Monday, April 16, 2018

What's on our Roadmap for 2018?


Yes, we know it's April already; we've been busy!

We’re so excited about the technology and solutions we are building for you in 2018 that we decided to devote an entire blog post to share some of the highlights of what you can expect.

It’s a fantastic list – an ambitious undertaking! But, since we’ve now grown our development team to 49 persons – including some of the best technologists anywhere – we are confident in our ability to create and deliver the below “magic”!

Here’s an outline of the six areas where you can expect exciting improvements:

1. Turbocharged Communications
...because property managers don’t have time for all that remembering, composing, correcting, and sending.
You communicate a lot. It takes a lot of time, and we know that. So, we are working on developing swift and easy ways for you to communicate with residents and employees, via:
  • Segmented Recipient Groups – Need to send communications only to residents with pets or residents with expired insurance policies? Or, what about communications only to front desk staff? Soon you’ll be able to narrow down your e-mail recipients to these, and to as many other niche groups that you can think of!  In progress
     
  • E-mail Content on Repeat – Save time and ensure consistent high quality with standardized e-mail text and formatting to use over and over again - like signatures, sentences, paragraphs, etc. - and create templates for communications (i.e. birthday greetings, emergency notices, and many other communications).  Summer
     
  • Scheduling and Automation – New rules-bound automated processes will empower us to perform certain actions based on YOUR specific criteria – set by YOU. You set the trigger, you set the action, we do the rest! – like automatically sending a welcome e-mail to new residents, or a reminder email for insurance renewals that are 60 days from expiring. Autumn
“Automation” is a big word for us at BuildingLink. You will be hearing a lot more about it – but not in this issue.
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2. “Know and Go” Management Tools
...because busy property managers need the insights to make the right decisions, and to take action from anywhere, at any time.
Empowering property managers with smarter views of their operations and more accessible management tools has got to be a good thing, right? We’re working on delivering to management more:
  • Intuitive Dashboards & Analytics – Better understand what is working well, and what needs attention – including extensive benchmarking against buildings similar to yours, courtesy of BuildingLink’s expanded Manager Dashboard! Initial data addresses diverse performance metrics for core operations, resident engagement, communications quality, etc. In progress
     
  • Even More Manage-by-App Power – Our GEO mobile app will keep getting stronger….and stronger. Portable power for approving postings & amenity reservations, updating shift logs, filing incident reports, and sending emergency broadcasts…it’s all coming in 2018! In progress
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3. Doubling Down on Resident Engagement
...because creating positive interactions and touch points between residents, staff, and community is a very good thing – for everyone!
Lots on our agenda here:
  • In-App Messaging – Enhancing two-way Resident – Front Desk/Office/Management communication. Summer
     
  • Class Sign-ups & Space / Room Reservations – Adding the ability for residents to register / sign up for classes. Autumn
     
  • Mobile App: Resident Lifestyle & Convenience Services – Integrating neighborhood vendors and building services (i.e. housekeeping or pet sitting) curated by building management, and conveniently accessible!   In progress and ongoing
     
  • Intelligent Living – Giving your residents a taste of the future with sensor-enabled activity dashboards like Aware-FC for fitness centers, and optional voice interfaces (Amazon Echo) for building activities. In progress
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4. Efficient Vendor Management (Yeah, it really can be!)
...because so little has changed in the last decade as far as efficient tools for managing vendors…maybe, it’s time already for a bit of BuildingLink help.
  • Simplified Vendor Insurance Tracking – Our vendor insurance tracking feature will simplify the process of requesting, storing, and reviewing Certificate of Insurance (COI) to minimize compliance risks for busy property managers.  Autumn/Winter
     
  • Easy Online Purchase Orders – Bring consistency and transparency to your building’s purchasing activities, and identify purchasing patterns and opportunities to save money.  Summer/Autumn
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5. “Near-Magic” Solutions for your Busiest Activities
… because we finally figured out how to make them happen! – Yea! You’ll never want to go back to the old way!
These solutions are being built – your staff will love them:
  • Painless Package Management – Your staff can enter packages in one simple step - using nothing more than their smartphone camera! ImageR™ by BuildingLink shrinks the package-logging time from 45 seconds to as little as 8 seconds! It's already available through your GEO app on Android devices! And be on the look-out in 2018, because ImageR™ will be coming to iOS devices near you!  In progress
     
