Lance French, Chief Information Officer at RealPage, Discusses AI Innovation in Multifamily Housing: A Vision for Smarter Property Management

In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Lance French, Chief Information Officer of RealPage, to explore the innovative strides his team is making in the multifamily housing sector. RealPage, a pioneer in utilizing AI for property management, recently introduced the Lumina™ AI Platform, which promises to transform the industry with smarter systems of engagement and management. Lance provides valuable insights into the challenges and successes of integrating AI, the future of apartment management, and the key strategies driving RealPage’s continuous innovation. Let’s discover how AI is transforming real estate and what lies ahead for this dynamic field.

Lance, can you start by sharing a bit about the inspiration behind Lumina and what it aims to achieve within the apartment industry?

The Lumina™ AI Platform is the next evolution of multifamily innovation because of its ability to harness end-to-end artificial intelligence (AI) with trained AI models that enable smarter systems of engagement, intelligence and management to help optimize performance for property managers.

It’s important to note that RealPage pioneered the use of AI in the multifamily industry over two decades ago and has brought more than 50 AI innovations to market since 2002. We see Lumina as a way to fuel AI leveraging a data platform that enables operational support for property owners by creating smarter systems of management, engagement and intelligence.

With your extensive background in leading high-performing teams across various industries, how do you leverage your experience in AI and change management to drive innovation at RealPage?

My experience working across I.T. enterprises comes back to three core principles of I.T. One is trust – that is critically important. We have to be a trusted partner with our customer’s data. The second is focusing on what we do well and that’s supporting the multifamily industry. And the third is listening and making sure we’re building the right solutions that drive value for our customers.

A tremendous amount of innovation comes from listening to customers and colleagues in order to build the right solution. For example, we heard fraud is a huge issue in the industry and it’s costing our clients a lot of money. So, we asked, ‘how can we help in this space?’ The answer was developing RealPage Identity Verification – Premium and RealPage Income Verifcation, two products that seamlessly integrate into existing platforms that help detect fraud easier through AI.

As CIO, how do you see AI shaping the future of apartment management and operations, and what unique advantages does RealPage’s approach offer to the market?

At RealPage, we see the future as how to best personalize and digitally-optimize the renter experience. We’re doing that by making strong investments in data and AI platforms.

The multifamily industry demands a modern set of tools and touchpoints that not only removes friction for residents and enhances their experience, but also fits seamlessly into the property technology platforms that operators, property staff and leasing teams use today to support residents and manage the business.

Our customers have more data available to them now than ever before.We can help them use that data to provide a better experience for renters, while at the same time, being more profitable. One distinct advantage we have is OneSite. OneSite redefines the resident experience and delivers strategic advantages for property managers, including value-add concessions, reduced operational costs and full integration within one solution.

Another advantage is the standards that we maintain at RealPage, whether that’s the effectiveness of our model, whether it’s protecting our data, whether it’s our governance body, it’s all the time and effort put into architecture.

And the way I’ve talked about this in the past is, if you were to give advice to people that are consuming AI is to hold your other providers to the same standard that we are holding RealPage to. And if they’re not, then you should ask the question why?

Because AI is powerful, but it’s also available to bad actors, and your information can be at risk if it’s not responsibly deployed.

And that’s how we differentiate ourselves from others.

Could you discuss any specific challenges you faced during the integration of AI technologies into RealPage’s products and services? How were these challenges addressed?

With all new technology, you learn from testing how the models act and react. While most recently we have been working to deploy generative AI models throughout our products, one of the challenges is where the model will forecast something that’s going to happen but then treats the information as a fact which may skew results. We’ve learned that tone is critically important to enabling AI to better interpret what the right topic is and what is out of bounds. From there, we work to train the model to make sure that tone is understood and how the model can accurately detect what is out of bounds.

Another challenge is setting up our models in such a way that they are compliant with projected future regulations. It’s hard to predict what future regulation will look like, but we’re partnering with companies that have good insight into how to think about governing data, how to think about governing the models that we’ve put in place. We also lean on our AI Governance Board for oversight, that includes things like AI policy, architecture compliance and legal review, to ensure not only are we compliant today, but that we’ll be 6-12 months from now as well.

In the context of digital transformation, what strategies have you found most effective in managing and mitigating risk, especially when implementing new technology solutions?

Effectively implementing new solutions always starts with thinking about how we mitigate risk for our customers. We have an obligation to protect our customers and it’s something we think about every day.

