This transcript is from the recent Facebook live demo between Nikki Jovicic, LookUpStrata and Paul Chevrot from Stratabox.
Here is the full transcript from the Stratabox demo video. If you are following along with the video, we have provided time stamps at the beginning of most paragraphs.
Nikki: I’m Nikki Jovicic from LookUpStrata. This live video this morning is with Paul Chevrot from Stratabox. We’re looking at how Stratabox can benefit your community and your building. Thanks for joining us this morning, Paul.
Paul: Thanks, Nikki. Thanks for having me. You know, we’re very happy to partner with LookUpStrata. It’s always a pleasure.
Nikki: Excellent. That’s great. And you’ve been a great supporter over the years. So thank you very much for that, Paul. Would you like to give us some history about Stratabox, how you became involved and how long you’ve been developing it for?
Paul: We started Stratabox probably about four years ago now. And it came about because we came to the realisation that one of the most important stakeholders in strata, the committee, had no tool to perform their duties in the best possible way. There was plenty of software for the strata manager. There was software for the building manager and that were very focused on physical management of the building. But anything that was strata or owner’s corporation related, it was only just paper, email and not much else and physical meetings. So that’s when we started looking at it and defining the sort of functionalities that a committee would need on maybe not a daily basis but to perform their functions.
We started with a few concepts which is the tool has to be self service to provide some real autonomy to the committees. It had to be simple yet comprehensive, because some of the users in strata are not necessarily very IT proficient. It had to be easy to use, and it had to be adaptable so it would work for a scheme of five or a scheme of 200.
As you probably know, Nikki, the number one issue in Australia is knowledge. A lot of people do not have the knowledge to manage their strata property. And that’s where you come in. And thanks for doing what you do.
Then the second issue is probably lack of engagement of people living in strata. We thought lack of engagement probably comes from the fact that it’s not as easy as it should be. So we develop the tool with the aim to make it easier, especially for the people who give their time voluntarily to be on a committee and look after the others. We think they deserve the best possible tool to perform.
Australia is changing, it’s getting more complicated, and the demographics are changing as well, is more and more mixes of younger owners with elderly owners. I think people now expect to be able to manage things from the convenience of the computer or tablet or phone. We should be able to do things easily, not just the manual and physical way.
So that’s what we’ve been doing for the past four years. Trying to make the best possible tool to achieve those goals. And we are obviously not finished, because nothing’s perfect. Nothing’s ever complete but I’m pretty confident now that we have a team that has most of the features that are expected.
We have about 160 buildings that have signed up to our services. And they may not all be active constantly, but some of them are quite active and we can see that slowly. You know, people are starting to come out of their shell. They don’t hesitate as much to talk to each other about the problems, but also, you know, finding solutions together. We tend to see strata as a very negative thing. Because we, you know, it’s always about problems.
Nikki: We See the problems all of the time, obviously.
Paul: There are countless problems that can be accounted for in Australia. I think talking to each other and communicating and solving issues together is really the starting point of any possible improvement. In general terms, but also at the level of every scheme.
Nikki: I think that’s one thing when you hear about committees that work really well, usually it comes down to the way they’re communicating, and they’re getting the information through to everybody in the building. I can see how that would really work. When you saying that you’re improving it all the time, Paul, is that improvements come about because of conversations you’ve had with committees that are using the product at the moment?
Paul: Yeah, well, look, I think once everybody is there, it all starts with some form of transparency where people will understand that they may not be aware of what’s going on, but they also have people working for the benefit of everyone. Once these people start sharing with everyone what they do and why they can explain why they do it, I think it’s there’s a level of trust that is restored.
That enables people to maybe be a bit more positive about everything. There is an aspect of the tool that is unable to formalise things between people because it’s a neighbour relationship or co owner or co resident and it’s not it’s not a natural relationship. It’s we’re not on a friendship level. It’s not on a business level. It’s a bit in between.
Using the tool will enable people to think about their processes, formalise their exchange. also understand that, you know, what they say what they do on the tool is for everyone to see. That sets a much better level of communication and of exchanging that is really, really beneficial. I think some buildings are too formal, some buildings are too informal. If you can strike it right, the right level, it really makes a big difference.
Just the process of setting up the tool, getting people involved, loading all the documentation that you may have. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is a very good exercise for a building to say “where are we at? What sort of archives have we got? What do we want to share with who and once that setup work is underway?”, there is a lot more engagement and clarity about what needs to be achieved.
Nikki: Okay, so it’s a way of organising things as well, I guess, because you find all of those bits of information that you need to put into the platform, and so you’re becoming more aware of who’s got access to the bylaws, it’s a little bit easier to access all those pieces.
