walton is working in conjunction with property coordinator Sue West, who previously handled the task manually and he admits that working from home has changed the dynamic. He says the project is about 25 percent complete, but he now has large computer monitors to work with, instead of just a laptop, so the pace should pick up soon.
Learning about an industry, implementing the technology
Walton spent more than a decade as an IT director at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, and says the biggest adjustment was learning the people and terminology. Turns out, it’s not all that different in the commercial and multifamily rental space.
“It was understanding the language and realizing the business side of things and how technology wasn’t the driving factor. The business drove the technology,” Walton says.
His first, and most important, task at VCU was to identify the needs of the department, while grasping complex medical terminology and making the conversation relatable, so he could explain them in layperson’s terms. He had to show how technology could benefit the employees and staff in their daily lives, while giving added value to the organization by applying different technologies.
One thing he learned quickly at Drucker + Falk was that the technology was transferable—even if the business and terminology were different. When he got to the company, he immediately felt comfortable enough to be a new set of eyes, to bring a different perspective on the company’s technology and security.
In particular, Walton identified security measures to implement—ones that wouldn’t impede business operations, like multi-layered and categorized data classifications, but rather enhance and protect them. He says being transparent and communicative with leadership about potential risks has been important.
“I’m always telling someone the risks of doing something a certain way and how we can mitigate them,” he says.
Managing expectations for a new generation of renters
When Walton rented his first apartment in college, the important things for him were how many bedrooms the apartment had, the square footage and what floor it was on.
Now there’s a new generation of renters who have entirely different priorities, and part of Walton’s job is helping Drucker + Falk meet these expectations.
“It’s changed,” he says. “Now the renter wants to know the apartment’s walking distance from restaurants and bars and nightlife and what kind of view there is from their window or balcony. Is it a park or a parking lot?”
He can only do so much to alleviate some of those concerns, but when it comes to home automation and security, that’s where Walton says he really shines. For example, people are very conscious about finding cost savings and efficiencies related to electricity usage, especially with air conditioning and heating when they are out of the apartment.
Walton sees a future in apartment complexes implementing smart devices like Nest thermostats, which allow a user to manage their home’s temperature remotely, along with things like electric door locks and digital doorbells, providing an added layer of security.
“I think these technologies are becoming somewhat normal for specific generations, though some people might not like it,” he notes.
Of course, with high-end amenities like smart homes and automated devices come higher rents. Luckily for Drucker + Falk, there is a wealth of information and analytics available to help price the apartments. There are surveys that ask questions about what is most important to renters and how much they’re willing to pay for those options.
Navigating a pandemic, leaning on experience
After a long career in IT, managing the Drucker + Falk response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been easier than expected, Walton notes. The IT industry has always been designed with remote working in mind—and how to best leverage the flexibility of computers, laptops and portable devices.
From the property side, everyone at Drucker + Falk has been talking about using technology to continue to do business, while also taking care of the recommendations from the CDC and local authorities. Walton likens the response to a disaster recovery test that’s gone live. The company has always had telework policies, but in reality they’re practicing what they’ve written—and verifying that it works correctly.
Walton says, “I think we’re really handling the COVID-19 situation well as an organization, regardless of the geographic location which gives a sense of comfort to our residents.”
In the commercial space, Walton explains he’s expecting to see buildings with certain rules about who can enter and when, along with electronic messaging for things that used to be sent via paper. It’s the digital transformation in full force, he says.
“Everybody is thinking about whether there will be a return to normal or if there will be a new normal, and Drucker + Falk are preparing for both possibilities,” Walton says.
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