When you live in an apartment block with over 1000 flats, managing maintenance costs, corresponding with neighbours and making decisions for the entire complex, may prove strenuous, especially if you are on the management committee (MC). This was what drove S Parthasarathy to start Onesolution, an apartment management software tool.
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S Parthasarathy, a resident of Brigade Gardenia in JP Nagar 7th phase, discovered the difficulty first-hand in his voluntary stint as the founder-treasurer of his complex. “Six months down the line there were several issues. The data was not at the tip of the finger,” he recalls.
This is an issue common to many apartment owner associations around the city. Most are run by an MC consisting of elected representatives among the owners in the complex. Associations do employ paid staff to look into the daily running of facilities and the maintenance but the work done by members is largely voluntary.
“Managing a large complex poses challenges similar to managing a small company as you end up handling maintenance funds close to two to three crores and more,” feels Parthasarathy”.
Given the extent of issues and challenges, association work can hamper personal time leading to lack of interest and even discord. This has resulted in a spurt of software tools in Bengaluru including Common Floor, Onesolution, Apartment Adda and others as a solution for communication and management needs of apartments.
The birth of apartment management software
Like Parthasarathy, most developers have experienced the challenges of living in a large community and faced issues related to communication or accounting. Vikas Malpani, co-founder, CommonFloor (CF), the pioneer in the apartment software tool category says, “CF was started to solve the problem we faced when we first moved to Bangalore. Living in an apartment for a substantial time and still not knowing the neighbours was a common issue for many like us from the IT industry. Plus receiving nearly no communication from the management was not helping us with sudden surprises like water tank cleaning, etc. It was also difficult to keep track of issues which we raised.”
Rajashekar Kommu of Apna Complex says the software helps reduce the time and effort put in by apartment owners associations in managing their complex.
Kommu was the treasurer of Concorde Midway City near Electronics City. “I used to spend hours calculating maintenance for each flat, ensuring communication, keep on posting defaulters list, calculate penalty charges and in creating receipts. The effort was too much and we wanted some system that made it easier.”
For Apartment Adda founder Sangeeta Banerjee it was the lack of transparency in expenses that led her to develop the tool. Sangeeta felt e-mail groups were not sufficient to gather opinion and handle online complaints. “We (she and co-founder Venkat Kandaswamy) had a background in Enterprise Resource Planning software, so we met and incorporated association best practices and decided to test roll Adda in our own apartment.” Two months later, they had their first paid customer.
Communication was also the crux behind Suthindran Guru Rao’s venture Groupz. This resident of a gated community on Bannerghatta Road realized the lack of a proper database of residents and timely reminders for meetings and decided to set up Groupz.
* Most software comes with two kinds of applications. One type for the use of the MC and another for residents
* Management applications usually include the following: Resident’s Directory, Move In/Move Out tracker, Maintenance Charge tracking, e-receipt, Expense tracking. The MC can upload reports, notices, rules and regulations.
* SMSes to ensure communication reaches those who may not access the web.
* Resident applications include directory, apartment-specific financial details like outstanding dues, document repository and so on
* Rated directory of service providers like maids, carpenters, plumbers available to all.
* A complaints section to register and track complaints.
* Discussion forum
* Booking facilities like the complex’s convention hall
How does this software work?
Now here’s what happens once an apartment complex signs up with an apartment management software service. Apartment Adda starts off with a basic free package and activates the trial for the apartment complex. Once the MC evaluates it they can choose to take a paid subscription or the free basic package that includes all communication features, apartment database, list of vendors and so on.
The premium package depends on the size of the apartment plus amount of data storage. “At the maximum it costs Rs 20 a month per apartment,” Sangeeta says, adding that they provide sufficient training to ensure a smooth transition. The MC can also outsource the initial uploading of data to Apartment Adda.
CF on the other hand, is a free tool where residents can register their apartment complex. “Either the volunteer or MC member takes over the moderation rights and invites members to their private portal. All features have detailed how to’s and we provide assistance in person, on phone and via email for implementing CF for their community”, says Malpani.