Paul: So here are two things. It’s the self service aspect where you don’t need to call someone when you need a simple document that should be available to you for free to download and also you are able to reorganise things you have, and all these under the control of the building.
Your committee will change, your ownership in the building will change, maybe your strata management company or your building management company will change. They may not use the same software and you could end up being stuck with a CD ROM with all your data that doesn’t go into the new manager’s system. So, with Stratabox, you enable that continuity, where any changes will not affect the integrity of the data.
You can plug out old committee members and plug in new committee members, and it doesn’t disrupt in any way. All of the older conversations that were being had at the time in five years time. If you want to know why something like why your supplier was chosen, or why this was done in a certain way, you’d be able to go back and look at all the detail, all the communication, not only just quotes or documents but also conversations, which are usually very relevant. These and other hard things to transfer from a mailbox to another mailbox when people change and, and losing that data is actually a real problem when we’re talking about very expensive equipment that has warranty periods that may not be known by new people taking over the responsibilities of the building. There is there is long term value in an accumulation of relevant data.
Nikki: We have lots of questions coming in [to LookUpStrata] in regards to access to information and a lot of people have trouble getting hold of that information. I can see that it would be really valuable. We also have questions coming in from people where decisions have been made years ago on the committee and those decisions are no longer known because they haven’t been kept anywhere. They’ve been in an email chain or somewhere and so people aren’t sure how the decision was came about. It may be something to do with an exclusive use of the outdoor area but they can’t actually find the decision making process. So yes, that sounds really good.
Paul: Transparency and continuity are really the two core values that we want to promote. Because, yes, there needs to be trust in both the processes and the people for harmony in scheme. That’s for sure.
Nikki: Definitely. In buildings that have implemented the platform, how have you found that looks? The major benefit that you found, would that be communication?
Paul: Yes, communication and again, all the work of putting Stratabox together. We’ve had buildings build up a significant knowledge base. It could be a building manual or FAQs, things like that. Once you give committees the opportunity to publish it, to advertise it, to say this is how we like things to work, they go back and really try to figure it out themselves. The bylaws is a good starting point but they don’t go into the level of detail that a new tenant will be expected to follow when they join the building. It goes hand in hand – adopting the platform on one side but also filling it with the relevant information, defining what that information is or should be.
We’ve seen buildings which have been able to really formalise quite well, how they operate. They no longer get questioned about “how do I get the key for that? How do you do this again?” No. So I think it’s really helpful. Also regularly updating these documents and really thinking “is there a need for change? Do we need to adapt?” all that sort of stuff.
Nikki: Okay, that’s great. One of the things we haven’t even touched on yet is the fact that at the moment, it’s so topical, because people have had such a hard time with what’s been happening over the last few months with COVID-19. They haven’t been able to meet personally face to face and a lot of buildings have had to adapt really quickly. The Stratabox platform would have been really well positioned to handle that situation.
Paul: Yeah, I think people scrambled a little bit last minute to find solution. We‘ve seen people coming to us now and the setup process takes some time. So, I would say there was no crazy change due to the COVID. I don’t think Stratabox replaces the need. Physical interaction is a human need and it’s great for certain things.
Unfortunately there’s an increasing number of overseas or interstate investors that usually are completely inactive in strata. In some buildings around Sydney, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, it can represent a significant number of a portion of the ownership. I think you have to always maintain a little bit of human contact and physical meetings. But if you can add that layer of all the people who would like to be heard, but until now it was very complicated. We like to make it easier. We don’t have facilities for, for example, video conferencing but it’s quite easy to disseminate an agenda with a link to a zoom invitation, which would enable any committee meeting or any AGM to be broadcast on video.
Nikki: Okay, well that sounds good. I might leave you to do the demonstration now. I’ll take a step back and just let you run through everything. A quick run through.
Paul: The first step to create an account for a building on Stratabox is to type your address and click on the Find scheme. That will display where you define what your status is in the building: if you’re an owner, a resident, and if you’re part of the committee. You need to put your unit number and the plan number which are usually known to committee members, which are essentially the people that should join first.
I’ll move on to a scheme that I have created for demonstration purposes. So this is the main page of Stratabox. You’ll notice there are a number of menus here. And basically inside Stratabox, all the information and everything you can see is segregated depending on what status you have in the building. If you’re an owner, a resident or if you’re a committee member, and then there’s also on the other side, the administration menu where you can define all the parameters and invite new people to join etc.
I will start by showing you quickly this key menu. The scheme menu is common to everybody in the building and what’s important to notice as well is that all the residents will see the same thing, all the owners will see is the same thing, and all the committee members will see the same thing. So we’re talking about much better transparency.
