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Hi-Tech Maintenance? The Internet as a Management Tool

In the autumn of 1999 a hot concept in property management emerged: Why not use the Internet to streamline the management process? By the spring of 2000 three Web sites had launched, each with a different vision and approach but sharing the same goal, to enhance communications between shareholders, managers and maintenance staff. AKAM Associate’s Genesis System, Insignia Financial Group’s EdificeRex, and BuildingLink.com were the pioneers on the digital frontier. How are they faring one year later? Who’s using the systems? And what are the newest developments?

All three of these Web sites provide similar features to shareholders, managers and maintenance staff. These include internal posting of memos, the ability to print out documents such as permission to sublet, and the most utilized application–the online repair request. What varies greatly is the presentation and accessibility.

Edifice Wrecked?

Of the three Web sites, Edificerex.com, the creation of Insignia Financial Group along with several other management companies was perhaps the most ambitious and well publicized. The site was designed to create a community for residents of luxury buildings, was always planned as revenue-creating and featured advertising. It featured a private area accessible only to residents of buildings managed by Insignia and its partners, as well as a public area offering guides to restaurants and services, calendars of charitable events and an online magazine about upscale living. Over 300 buildings are utilizing at least some part of the service, from accessing account information online to messaging the doorman about expected deliveries. Early on, critics of the site suggested that the publicly available content was redundant to other sites on the Web, while the private functions were limited, and lost amid the media clutter.

"We found that people really like the real estate functionability," says Jeffrey Cohen, president of EdificeRex Holding Company. "Unfortunately the dreams of revenue opportunities have failed to materialize." On the debit side of the ledger, according to a March 1st release of fourth quarter earnings, Insignia Residential Group lost 18 million dollars in "impairment of Internet investments." These investments included Edifice Rex and several other Internet technology initiatives. In the press release Insignia chief executive officer Andrew Farkas is quoted, "Ultimately we decided to sell, merge, or in the event that we are unable to find suitable candidates, terminate the majority of our internally developed Internet-based businesses."

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