  • Rapid Recurring Visitor Check-ins – Efficiently identify and monitor all authorized recurring visitors and contractors on premises to reduce administrative time – and free up front desk resources – to focus on greeting and tending to residents and visitors. In progress
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6. Informed Living via “Smart Building Sensors”
…because, as a property manager, what you don’t know can hurt you, and does all the time!
Our newest technology initiative, “Aware!™ by BuildingLink” will empower property managers to make intelligent decisions by incorporating a growing selection of activity and environmental sensors, in areas (or on equipment) they want to monitor, and setting up real-time alerts.  In progress

Our first solution, Aware-FC™, is a set of sensors for your “Fitness Center” equipment. See exercise equipment usage patterns, replace underused equipment with more popular choices, or monitor air comfort levels. Residents, too, can check their BuildingLink App to see whether their favorite machine is available!

Aware-FC is our first “sensor solution” – and it's currently in use across 24 client fitness centers! Other sensor solution kits we will be working on in 2018 include environmental monitoring, leak detection, and elevator operations.

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Six great areas of innovation –  which ones are most important to you?  Feel free to give us your comments and questions, or to suggest if there is something important that you think we’ve missed – because 2019’s roadmap planning will be here before you know it! E-mail us at roadmap@buildinglink.com.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

March New Feature Releases


Stay up-to-date on all things BuildingLink! Check out the new-and-improved releases that happened in the last month!

  • New Amenity “by Location” Setting: Managers can now restrict amenity reservation permissions only to residents of particular physical unit locations. (i.e. restricting “Tower 1 Service Elevator” only to residents in Tower 1, etc.) Staff will still be able to place reservations for any resident as they see fit.
  • Add Liability Waivers to Amenities: Managers can now add Liability Waiver text to amenities and require residents to agree to the waiver prior to submitting a reservation. This is similar to existing waiver functionality in the Maintenance Module.
  • Enhanced Resident ID Card Printing: Card printing functionality now includes the ability to select existing card definitions/card types within the “Other” menu, under “ID Cards and Labels.”
  • Maintenance Functionality Time Spent Modification: When adding “Time Spent” to a Maintenance Request, users can choose to have the total time automatically calculated based on specific Start and End times instead of manually inputting the total # of minutes.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Smart Buildings - Picking the right wireless technology is HARD but CRITICAL!!


When you begin to explore the range of smart sensor solutions available for your multi-family properties, you will quickly run into a few compelling applications that will require whole-building sensingor, nearly so. What do I mean by "whole building sensing"? I am referring to instances such as water leak detection, loud noise, or smoke detection, where large quantities of independently-operating sensors must be distributed in all apartments or in all the hallways or stairways or common spaces of a building. It also includes instances where quantities of interdependent sensors are deployed, such as temperature sensors across an entire building, whose data is stitched together to optimize the on/off operations of a boiler providing heat.

Regardless of whether the data is used independently (alert: there's a water leak here), or interdependently (the afternoon sun seems to be heating up the west-facing apartments) - that's a LOT of sensors that need to get their data broadcast out and received. And, that's a lot of walls, ceilings, electrical, and mechanical equipment that are providing interference. Choosing the right building-wide wireless technology can be a make-or-break decision for your building! So let me at least get you started, by familiarizing you with some of the options.

What sensor-networking options are there?

In each instance, the need to reliably collect data from a wide field of deployed sensors across a building will require the creation of a whole-building sensor network. If you read carefully between the lines when talking to sensor solution vendors, you will see that in nearly every case your potential vendor is using one of these wireless technologies:
    1.  Zigbee Mesh - (2.4Ghz spectrum)

    2.  WiFi (internal or resident-provided)

    3. Sub-1 GHz (900-928MHz in the U.S.) – high data rate, for short range

    4. Z-Wave – for short-range mesh design

    5. Bluetooth-BLE – for short-range hub-and-spoke design

    6. LoRaWAN – low data rate, for long-range

    7. Sigfox – commercial version of LoRa

    8. GSM/cellular - includes 4G, 5G, NB-IoT, LTE-M
      Your vendor may skip over this part of their offering - but you should know that these different technologies each have their own plusses and minuses, and that there is a very fierce competition going on between them, for market acceptance.