At RealPage that means the alignment of the entire I.T. enterprise organization. The CIO, CTO and Product teams look across everything from the business process and how it’s designed, to the data. We then look at all the infrastructure, whether that’s in our data centers or it’s with a cloud provider. We look at things like data privacy regulatory requirements and as we develop solutions, it’s more end to end and it’s particularly important when you think about innovation.

If you’re not building the right solution to attack a problem, then you’re building something that may not be needed at the end of the day, we tie it back to those architecture standards. We develop iteratively with heavy testing and then validate it at the end to see if we got the business outcome that we desired.

It gives a lot of comfort internally to our teams that we’re doing the right thing and we’re doing it carefully. Quality is important, and it also gives confidence to our customers because we thought about the things that could affect the solution, could introduce bugs, could introduce any kind of vulnerability well ahead of the process. And so, we’re seeing really good results from the standards that have been in place for some time at RealPage, but more specifically over the last two years, we’ve doubled down and improved those processes.

You have a rich history of working in diverse sectors such as transportation and technology. How do these experiences influence your leadership style and decision-making at RealPage?

My leadership style is very much servant oriented, both to the employees as well as to our customers. What really drew me to RealPage was the value structure that our CEO and our executive leadership team installed. It’s very much one that I’m familiar with because it has such a focus on our employees and our customers and really treating them as a family. I’ve tried to take that approach of having empathy, working as a partner our customers and then internally, you know, treating people the way I want to be treated has always been my style. Equality is very important to me and how we develop our organization. And I think you can see the results now coming out in the innovation and the support we’re able to add to our customers, and frankly, how we’re influencing this industry to be better.

Could you share an example of a recent project where RealPage has successfully utilized AI to enhance customer value? What were the outcomes?

About nine months ago, we deployed our first large language model, next Gen AI product and it was a support model for residents using our platform, ClickPay. ClickPay is where a resident can go in and make a payment. In the past, if you had a question, it’s something as simple as ‘hey, I need to change my personal information’ or ‘I need to use a different payment method.’ So, we deployed the model, our new chat, GPT, virtual assistant and residents started using the solution. We were expecting the model to take care of up to 25%-50% of the people that were using the chat bot, but instead we found the model taking care of 80% of the people that were coming in. They were satisfied with the answer. They did not have to reach out to an agent. They did not have to open a support case. Now we’re rolling them out across our product suite, but that’s one example where residents were the 1st to take advantage of these new Gen AI models at RealPage.

Looking ahead, what are some of the trends or technologies you believe will be crucial for the future of the apartment industry, and how is RealPage preparing to adapt to these changes?

We know that how we engage and interact with residents will change and we are adapting to that by understanding how to deliver the right message to them on the right platform.

We are meeting customers where they are.

As social media evolves, as communication omni channels change, we are also adapting for that and we want to be able to personalize messages on platforms that they prefer, whether it’s text, email, even WhatsApp. Modes of communication are evolving and we’re making the right investments.

The other component is around AI, and we’ve talked a lot about it here, but it’s moving so fast. We are building Lumina in such a way that as capabilities become available, we can plug them into this platform and take advantage again.

You know, we’re using innovation, but there are so many companies that are innovating, and we intend to partner with them and bring that to the multifamily industry.

Finally, on a more personal note, how do you stay motivated and keep your team inspired, especially in the fast-evolving field of AI and technology?

Well, first I do a lot of reading, networking and talking to experts and fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity in my career to develop a pretty broad network of individuals. We bring opportunity to the table in and around the world of IT.

There are really 3 categories we think of our work. You have to run the business and that’s to make sure the systems are running and we’re available and we’re performing.

We need to be constantly improving, so how can we do things better? And most importantly, how can we show up better for our customers?

But there’s an area that motivates me and it’s transformation. We are obsessed with innovation. We allocate time to transformation across RealPage in all departments. As that shows up in technology, things like AI become front and center, and we give even those employees that are working on the run side of the business and opportunity to transform.

So think about AI.

Yes, we’re delivering to our customers, but we’re also using it internally at RealPage to make sure our infrastructure is running right to have insights of how we can do things better to show up for our customers. And so, whether that’s infosec, whether that’s building enterprise applications, whether that’s just running the business, we bring that mindset into our teams and give them an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and experience hands on.

And we see that opportunity really driving a lot of enthusiasm.

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