Abodus Leverages Student Accommodation Software to Transform Community Experiences
In the realm of student accommodations, the fusion of technology and convenience isn't just a trend, but a necessity. At Property Week's Student Accommodation Conference, Mark Stewart, Senior Business Executive at StarRez and Katherine Austin, Director of Operations at Abodus Student Living, discussed how property teams can best leverage the power of student accommodation software to elevate the student living experience in the UK.
StarRez, a property management software solution, has been a key player in the market for over 30 years, operating globally. Abodus is a vertically integrated operator, investment, development, asset and facilities management company of purpose-built student accommodation options throughout the UK. During their conversation, Katherine shared insights into how Abodus collaborates with StarRez, highlighting the pivotal role student accommodation software plays in enabling students at their properties to thrive.
What are the critical factors driving the student experience at Abodus?
The team focuses on the holistic wellbeing of all students. “At Abodus, we really concentrate on the factors of mental wellbeing, social wellbeing and making sure that we are creating these nurturing environments to support mental health for our students,” said Katherine. That includes building considerations such as construction and design, as well as choosing the best operators to run those buildings. All the necessary steps are taken to ensure buildings are not only safe, but also foster a true sense of community.
Katherine also stressed the importance of student accommodation software with these types of initiatives. “For us, we believe that having the right technology in place to partner with those operations and with those buildings is absolutely pivotal to achieving all of these objectives.” The seamless integration of technology enables the Abodus property teams to work with their students, partners, and universities to deliver a holistic approach to the student experience.
What student accommodation technologies enable a holistic approach to the student experience?
Katherine explained that after joining Abodus, her first six months were spent travelling up and down the country, listening to what team members in various roles had to say. Wanting to identify and mend any pinch points, she decided to conduct a survey amongst the staff as well. The results were startling. “Of the punchiest numbers, which I think is emblazoned into my mind, is that over 80% of our property teams didn't feel as though they had the tools to do their job,” said Katherine.
Her deep dive into operational challenges revealed that outdated systems were consuming valuable time, detracting from crucial student interactions. This realisation sparked a necessary shift towards a technological overhaul, facilitated by the introduction of StarRez.
“From a duty of care perspective, as an operator, we believe in the absolute human aspects of what we do. We believe that spending time with our students, whether it's to work through something with them or just give them a bit of support or a bit of a helping hand is super important.”
- Katherine Austin, Director of Operations, Abodus
Roles redefined, but not reduced
Abodus’s goal with StarRez was not only to increase efficiency, but also to redefine roles within the organisation. Katherine emphasised that the adoption of student accommodation software was not intended for staff reduction but reallocation to high-value tasks, particularly enhancing student engagement and support. They made this abundantly clear to their team. “When we rolled it out it was super important for us to have really open and transparent communications with our staff - that investment in technology, investment in PropTech is not about reduction in head counts.”
Student needs and preferences better understood
The implementation of technology solutions led to a reimagining of engagement strategies – spending more time with students one-on-one or collaborating with university partners on their ResLife programs rather than pouring over spreadsheets. “By automating those tasks, it really does take away from the day-to-day repeatable tasks and also removes a lot of the human error out of it as well, which is super important,” said Katherine.
By leveraging data analytics, Abodus gained a deeper understanding of individual student needs and preferences. The shift from manual processes to digital platforms for event sign-ups and feedback forms marked a pivotal leap in student engagement, aligning with evolving student expectations for seamless and responsive systems.
Events made easier
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) is a huge focus for the industry. For Abodus, it's the social element that student accommodation software helps them to accomplish. Katherine reminded audience members of the days - not too long ago - when arranging a partner or social event meant sticking a sign-up list on the noticeboard. And “guaranteed whatever event you ran, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck would be attending,” Katherine jested. Now with StarRez, Abodus is able to target and track individual sign-ups, manage events from one platform, send feedback forms to attendees, and analyse the data to understand what students want.