      How does one decide between them?

      The choice of which technology to deploy for whole-building coverage often hinges on:
      • The nature of the property itself: its physical design, dimensions, construction materials, and overall radio-wave “friendliness” (compatibility to one or another of the wireless technologies' physical properties)
      • The availability of logical and easy-to-access hub-placement locations on floors or in hallways and common areas (some solutions require more and closely-spaced routers or repeaters)
      • The limitations in commercial availability of sensor types that support the different wireless technologies: (for example, many smart thermostats support only WiFi connectivity, whereas many retail store-available smart light switches or leak sensors support only Z-Wave or Zigbee)
      • The power requirements and needed battery life of the deployed sensors or the availability of nearby electrical outlet service (GSM and WiFi need lots of energy, whereas Zigbee and other 900Mhz are more suitable to long-life battery applications.)
      • The amount of data being sent, and the frequency of transmission (LoRaWAN is suitable and legally useable only for small packet intermittent use.)

      What are some examples of sensors/smart devices that use each of the wireless technologies?

      Here are some examples of wireless technologies adopted by different known brands:

      Zigbee Mesh – Radiator LabsAmazon Echo Plus, Wink, Smart Things, Wally
      Z-Wave – Wink, Smart Things, Leviton
      900Mhz – Triple+, Guardian
      LoRa – Lotik, Comcast

      And here's what they look like embedded in actual leak-detection sensors commercially available today :

      (As part of our Aware sensor initiative, we have collected possibly the most extensive collection ever of all sensors and devices connected with leak detection and control. Feel free to drop into our NYC office if you want to get your hands on more of the products being offered in this area.)

      How about you guys? What technology is BuildingLink using, and why? 

      Firstly, you should know that we really love having the opportunity, challenge, and responsibility of selecting or building the best solutions for all of our 4,300+ luxury multi-family property clients. Over the past year, we have undertaken a broad research initiative, trying out different technologies and seeing which ones can be optimized, and which work best for each application. Our research effort has been so in depth, that I run the risk of ruining any interesting cocktail party discussion if someone accidentally asks me what I think of such-and-such wireless. But, since this is not a cocktail party, I get to provide the tip of an answer:

      Our initial sensor solutions launched last year for fitness centers, and were based on Xbee, a special version of Zigbee (a 2.4GhZ technology). We have since begun migrating clients to and starting all new clients on  our own 900Mhz solution, which gives you more range, less interference from other 2.4Ghz technologies (like Wi-Fi), and lower costs (since we are building our own versus licensing it).

      We have also been building out and testing a few LoRaWAN-based solutions as a second technology, for low-data applications that also require long distance sensor deployments —such as for leak detection, garage parking-spot utilization, and other far-field use cases.

      We’ve done extensive tests with all technologies under real in-building conditions. We especially thank those partner clients who have given us access to empty buildings to do comprehensive testing across many floors and in many empty apartments. It's been fun being pre-occupancy technology ghosts, flitting around empty facilities.

      What does this have to do with leak detection? 

      Water leak detection in multi-family buildings is probably the sensor application that has done the most to prompt sensor solution vendors as well as property owners and managers to focus on strategies for whole-building sensor networks. Leak detection can involve staying in communication with  hundreds or even thousands of sensors in a building (typically 3-10 per apartment) that are sending real time battery status or leak detection alerts all the time. Many of the sensor locations can be deep within a building’s infrastructure, for example inside a kitchen sink cabinet or in an interior bathroom. The amount of data being sent is small, but the value of getting that data sent when a leak occurs is very great. 

      The four vendors we have found that are tackling whole-building leak detection are using either Zigbee Mesh, or 900MhZ, or LoRaWAN. And yet, there is little data and little historic experience on how well any of these technologies work, for example in blanketing entire prewar buildings constructed with thick plaster or wire lathe, or new 30-story high-rise buildings with their new construction materials and interfering electronics.

      Is LoRaWAN the best fit, for “whole building” leak detection solutions?