Most of the software tools also send timely email/sms reminders to residents regarding maintenance and the defaulters list is automatically updated, saving the MC time and effort. Most tools can be customized to suit the apartment’s needs.
At Purva Riviera on Sarjapur Road, a complete system evaluation was carried out by Apartment Adda, including an enhanced complaint tracker. “We receive about 60 to 70 complaints daily from residents that are logged into the system and addressed by the property management vendor. We are also looking to manage all our operations using the tools provided like asset management, vendor management, etc”, explains Rahul Rekapalli, President of Purva Riviera Apartment Owner’s Association.
However, a tool like this also means that someone has to be diligent about maintaining the data. Rekapalli admits that it does take an effort on part of the association to make sure the data is up to date. “Our office staff takes care of that.”
Customise software for your apartment complex
The usage also depends on the need. For some associations the main need is due collection and accounting requirements and some use it to manage complaints like at Purva Riviera.
Apna Complex is used by Sneha Residency and Concorde Midway, both near Electronic City for its accounting application. Once the treasurer finalises the maintenance amount and enters it into the system, an invoice is automatically generated. “Each resident gets the notification through email/sms and has the option of dropping cheques in the treasurer’s mailbox or doing an online transfer and entering the details on the website”, explains Kommu.
Once data is verified, the receipt is automatically generated and the user can login anytime to download it, including past receipts. The other advantage of this system is that if the flat changes hands, the past payment history is available for the new owners.
OneSolution too is primarily used for accounting purposes, as well as maintaining the associations’ records and data. “This is essentially a back-office application,” says Parthasarathy. Apart from Brigade Gardenia, it’s currently used by many apartments across Bangalore like Springfields and Divyashree Elan on Sarjapur Road.
Arun Bagchi, a resident of Brigade Gardenia says a software like OneSolution ensures more transparency when it comes to accounting. “There can be no duplication of receipts and the real time data is available to all MC members. The access privileges are assigned as per requirement and unauthorised editing of data is precluded automatically. All data related to finances can be edited only with express authorisation of the treasurer.”
Bagchi says the software can also be extremely user-friendly. “The whole genesis of the management software is proper and regular updation of records, which is done on a regular basis by our office staff or MC members as required. This is the only effort required at the user end.”
The biggest advantage according to Sangeeta is clarity. “For instance if a resident wants to know how many complaints are there in one category they can access the information instantly. Apartment bye laws give you the power to ask these questions.” The other gain, according to Rekapalli is smooth transition, “When the next association comes in, it is easier to track the work that was done by this association.”
Slowly catching up among ‘online’ Bangaloreans
But that is not to say that every complex is taking to apartment software with open arms. “The decision making (to use the software) is slow because of the nature of the segment,” says Parthasarathy, while Malpani calls it the “initial inertia to change.”
Since many apartment associations still haven’t got complete charge from the builder, they feel it is not yet the right time for them to deploy a software service. It also depends on the membership and nature of the association. The member of a Resident Welfare Association (RWA) in a North Bangalore apartment wishing to remain unnamed says, “I did suggest using a software to manage our accounts and complaints but most of the members being elderly and from different backgrounds, the understanding of the Internet and the software-as-service model was too low to generate any interest.”
However, Bagchi sees apartment management software as the current need. “In a complex like ours where the number of flats and transactions in thousands are the norm, we just cannot survive without such a system,” he feels.
Malpani of Common Floor says that even if there are problems at times, they have kept the interface simple and usable. “The people involved in utilizing the system must use it effectively.” He points out that moving to an apartment management tool is a gradual change in most cases and cites examples of apartments like Purva Fountainsquare and Akme Ballet who have done this. “Communication is what they start using it for and then gradually consume more information and move on to other applications.”
Going by the number of apartments expressing interest or signing up, it seems the time of managing apartment associations with the right professional tools has come.