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Interview with Dan Ward: first on line.

Editor's note: As a full-time property manager and a part-time computer hacker, Dan Ward, CPM [Registered Trademark] secretary-treasurer of All-American Realty, Inc. in Johnson City, Tennessee, brought a thorough knowledge of computers to his implementation of the Virginia Housing Development Authority's (VHDA) telecommunications link. As a Beta tester for the system, Ward had the challenge of handling some early program glitches as well as the opportunity to be among the first on-line with this innovative technology.

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All-American Realty, Inc. has been a management agent for more than 12 years and manages several VHDA-financed properties. When the VHDA began encouraging on-site computerization five years ago, our company was among the first to decentralize our computer operations to the site. Prior to that time, we had been using a centralized computer system to keep property records.

We found that the initial implementation of on-site computers was a tremendous help in reducing arithmetical errors in HUD Form 50059 calculations. Site computers also eliminated the duplication of effort that occurred when manual forms from the sites were re-entered into our main office computer system.

After five years, our site managers and resident managers were generally comfortable and proficient in daily operations. However, they still needed to print out all re-certifications and 50059 forms and mail them to VHDA's off ice in Richmond for processing. This arrangement sometimes caused delays of several days in letting tenants know if they had qualified for a unit. The waiting period could be even longer in cases where the housing specialists at VHDA were backlogged with work.

This delay was frustrating for both our site managers and prospective tenants. Tenants often applied at several properties and were likely to move into the first one that accepted their application. Because of the long application processing time, we sometimes lost qualified tenants.

Testing telecommunications

VHDA has always been very cooperative in addressing problems and in looking for new ways to improve management. Consequently, I was not too surprised when the Authority approached me in January 1989 about acting as one of the six Beta testers for the implementation of a new Version 4.0 MicroHUD program incorporating a telecommunications link. As a hacker whose computer experience goes back to days as an artillery officer in Vietnam, I was delighted to participate.

We selected Leisure Park Towers, a 10-year-old Section 8 property for elderly residents in Bristol, Virginia, to serve as the Beta test site. The VHDA had financed the 150-unit property, which was owned by a limited partnership. VHDA also administers the subsidy programs. I personally had been involved with the property since its development.

Leisure Park Towers seemed a good choice for the test program for several reasons. Both the site manager and the resident manager had been with the property for several years and were comfortable with microcomputer use and earlier versions of the MicroHUD program. In addition, because the project was housing for the elderly, we had a much lower turnover than in our family properties. This gave us somewhat more time to learn and work through the program. Finally, because the property is located only about 25 minutes from my office, I felt that I could be on site easily if needed.

Three weeks after we had agreed to participate, I took the microcomputer from Leisure Park Towers with me to Richmond to meet with representatives of Project Data Systems, Inc. (PDS) and VHDA. The Beta testers spent the day learning to load the new software and converting our existing data to the new program.

By the next morning, I was back in my office. With the site manager of Leisure Park Towers looking on, I loaded our first file and successfully completed our first telecommunication with VHDA in Richmond. By the end of February 1989, we were regularly telecommunicating information directly from the site to the VHDA.

Working out the bugs

Of course, this good start does not mean that everything went 100-percent smoothly. About a month after we started using the new program, the records of about one-third of our tenants from the preceding year just vanished from the computer We ultimately had to re-enter all the data.

A month later, we entered in the new rental rates, which took effect on May 1, 1989. The program was designed to be date sensitive and to enter the new rates into all tenant files automatically. However, on May 1, we found that some of the tenants still showed the old rental rate while others had the new one.

In each case, the speed and concern shown by the software publisher prevented a glitch from becoming a major problem. Our first step with each problem was to contact Randy Orlando, our customer service representative at PDS, who provided quick answers and helped us learn from problems encountered by other testers. For more complex problems, we did a screen dump and sent it express to PDS. They almost always had a patch back to us in days.

If a problem was really stopping operations, PDS also had the capacity to make alterations on line in our system using a program called "PC Anywhere." This ability to rapidly correct problems made the Beta test process much easier and kept our whole operation at Leisure Park Towers from grinding to a halt because of one glitch.

Realizing benefits

Even with these minor problems, the process of telecommunications was well in hand by the summer of 1989. We found that the tremendous improvement in recertification and application processing more than compensated for the extra staff time spent on learning and testing the program. With telecommunications, we can send an application to VHDA and often receive an acceptance back while the tenant is still in the office. What used to take a week or more is now virtually instantaneous. For family properties with more move-ins, the time savings will be even greater.

Just one year after beginning our initial Beta tests, the site managers at the VHDA-financed properties we manage have just completed their initial training with the new program. Within the next few weeks, they will go on line as well. All the sites will continue to receive training both from PDS and from Shannon Shafer, applications programmer at VHDA.

Shafer has been hired by the Authority to visit each site prior to implementation to ensure that the program is loaded correctly and that the local site manager understands its operation. He will remain with VHDA for an extended period to serve as a teacher and troubleshooter during the first year or more of the system's use.

I believe that it is this commitment to thorough, ongoing training that is the key to the success of the VHDA program. The Authority has always worked toward improving technology and systems to make the management of assisted and subsidized properties more efficient. But even more importantly, VHDA has combined this commitment to technology with an understanding of the need for long-term training and support. Thanks to their farsightedness, Leisure Park Towers and all the other properties in VHDA's system are ready to move into the 21st century of property management.
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Title Annotation:Software Review; processing of government housing forms
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Article Type:evaluation
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:Computerizing HUD reporting.
Next Article:Bank lockboxes become high-tech.

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