      BuildingLink’s current preferred wireless technology for leak detection is LoRaWan. LoRaWAN works outdoors in line-of-site conditions for 30 miles or more. Inside a building it will typically cover between 3 and 20 floors depending on if they are placed near elevator shafts, or near windows with outside buildings nearby that can bounce the signal, ping-pong style, to cover many floors.

      It is comforting to know that Comcast is deploying LoRa for in-building networks where they have installed cable boxes, and that a LoRa-like technology called Sigfox is now covering much of Europe. But we have plenty of our own research still to complete, because in-building coverage is very different than line-of-site coverage.

      We are still learning and tweaking our solutions with the goal of getting maximum coverage with the fewest LoRa gateways needed. We are also testing four different LoRaWAN gateways, and various sensor antenna and power designs.

      Proud of this: BuildingLink’s EdgeReporter™ technology - for LoRaWAN range testing. 

      As you can imagine, when working with wireless technology that can transmit anywhere between 3 floors and 30 miles, it is important but difficult to quickly ascertain where the “edge” of a specific gateway’s transmission range lies. It might carry 30 feet to the left and right, but be near an elevator shaft and carry 200-300 feet vertically. Does one put one gateway transmitter in the center of a building or one on either end every few floors? The answers depend on the factors described in the “How does one decide…?” paragraph.

      In order to help with our clients with a quick way to know what they will need, our labs team has built a line of devices we call EdgeReporterTM detectors and have bundled them into a solution called “Aware-ER by BuildingLink” (ER= EdgeReporting).

      The way the system works is that the person looking to map the edges of the wireless ranges of one or more LoRaWAN gateways places the Gateways in different but centralized places in the building or property, and then drops 1-20 EdgeReporter detectors through the properties—on different floors, lines, amenity spaces, naming each one in our app to identify its location. When the EdgeReporter devices are turned on, they seek out all available LoRaWAN gateways, and respond to each gateway with the detector ID and location and with the signal strength from the gateway. All inputs from all the EdgeReporter devices are pulled in and sorted and displayed by gateway location, or by building floor or line, thereby making visible the invisible: showing the edge range of the in-place LoRaWAN gateway. Users can then add, subtract, or move gateways based on this revealing snapshot.

      We hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at some of the engineering goings on at BuildingLink Labs.

      Monday, March 5, 2018

      Organize Your Library Documents by Location


      Your building’s Library is your go-to spot within BuildingLink for storing the most important documents that your residents need. What do you do when you have multiple buildings with residents who need access to different documents and you want to restrict access to only residents of those specific locations?

      Well, if your building has multiple locations set up, then you’re ready to customize your library permissions accordingly! Let’s dive in and see how.

      Adding a New Document

      Under the Communicate tab, click Library and open the active documents screen:








      Clicking "Add New Document" will open this menu:








      Here you can choose which building or buildings have access to your new document. This is a game-changer for buildings with multiple physical locations who want to limit the viewing audience on a per-document basis. Additionally, if a single building has units of different kinds (rent stabilized vs. market rate, garden apartments vs. townhomes, etc.), document access can also be restricted along those lines.

      Wrapping Up

      Controlling document access by building is another way that BuildingLink lets you run your building your way.

      Need more help setting up this feature? Our Support Team is standing by.

      Don’t have BuildingLink? Set up a demo and see how we could help your building run smarter!

      Tuesday, February 27, 2018

      Streamline Front Desk Operations with Special Permissions


      Keeping resident data current is vital to keeping your building running smoothly. However, only Managers have the access and authority edit resident contacts inside BuildingLink, which can make maintaining this data time-consuming and inconvenient.

      But no longer! Now you can choose to provide some or all non-management staff members the ability to edit resident contact info, add and edit residents, and even do full move-in/move-outs! This helps free up managers’ time, empowers front desk workers, and makes life simpler and better for residents by allowing the staff members they see most often to assist with keeping their information up to date.

      We’ll tell you all about it. First, a little history.

      How It Was

      There are four access levels within BuildingLink: Security Officer, Manager, Maintenance, and Front Desk, each with its own permissions. Read all about the different access levels here. Front Desk level users lacked the ability to edit resident contact info. When residents had a phone number change, added someone new to their residence, or moved in or out, the Front Desk Staff could only take down this information and pass it on to Managers, who then went into BuildingLink to make the changes. 