The scheme menu has the notice board. The notice board is where you can broadcast news to the community. It’s usually a one way broadcast, where you can disseminate minutes of meetings, give out messages about, you know, the water being cut off, or all these sorts of messages that are just information one way only.
Repairs comes next. You can quickly report any type of issue you may have. It could be noise, it could be a water leak, things like that. That will be sent to the management of the building. Depending on your building, maybe your committee will look after that in the first instance, or your strata manager will look at that in the first instance. All this information will be captured and the person responsible will get an email notification. You’ll be able to follow the progress of your issue as it gets resolved. It avoids the usual back and forth phone calls and emails. You’ll manage access with that particular person if it’s in a private lot.
Contact is a summary of the contact people in your building, and Stratabox has the feature similar to LinkedIn or Facebook. You can send someone a message without revealing your details or without them knowing via email address, so there’s an added benefit with extra privacy. Some people would like to communicate more, but they’re not too keen to share their emails or their phone numbers. This is a great way to get around that and to be able to be a bit more confidence and build trust between stakeholders.
Then you’ve got the Bylaws. You can attach your bylaws. You can share them with everyone, you can download the bylaws with a click of a button. So bylaws become a lot easier to access through this module.
Then you have Manuals. Manuals is where you can upload all the manuals for your building or some buildings call it a Resident Handbook. You can have one or as many documents as you want in this for people to share and again this is accessible by everyone, which makes it quite handy.
About This Scheme is a quick rundown of your lots and a picture of the building etc.
Residents can also access request forms. Up up until now, I think most of the forms had to be downloaded in a PDF format from the website of a strata manager, then printed, then scanned, then email to the strata manager and then processed to obtain a response. Often the strata manager will go back to the committee to seek approval. With these online forms, it’s instant. All your details are really recorded in your profile. You just fill in your request and it’s submitted immediately. Whether the committee or whether the strata manager will process and approve or reject your request. Chances are this will be done a fair bit quicker.
We move on to the Owners menu. The owners menu has a few more things happening. The key feature of Stratabox is really around discussions. Discussions are like a conversation feed between a group of users. It can be around topics, it can be around projects. The advantage of using Stratabox, let’s say instead of a email distribution list, is that there is a complete train of every conversation that is recorded on the site as well as in each of the members mailboxes. So future residents will be able to see past and present discussions and engagement with them in the future. Everything is searchable, so it’s very easy to use.
The advantage is you don’t need to log in to respond to a discussion, you can do it straight from your email, and the response will be logged back on the website as well as sent to all the members of the group. For people who are a bit worried about receiving too many communications, you can set up your notifications in your personal profile that will enable you to define exactly what you want to be made aware of and how often you want messages to arrive.
Channels is a bit like Discussions but they are around custom groups. So you can have as many custom groups as you want, arranged around topics, specific interests or a project.
Then Meeting. Here, information about meetings are organised for viewing by owners. There is a list of all the different meetings that are passed. It can be used for future meetings and to send agendas and minutes, but it can also be used for archive purposes looking back over previous meetings and the relevant documentations. The Owner File Archive is a file archive for owners, and there is a file archive for the committee. These are Read Only for everybody, the members of the groups, but the information can only be added by administrators so it can remain reasonably organised.
Again, we’ve got the forms that are here in this menu that are relevant to owners. So request for keys or request for approval of minor renovations and then there’s a compliance section where all the documents that are usually needed for compliance purposes are attached. So you may want to lease your property and you need to provide your property manager with the compliance certificate for the pool. If your complex has a pool where it’s attached here, you can access it instead of having to ring someone to get access.
On the Committee menu, again it has discussions. This is for discussions between committee members only, but also management discussions. Management discussions go across the committee, the strata and the building manager. It’s the best way to communicate with your strata or building manager ensuring you capture all the information that everybody is on an equal footing. And again, your strata manager can just respond to the emails with relevant attachments and you will log everything in the system under the discussions.
Then you can manage Amenities. So, you can book amenities on behalf of other people or you can cancel bookings if the need for maintenance arises, for example.
Manage meetings. I won’t go too much in detail because it is quite complex. It enables you to set up meetings, whatever type of meeting you want. You will be able to define the agenda, communicate the agenda, communicate the meetings after the meeting is done.
There is an option for online voting. Either pre meeting online voting, or we’ve seen buildings that are using this functionality to hold virtual meetings. Let’s say for spend approval purposes, you can hold a meeting that’s only online with voting and tally and minutes communicated afterwards.
