Smart Buildings, Smarter Landlords: Takeaways From Disrupt CRE

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Smart technology, data, machine learning and automated systems are powering the building community and driving new opportunities within CRE.
  • Key takeaways from the recent Disrupt CRE conference in New York City
  • New technologies are at the heart of massive developments in the CRE sector
  • From machine learning to big data, the key message was, “If you’re in the CRE business, you’re in the technology business”

About five years after the first wave of CRE technology, which focused on streamlining leasing, we have now entered the next stage: creating an experience.

That’s the conclusion that leading members of the real estate and technology community reached during the recent Disrupt CRE conference in New York City.

Developers, landlords, operators, designers and strategists spoke of the growing impact of technology on the building community, as it transitions from the embryonic to infancy stage.

Among some of the key takeaways:

1. Technology is creating a human-centric workplace or building experience.

Technology touches the entire spectrum, from security to marketing and operations, yielding efficiency and savings. But the net result is a better experience for tenants, one that not only makes people want to come to work but allows them to be more productive.

2. CRE technology is making connections and changing relationships.

From energy to elevators, technology has changed the landlord tenant relationship, eliminating layers so tenants can now get rapid responses and things fixed almost immediately.

In the Internet of Things, where everything is a connective device, technology and connectivity is ubiquitous. IT networks connect everything — Wi-Fi, elevators, turnstile, HVAC systems — which helps control comfort, security and rapid response in case of emergency.

3. New mobility is a game-changer.

Technology has enabled building engineers to transition from a tool belt to an iPhone, iPad and diagnostic machine that can identify problems and solve them on site where they are.

4. If you’re in the real estate business, you’re in the technology business.

IT is now very much part of the development, design and building process, integrally involved from the beginning across every aspect of building operation, from renovations of space to how it’s utilized.

Data platforms provide ongoing feedback to better understand how to improve buildings.

5. Integrated data across multiple platforms can reveal previously unseen insights that improve decision-making, planning and future proofing.

The challenge in commercial real estate is that portfolios are diverse, acquisitions were done at different times, and infrastructures were put in over decades. It can make it difficult to get a common set of data and insights. But multiple platforms that can integrate data show patterns inside buildings and across portfolios that wouldn’t otherwise be seen.

As more data streams get correlated, insights that seem hard to find become obvious. Integration brings context to disparate data points that can track productivity, health, energy efficiency, and a wealth of other important factors that ultimately lead to a better building experience.

The arrival of the open platform will further integrate these technologies, as panelists agreed no single platform currently covers the spectrum of what’s required in real estate.

6. It’s not about the data.

It’s what you do with the data. Whether it’s actionable, useful or not, whether you share it with customers or not, making sense of the data is powerful.

Innovation will improve the tenant experiences, but operationally, technology must generate cost savings that improve efficiencies to generate profit. And, at the end of the day, we’re going to be more efficient by how we use the data.

7. Technology adds muscle to the marketing mix.

Leveraging data findings can create new stickiness and new relationships with tenants.

Technology can also level the playing field when an old building is competing with a new building, allowing landlords to offer mid-size firms a work experience similar to that of Google and Amazon.

“The tenant experience is important to us because that’s what attracts people to our buildings,” a speaker shared. To create that experience, owners are taking older buildings off the market, adding amenities and technology to be more competitive.

“Landlords want to be able to take the technology innovation they’ve built into their building and say to a prospective tenant, ‘Hey, you should come to our building because your employees are going to be X more productive and efficient than the guy next door.’”

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8. Systems must be mobile, simple, effective, and support must be available.

Mobility has increased usage, but if technology is too complicated, adoption will drop off and the system will be eliminated from next year’s budget.

If it involves changing systems, it must be 10X better than the current system to force a change in somebody’s behavior and having to retrain them to use a new system.

Tech vendors must be vetted as well, “If we’re looking at a new company and we’re going to do a pilot, we want to make sure they’re going to be around in a year or two to service what they’re selling us,” a panelist noted.

When evaluating technology products, decision-making comes down to how well it integrates with existing systems, so data can be shared across platforms.

Connecting at the office should be as simple and seamless, and as painless and authentic, as our Apple TV at home, Facetime on our iPhone, and as secure as what you would expect in your corporate setting.

9. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality will have tremendous impact in the real estate industry.

Machine learning and AI will ultimately make us smarter, have better insights, run our real estate more efficiently and produce a better experience for tenants, residents and employees, according to panelists.

All are being proactively tested to some degree to identify the patterns and trends ahead. The panelists agreed that VR and AR hold enormous potential for the real estate industry, from offering better tour experiences to improved amenities for tenants and advertising. However, they felt the technology was not quite ready yet.

Machine learning and AI can also help humanize dashboards that display a lot of data, so you can learn from it and use it to your advantage to run your buildings more efficiently. Machine learning helps tell a meaningful story that’s local, personal and interactive and not just a lot of tactical content.

10. AR and VR can save money and engage a broader audience.

Not only are they powerful and exciting, VR and AR can translate to real life cost savings and a more engaging experience that reaches more people. For example, a virtual mockup can deliver an experience for a fraction of the cost of an actual mockup. Additionally, it allows you to engage people you normally wouldn’t touch, since not everyone is comfortable reading plans or specifications. People at all levels can interact with the design and give real feedback to the team.

11. Technology enhances collaboration.

Unlike many other aspects of the real estate business, technology encourages collaboration among landlords, with many firms sharing best practices.

Technology and innovation is still relatively new to the real estate industry, but many landlords understand that sharing some key ideas will propel everyone to make a better end product for customers.

Technology has eased data sharing, allowing reporting to the investment community on levels of sustainability, energy, efficiency, all of which are conversations that would not have happened 7 or 10 years ago.

12. Technology improves the user experience.

CRE has learned technology is just one piece of the building and community; the experience you’re delivering on a day-to-day basis comes from collecting and utilizing data for guidance.

Focusing on technologies that improve tenant experience will ultimately drive the most value for the business.

13. Landlords must plan for future innovations that affect infrastructure.

New innovations such as autonomous vehicles have wide-ranging impact. When they are more widely adopted and available, parking requirements will drastically shift, forcing current parking areas to be reprogrammed to something more useful. Some firms are thinking about building garages that can be repurposed for something else in the future.

14. Diligence in security is expected at all levels.

Managing security – physical safety and virtual assurances – is paramount. Security will increasingly be an issue in densely populated urban environments when contract workers comprise half of the workforce entering and departing facilities.

Companies are already learning from Facebook that “if you own buildings, you better make sure you own your data and that whatever entity is managing that data is not selling it out the back door. As an owner of real estate, we own liability for keeping people safe in a building; we’re never giving that away to a third party. And we look at our data the same way. So, if you’re looking at an integrated system, which you should if you want to future proof your buildings, make sure your data is your data and nobody has their fingers on it except you,” a panelist warned.

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