      You can see how this was suboptimal for residents and building teams alike!

      How It Is Now

      The new Special Permissions function allows you to adjust the abilities of staff members and enhance (or take away) permissions for our existing default authority levels! Now you can choose which Front Desk staff members can alter which elements of resident contact info, with the following options:
      • Can edit contact info only (phone & email)
      • Can edit all occupant data
      • Can edit, add, or deactivate occupants
      • Can add, edit, or deactivate unit profiles & occupants

      You can also apply these settings globally to all Front Desk staff or choose specific team members and control their access as you wish!

      Ready for the walkthrough? Let’s go!

      Where to Find Special Permissions

      From your BuildingLink Dashboard, find the Settings tab on the left side of the screen. Click it and you’ll see a wide array of options in the main panel. Scroll all the way down to the bottom and you’ll see Special Permissions:




      The setting we’re concerned with is under the Privacy header and is labeled “Allow Staff to update resident info.”




      Click the blue box with the plus sign in it and the menu will expand:



      As you can see, you have the option to choose individual staff members to give new permissions to or a whole user type to apply these changes to globally. You give the access you want to the employee or employee types you want to!

      Wrapping Up

      BuildingLink is all about empowering users to run their buildings their way. This new Special Permission feature streamlines building operations by allowing staff members to perform the actions they need to—without giving them too much access or too little.

      If you want more help setting up Special Permissions, our Support Team is standing by to serve you. 

      Not a BuildingLink customer? Set up a demo and see how Special Permissions and our whole host of other amazing features can make your building smarter and your residents’ lives better.

      Friday, February 16, 2018

      Simplify Your Life with Recurring Tasks!



      It takes a lot of work to keep your building running smoothly. The Maintenance module is one of the most popular and oft-used tools in the BuildingLink platform, and the Recurring Tasks feature makes a good thing even better! If you want to change the way your team handles and tracks repeating maintenance duties, read on for a complete walkthrough of this powerful feature.

      Where to Find It

      The Recurring Task function is located inside the Maintenance module:



      Click on the Recurring Tasks link and you’ll see two options: Recurring Tasks and Recurring Tasks Forecast. The first option is where you set up and edit recurring tasks. The second lets you choose a date range and see all the recurring tasks for that period (more on that later).



      Setting Up A New Task

      Let’s dive into setting up a Recurring Task! To start, click on the “Create New Task” button:



      The top of this page looks just like setting up a new (one-time) Maintenance request:

      Here, you can specify the unit number, leave a detailed description, assign it to a maintenance category (as well as to an equipment item or employee), and all the other usual criteria that you typically apply to a task.

      Next set up the scheduling attributes, the heart of the recurring task module:

      Timing intervals for tasks include every day, every weekday, specific weekdays, monthly, and much more. You can pick your weekdays, months of the year, and set start and end dates for the recurrence of the task. You can even put tasks on hold for specific parts of the year (e.g., if the pool is closed for the winter, you can set the weekly task “pool cleaning” to suspend for a few months and resume when it reopens).

      How Long Can a Task Run For?

      Forever, if you want! Choose “No End Date” and the task will continue to recur indefinitely. If you have an end date in mind for when a task should stop recurring, you can enter it, or a task can be programmed to recur a set number of times, then stop.



      What Can I Do with a Recurring Task?

      Anything you want, really! Set annual maintenance reminders for when important equipment like boilers and elevators are due to be inspected or serviced, program daily or weekly cleaning duties, and literally anything else that needs doing around your building.

      Once the task is in the system, you’ll see it in your Recurring Task Forecast. Of course, on the date you’ve set for the recurrence, it’ll appear along with all other maintenance requests for your building. 

      You can interact with each recurrence like any other maintenance request: leaving detailed notes, adding photos or documents, composing vendor work orders, and more.

      An Important Reminder About Dates

      Let’s say you have a recurring task to inspect your building’s boiler. You want it done by October 1st, so you go into BuildingLink and create a recurring task for every year to remind you. However, the system notifies you on the date you set, not the date you necessarily need to be notified by in order to get the task done by the target date you have in mind. To make sure you have the lead time you need to handle larger projects, it can be helpful to set two (or more) tasks in the system: one (or more) a few weeks beforehand to remind yourself, and then the final one at the actual due date you need the task finished by. You’ll see all these tasks listed in your Recurring Tasks Forecast.