The Committee File Archives are the same as for the Owners File Archives except there are only for the committee members. It works a bit like a Dropbox where we can just upload documents and again that’s only with administrator’s privilege.
The last tab on the Committees menu is Manage Requests. The requests that are coming from the residence or the owners can be processed here very quickly by committee members, or they can dedicate it to the strata manager or the building manager, if that’s the procedure of the building.
That’s about it, so I’m not sure if we have any questions?
Nikki: We do, Paul! We have a few questions that have come through via the live stream and we’ve also had a few that have been emailed through to me. We can run through those. So one of the questions that we’ve had come through on the live stream is “does Stratabox have a good way for a building to record paint colours used in the building so that owners corporations can access that information easily many years later.” And I guess that’s something that we talked about quickly before.
Paul: Yes. The file archive is where you can put all that sort of important documentation. We’ve seen buildings that have digitised a lot of the old stuff they had on paper and put it there. I think, then it all comes to organising archives is a bit of an art that some people don’t get. There’s certainly room to record all of this data. It’s things you can live without, but it would make your life a lot easier if you had it. So, and it’s never any secret or confidential, it can be shared with owners or the committee members.
Nikki: Excellent. Okay. That’s great. Another one that we’ve had come in is “our committee is not very active. I’m the secretary. I do most of the work. Will Stratabox make my life easier or will it just create more work for me?”
Paul: Okay, I hope it will make it easier. That’s another thing I want to make clear. Stratabox or any other tool really is not a silver bullet. Don’t think that because you have joined Stratabox all of a sudden, all the work is done on your behalf. To be useful, there is a certain effort to set it up right to explain it and to get it approved, of course. Then also it has to live, so it needs content, it needs interactions. I think slowly, the engagement will increase. But, if you just set it up and add no information in there whatsoever, it’s not going to be very useful. It’s the same with everything.
Nikki: We’ve had another one just come in on the live stream as well, saying “does the meeting function allow for questions and debate on particular issues?”
Paul: There’s two ways of using meetings functionality. One is pre meeting online voting. That will effectively replace more or less a proxy form, which is very limited in what it allows us to do. It will also enable people who would not normally participate to participate which is a plus. Now, obviously, there are rules around motions being changed at the meeting, etc. We can only capture what we can before the meeting. But at least people who would otherwise not attend the meeting have a voice.
There is a steps process to create a meeting that includes a comments phase where people can comment and debate on the motions that are proposed before the motions are finalised and yet the final agenda is sent. So, I guess in that sense, there is the ability to engage a little bit before the meeting to ensure the right things are covered. You can also use the use the tool this way: add the meeting to record the attendance and to produce the minutes the minutes and be able to disseminate the minutes straight after the meeting. So, that is a bit of a general purpose.
Nikki: Okay, great. I hope that answers your question, Richard. We also have another. I know that you’re located in New South Wales. We’ve had a question coming from one of our WA subscribers and they’re asking “We live in WA. Is Stratabox compatible with WA legislation?”
Paul: Most of the functionalities that is really based on the legislation probably represent about 5% of Stratabox. Because a majority of our clients are in New South Wales, we are based on the New South Wales legislation. But at the end of the day, I think 95% of all the workings of strata are reasonably similar. A lot of the issues in any state will come from lack of communication, or poor record keeping or poor processes. And I would say this is probably 95% of the use of Stratabox. So far, we haven’t had any real issues with people saying it is not compatible with the legislation in their state. When we adapt to each state in detail, we probably will go for the larger states first. But at the moment it’s working. Terminology is probably the biggest difference in legislation, but the workings behind are all very similar and most of the problems are resolved through talking to each other.
Nikki: Okay, that sounds great. So it’s compatible across Australia and in all states.
Paul: The workings of strata are very similar. in any country around the world really. The basic principles are all the same.
Nikki: That’s true. And we see that with the questions that come in all the time to LookUpStrata. They’re very similar and just a little bit geared towards the legislation, but they are similar issues across the states. Okay, so we’ve also got another question, which I think is really important. Our reader has said, “I’ve had a look at the website and this looks like it would be more useful for self managed strata schemes. We have a strata manager. Can we still use Stratabox?
Paul: There is Stratabox access for your strata manager, your building manager. I think it there are different issues whether you’re managed or self managed that can be resolved with Stratabox. Self managed are usually on the smaller side, which makes it a little bit easier. But we find that there’s probably a gap between 10/15 and 50/60 lots where there is a strata manager but there’s no building manager. And that’s when the committee really has to step up and do a lot of the work. Otherwise, the strata manager does it all and it becomes quite expensive. Once you have boots on the ground with a full time building manager, it becomes a lot easier but that’s usually probably over 50 or 60 lots. So there is really a gap for medium size schemes. I think Stratabox can be really, really useful for those midsize schemes which are already as complex as big ones. They don’t have the resources. So that’s where Stratabox can be really useful.