Understanding not only what students want, but what they expect is paramount. “Whilst we feel that the systems and the technologies that we're using are moving on quite rapidly - which is fantastic - we sometimes forget that the students that we have in our buildings have not seen that advancement,” Katherine says. “Their expectation is you are absolutely going to have an app for everything, and the app needs to work 100% of the time.” Providing responsive and adaptive systems is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must. And those systems allow Abodus to capture critical student data to help them exceed expectations and build for the future.
What KPIs is Abodus looking to achieve using student accommodation software?
Looking towards the future, Katherine shared compelling KPIs revealing the transformative impact of student accommodation software adoption.
KPI #1: Vastly improve staff satisfaction of systems
In addition to the previously mentioned statistic that over 80% (87% to be precise) of their property teams felt they didn’t have the tools to do their job, they also found that 65% of exit interviews revealed dissatisfaction with the existing systems, sparking intriguing discussions.
Recent conversations, especially concerning recruitment, both at higher and property levels, have unveiled a noteworthy shift. “One of the questions we're being asked as operators when we're recruiting is - what systems do you guys use?” Katherine says operators are now frequently queried about the systems they utilise during the recruitment process—an unprecedented development. Candidates are inquiring about specific platforms, seeking familiarity, efficiency, or perhaps driven by preconceived notions about certain systems. “It is a really interesting paradigm that we're now moving into that’s having a driving force on recruitment,” says Katherine.
KPI #2: Free up 60% of team members’ time for high-value activities
Transitioning from the less favourable statistics above to the more positive ones, focusing on KPIs, Abodus aims to witness a significant shift. Specifically, they aspire to redistribute approximately 60% of their CSA's time towards high-value activities. Abodus invests in individuals who embody exceptional values, so they don’t want to see their investment wasted. “We recruit people predominantly in this industry at a student-facing level who have amazing values, who care about our students, who want to see them thrive, who understand the importance of health and safety process, procedure, debt recovery, all that good stuff,” says Katherine. But what good is there in recruiting exceptional personnel only to confine them to back-office tasks? “We want to continue to recruit these amazing people. We want to train them; we want to help them thrive.” And then they want 60% of the digital workload to be efficiently handled by a system, allowing the recruited talent to focus their time on tasks that genuinely add value and improve the student experience.
In addition to CSAs, Abodus anticipates their property managers gaining 35% of their time back to reallocate to partnership liaison, exploring innovative ideas, engaging with tenants, and understanding their specific needs.
KPI #3: Improve the efficiency of their booking process by 50%
Immediately after implementing StarRez, Abodus observed a remarkable 50% reduction in the steps involved in their booking process. “We weren’t quite expecting how rapidly people would progress through that booking system, which is great,” said Katherine. This unexpected positive outcome signals a promising trend in simplifying other digital experiences for users.
Overall, the journey from reevaluating less favourable statistics to celebrating positive outcomes paints a picture of Abodus's commitment to continuous improvement and adaptability in the realm of student accommodation software.
Where does PropTech need to evolve as Abodus evolves too?
Katherine recognises the need for PropTech to evolve to support varied renting strategies. Whether co-living, build-to-rent (BTR), or student living, the ability to dynamically navigate these approaches within individual assets and across diverse assets within a city is crucial – while simultaneously maintaining a high level of adaptability and reactivity.
Ensuring a continuous feedback loop with property teams is a priority for Abodus. The goal is not to perform a one-off transformation and present it as a solution to all problems, only to subsequently disengage. Rather, Abodus aims for ongoing communication with both their property teams and PropTech providers, discussing potential initiatives and seeking input on their feasibility.
In the pursuit of diversification across various property classes, including co-living, senior living, and BTR, Abodus emphasises the importance of understanding nuances. These intricacies often surface when evaluating technology and the administrative processes governing tenancy setup and integration with finance systems. Abodus strives to proactively engage with emerging technologies, positioning themselves at the forefront of innovation.
Abodus and StarRez partner to enhance staff efficiency and student accommodation experiences
The collaboration between Abodus and StarRez is a testament to the evolving landscape of student accommodations in the UK. Their shared vision emphasises student accommodation software’s role in not just refining processes for staff but in redefining the essence of student living. It's not just about systems and software; it's about nurturing communities and fostering a vibrant and inclusive environment for staff and students to thrive.
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