Chicago – State of CREtech: The Executives POV

A panel of executives spoke at the DisruptCRE event in Chicago about the state of the commercial real estate industry from their perspective, and how it is evolving given technological developments.

  • Moderator: Mariel Ebrahimi, Co-Founder & CEO – DisruptCRE
  • Rachel Mitz, Director of Development – Equity Office Properties
  • Stephen Sise, SVP, Portfolio Management – Golub & Co.
  • Aaron Meyerson, Director of Business Operations – WiredScore
  • Christopher Baker, Director of Asset Management – Zeller Realty Group

How has technology changed your business?

Sise answered first, addressing the fact that tech evolution has brought, so far, a major shift in focus.

“There’s so much more to look at now in terms of technology and it feels like in the last 10 years we’ve spent time just trying to figure out what technology we need,” Sise said. “What are people looking for whether it’s our residents in apartment buildings or tenants in commercial offices but today I think we’re starting to recognize it’s really we’re never gonna fully automate our buildings. At the end of the day this is still a people business. Technology can offer better interactions and still provide a level of feedback, gathering data to see what tenants like and what’s important to them. Are they using those amenities we’re spending dollars on?”

For Mitz, technological changes came with greater attention to data, and some updates to staffing.

Mitz said technology helped her company “better understand what our tenants want before they know what they want…so when we present to them instead of hearing their needs and saying let us get back to you we can actually present what we think their needs are and see how that follows through. Also, just from a staffing perspective, we’ve never had this before, we just hired a VP of Technology and Innovations and he’s staffing up.”

What are the top priorities that you are hearing from your clients as it relates to technology implementation within their portfolios?

Meyerson discussed three main points, which involved human productivity, environmental efficiency, and data-based optimization.

“I really think that it falls into three main things that we’re seeing one is around productivity so how can create a space that encourages productivity which means tracking when people are in out of conference rooms so that you can better utilize that space and be as productive as possible and the second thing is really around the environment you know how can we manage the HVAC using smart sensors, using occupancy sensors in and out of buildings as people leave or come to manage the HVAC systems and using that BMS to its full potential. The third thing is really around the experience so looking at all of the data that we’re getting from occupancy, from productivity, from all of these things to manage the use of our spaces collectively so can we activate or deactivate certain parts of our building at certain times based on the things that we’re learning historically from the trends that we’re following. So it’s really about creating that collaborative space and looking at those three those three main things.”

Meyerson also told audience, “Our partners are really asking about mobile connectivity. All the different apps and technologies that are out there are great and many of us use them on our phones so if our buildings aren’t connected from a mobile perspective then we literally can’t use any of these technologies.”

In your experience, in what industry vertical is technology making the greatest impact?

For Baker, the biggest impact had to do with energy efficiency, and the new possibilities data have opened up.

“Our biggest thing is just the energy efficiency. You have real-time data to look at your building, look how it’s run you can change it automatically you can change it from a computer these aren’t manual systems anymore so just being able to save energy I mean we have an Energy contest every year amongst all our buildings at our portfolio so it’s one of our biggest focuses and I think that’s where technology’s really made a big impact in real estate,” Baker said.

What new roles will be created in light of machine learning, augmented reality, big data and other transformational technologies?

“Project managers with property managers I think we’re gonna have software managers,” Sise said.

“You’re gonna see more positions that bridge the gap between your traditional financial roles and your technology roles,” Mitz said.

Meyerson touched on the need for retraining existing staff. “I think there’s a lot of retraining to do,” he said. “Property managers know they’re building inside and out they might not know how to use the new systems that manage all of the equipment in their building and some sort of retraining and on the existing property management and engineers in the building so that they can leverage the systems that here that landlords are investing in I think will be really important.”

Baker, meanwhile, focused on integration. “At some point, we’ll need somebody to manage all those platforms and restrictions around who has access, who doesn’t have access, how do they interact, is there a platform out there that can consolidate or what-have-you but you know maybe we’re teetering on that point but not quite there yet.”

What technology are you most excited to see developed or mature in the market?

Baker asked the audience for a competitor to Argus saying there hasn’t been a need to improve since there’s not a real competitor out there. Meyerson went with augmented reality, ” for two reasons, for the tenant benefit of being able to see what the space could look like if they fit it out, and the other is for facilities management and being able to the utilities behind the walls to directly address issues that are going on in the building”.
For Mitz it’s “Artificial intelligence and machine learning to see how all this data can actually produce things for us that can help make our lives easier, smarter and anticipate our needs.”

Sise was less traditional going with recruiting “recruiting and finding talent is really important but it’s a struggle to find good candidates. How do I find that candidate who’s in Dallas who maybe wants to move to Chicago? We’re looking at creating databases of candidates and connections. And then robots.”