Nikki: Excellent. And we’ve had another live question come in and this one is from Andy. “I may have missed it as I was just on a call, but what are the immediate and long term development plans for strata box? And what is the feedback from your users regarding new functionality?” So we did kind of talk about it a little bit, but if you could expand that would be great.
Paul: First of all, we are an Australian company. I was born in France, but I’ve since become Australian, and we do all our development ourselves. We have full control of the development process. Which you know, in some cases, is going to delay things a little bit from happening but at least we can do everything and then we have full control.
Nowadays, no product is ever finished. No product is ever perfect. We are continuously reviewing the product making improvements, some of them will be visible to our users, some of them won’t. We certainly take all the feedback from our current users and translate it into use cases and requirements. If we find there is a certain demand and we analyse the functionality, we develop it. I think we have now cover most of the needs of most schemes. There is there is always more to do, but there’s also always less to do, because the more functionalities you add, adds complexity to your product, and the more complex your product, the less appealing and the harder it is to use. So, we always have to strike a certain balance between doing more than doing this?
Nikki: Okay, excellent. That sounds great. And also another quick question, this one is again about functionality and where it’s going: “is there an app? Or do we have to access a platform via pc?”
Paul: At the moment it’s a web app, so you can access it with most browsers, except Internet Explorer, the older versions, which are incompatible and very hard to work with. There are plans for an app. But currently the app situation is very fast evolving and the standards are changing. If we were to invest today, in building apps with Stratabox we would probably have to redo it all in a few months’ time. The website is completely app compatible and as soon as the technology for the new wave of apps that is about to arrive is finalised, we will definitely have an app.
I think that will increase the engagement levels. To use most of the benefits of Stratabox, all you need is an email address. Because you can interact with the tool from your email. Okay, that that’s, you know, especially for people who are not very tech savvy, that don’t want to spend too much time etc, they can still participate, they can still engage right from the email address.
Nikki: Okay, that’s really good to know, because that was actually another question that we had saying “most of the people in the building are quite old and they’re not really that tech savvy. So will they find it a challenge to interact?”
Paul: No, I think as a community unit, to know your population and certain populations will probably adopted more than others. Some people will always want your printout of everything. Any benefits derived from communicating online are a positive. At the absolute minimum, the requirement is to have someone’s email address.
Nikki: Okay, that’s great. Excellent. Well, we’ve gone over time a little bit. It’s just so interesting. There’s so many things to look at, which is fine. Thank you very much for showing us. It was fabulous to have a really good look at the programme. I’ve jumped on and had a look at the site before but that’s the first time you’ve actually ran through it for me as well. I’m really happy that I got to see all of that. There is so much in there, and I can see how helpful it would be. So basically, just in the wrap up, can you give us an idea, how much does it actually cost for a building to take up Stratabox?
Paul: At the moment, we’re still in beta phase of development, which means using this product is free, of course in exchange for valuable feedback that we can then improve the tool with. We are planning probably for switching off beta to the final version in July 2020. From then on, we’ll still give a three months free trial for our users to ensure that there’s a good fit for the product at the scheme. After four years, we start to know the strata world and it doesn’t move very quickly. The idea is that you can try before you buy, no problem and it’s so easy. It is subscription based so it depends on the number of lots in your building.
We may introduce a new billing system, new pricing system, if people just want the committee on the platform, that’s something we are thinking about. But the pricing is clearly displayed on our website. So we give you a quote, it’s fully transparent.
If anybody has any questions, they can contact us, preferably by email. So we can keep track of the requests. It’s all on the Stratabox website. And we hope we can share many success stories in the future.
Nikki: That’s excellent. Well, we’ll certainly include the email address underneath the video when it’s on our Facebook page. We’ll also be uploading the video to our YouTube channel and also putting it in a blog post and it will go out in the newsletter so we’ll make sure everyone can get in touch with you, Paul, easily and it sounds like now’s definitely the time to get involved.
Paul; Thanks, Nikki. I’ve never had a chance to be an internet sensation.
Nikki: I think I think definitely go viral.
Paul: All right. Thank you so much for your time. It was it was a pleasure and I’ll speak to you soon. Thank you.
Nikki: Thanks for watching, everyone.
Have a question about Stratabox or something to add to the article? Leave a comment below.
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This post appears in Strata News #362.