Case Study

PropTech App – IoT sensors in smart buildings

It may look like there are still a lot of industries that are not selling digital products and never will be because what people are paying for exists in the offline world. But with the inventions that pop up around the world and sincere intention to make the life of your customers better you can always offer more. That was the case with our customer – Budlex – a real estate investment and development company.

The idea

Budlex is a polish developer that has been on the market for more than 30 years. Their projects are regularly singled out and awarded in architectural competitions. With the IoT solutions flooding our lives they figured out that besides creating spaces where we can live, they can also use the technology to make our lives easier. The idea was to install smart meters in all the apartments and create a mobile app for the tenants so they can check the usage in real-time.

Hardware problems

Because the meters were already installed there was no way to decide what hardware we would like to use. And if you read our previous case study you may remember that connecting your software to the hardware may be problematic if you did not check the hardware capabilities at first. It was good that we already have experience with problems like that so we were not afraid to risk working on the app.

Real-time data

The first problem was something we could not help with. The idea was to show the usage and its cost in real-time and the hardware supplier promised that when Budlex decided to make a purchase. It took us only a moment to realize that it was impossible because meters were sending the data only once a day. We had to come to terms with the thought that there is no way to change the supplier at this stage. Daily updates on the usage were still more than nothing and gave great value to the customers so we decided to continue.

Data format

The second problem was how the data was sent to us. It was a CSV file that was sent daily to the remote server and it contained raw data. It was full of unnecessary information and even those that we needed were not put in any specific order. The only way to fix it was to develop the integrator which would gather the data and put it in the right order and then store it for us as long as we need it. It was an additional cost and was not planned from the beginning but without that part, our mobile app would not exist.

Lack of documentation

After two days of work, we were sure there are no more surprises and we can easily move on to the app for Android and iOS, but as you can imagine it wasn’t that easy. We checked the data we received and we have noticed that the numbers we get are not the same as actual usage. So we had to come back to the raw data from the beginning and investigate. We have noticed that wrong data was shown with the meters that had in the history results like 000000000 or 999999999. After a discussion with the hardware provider, we figured out that those numbers were not in fact measurements but error codes. Where 000000000 meant “no connection with the meter” and 999999999 stands for “unknown system error”. With that information, it was easy to fix the problem.

Mobile application

Creating the user interface that displayed data from our integrator was a piece of cake. As always we have started from our Product Design Workshops so everything was planned step by step. We have created the whole design based on Budlex’s branding. The login system was authenticated by the text message, and the whole administration panel was prepared to manage all the apartments and users. It was done in a record time and would be the end of the MVP version if we would not spend some time on testing the app.

We have noticed that the data that comes directly from the meters is not always up to date and because of that, the app was showing the usage from the past. We have dive into raw data again and we have discovered that the hardware was sometimes sending the data from a few days back but with the new date. Our integrator and the mobile app worked as intended but with that issue releasing it to the users made no sense. In most cases, it would end the project and Budlex would be left with the app that they paid for and cannot use.

But we are not giving up that easily and after many talks with our customers and a brainstorming session, we found a solution. We came out with a series of proposals to improve and modify the business model, consequently creating a product pivot that was approved by the client. We have introduced a series of modifications to the source code, enabling the creation of input prediction mechanisms and visual presentation in the form of charts.

MVP is not the end…

It was the end of our work on the MVP version. The app was released for Android and iOS and was constantly used by Budlex’s customers. But the MVP is not the end of the work and we love it when the app is so successful that we are asked to build the next version. And it happened here as well.

When the users fell in love with the possibility to manage their media usage in one place, Budlex came up with the idea to change the app to the management center for their apartments. But also they saw the opportunity to use the app as a sales tool. The changes were planned only on the mobile app and administration panel so we were sure there will be no more problems with the hardware.

Customers’ improvements

For the current customers, we have added a possibility to switch between apartments. Before, if you had more than one apartment you had to log in for each of them separately. It was annoying so thanks to the feedback from the users we knew we had to change it. It had an influence on the administration panel and the way Budlex added new users but it was only a few hours of work. The next important feature was an easy way to contact the housing association or the developer.

We have added a place where tenants can send a photo of the damage from the apartment or common area and it will be sent to the right person. It sounds like something obvious until you have to contact someone about your own apartment (and I say it from my own experience).

Sales tool

For the potential customers that don’t have the apartment yet, it was impossible before to use the app. Of course, there was a demo version so everyone could see how the app looks like and what data it may show, but that was all. As Budlex noticed a lot of future customers check out the app, they added the part for them as well. During the first registration, we ask users about access to the localization so the sales team knows in which town they should offer the apartments. Besides that, we have added a possibility to check how the development is going. So if you plan on buying the apartment you can check every day how the hole in the ground is changing to your dream house thanks to the connection with cameras.

Final thoughts

It is only the second version of the app but Budlex already has new ideas for improvements. There is no easy way to say how much they have earned thanks to the app because it was never a goal here. They do not charge for using the app. It is the next benefit of buying their apartment. And maybe they got the loyalty of the customers thanks to that but it is great to work on a project that its main goal is to make someone’s life easier not only to make money. 

We hope that maybe you will be inspired by that story and decide to create a solution of your own. But mostly we hope that you will learn from this story and others we have published on our website. The idea is only a part of your success. You need to get a technology partner that will be not afraid of challenges and will not leave you when it will become more difficult than expected. And remember that even the easiest solution, when it is based on other software or connected to the hardware can be problematic. So make your research with help of your development team or be prepared for many pivots and budget changes.

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Patrycja Jach

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