      What’s In the Forecast?

      The Recurring Task Forecast is your window into the future of your upcoming tasks.



      Once you have Recurring Tasks programmed in the system, you can view them in a variety of ways to suit your planning needs. Choose your date range, maintenance category, equipment item, task type, and whether or not to show the task descriptions. The system will display the recurring tasks that fit your criteria. It’s a great way to get ahead of your to-do list!

      Wrapping Up

      The Recurring Tasks module is a powerful tool for helping you plan your maintenance needs ahead of time and keep your building running smoothly.

      If you’re already a BuildingLink customer and want more help setting up Recurring Tasks, the Support Team is standing by to serve you. Call or email today and let us help you get the most out of your subscription! 

      Not a BuildingLink customer? Set up a demo and see how Recurring Tasks and our whole host of other amazing features can make your building smarter and your residents’ lives better.

      Wednesday, February 14, 2018

      Stay up-to-date on all things BuildingLink! Check out the new-and-improved releases that happened in the last month!

      • New “By Location" Building Library Setting Added: The new “by location” filter allows managers to make documents viewable only by specific residents tied to physical locations. You can customize the physical locations to suit your layout, e.g. Tower 1, Tower 2, North Tower, South Tower, etc.
      • New Special Permission Added: “Allow Staff to Update Resident Info.” Security Officers and Managers can now allow staff to edit/update resident contact information and unit information.

      • New “Welcome Pages” Enabled in Beta for Most Properties: Residents in these buildings see an updated and streamlined version of the “new user sequence” the first time they log in.
      • Exportable “Notes” Field Added to All Employee Profiles.
      • Updated Basic Login Page: Users can now add a custom image to their login pages via the Design Center.

      Tuesday, February 13, 2018

      Google Feathers Its Nest



      Remember Nest?

      They’re a smart-home company best known for their internet-connected thermostat. Google purchased the company in 2014. Since then, they’ve been in the outer orbit of the Alphabet solar system of brands, dubbed “Other Bets.”

      That’s all changed now, though. In an interview on February 6th, Nest CEO Marwan Fawaz, who now reports to Google's hardware chief, Rick Osterloh, appeared in a joint interview and discussed Nest’s return to the fold: Nest will now officially be under the Google umbrella, instead of its prior far-removed position.

      "All of Google's investments in machine learning and AI, they can very clearly benefit Nest products. It just makes sense to be developing them together," Osterloh said.

      The play here is obvious: Google wants to get its AI assistant out into the world, anywhere it can, and smart speakers are a huge gateway to doing that. Amazon’s Echo, with its attendant AI, Alexa, has already sold over 20 million units. The ecommerce giant dominates the “smart speaker” market with a 69% share. Google might be the only other big player, with 31% of the market, but that’s still less than half Amazon’s share. And the playing field is about to get even tighter, as Apple’s HomePod smart speaker just went on sale February 9th.

      What does all this mean for smart homes? Google’s AI assistant, despite lower usage numbers than Amazon’s, scored highly on an independent assessment conducted by 360i, an NY-based digital marketing company. The Google name also carries a lot of weight with consumers, and efforts to increase the search giant’s hold on the smart speaker and smart home categories dovetail well with its other recent hardware bets, especially their Assistant-equipped Pixel phones. There'll most likely be a lot more Google Assistant-equipped devices running around the market, whether they be Google- or Nest-branded. Lastly, just as Amazon offers developers the chance to integrate with Alexa via “Skills,” Google’s “Actions” let programmers plug into the Assistant in similar ways.

      Amazon’s Alexa might have been the first to market and have a huge lead on the competition, but there was no way the other big tech companies were going to let that go uncontested. As AI assistant-equipped speakers and other smart home tech continues to propagate, you can bet that BuildingLink will stay on the leading edge, finding new ways to make buildings run better and thrill our customers!

      Don't have BuildingLink? Book a demo and see what this powerful platform can do!

      Stay tuned for our dedicated Aware! website.