DisruptCRE NYC: The State of CRE Tech Tools

On March 29th, 2018, a panel of CRE executives gathered at the 4th Annual DisruptCRE New York City event to discuss transactional technology supporting commercial real estate. The panelists included:

  • Hussain Ali-Khan, Global Alliance Director at CBRE (Moderator)
  • Satish Nagrani, Director of Business Applications at The Durst Organization
  • Lucia Diana, Head of Global Real Estate Transactions, Verizon
  • Anthony Colonna, Senior VP, Innovation Construction Solutions, Skanska
  • Gabrielle McMillan, CEO at Equiem

Why do you think CRE Professionals are turning to technology more frequently these days, and what is peaking your interest?

Diana addressed the question of the tech boom in the commercial real estate space. She discussed how her work involves finding spaces of ideal size and style for say, lawyers versus marketing teams, and how sensors could be used to find the ideal size.

“The technology that’s peaked our interest is sensors, people counters,” Diana said. “Not so much to know where a certain person is but the space we’ve designed…we’ll get clients saying we need 80 seats, but when you utilize it there’s only 25 people there at a given time, we’re not taking advantage of this whole flexible market where I can just downsize. It’s not just to make decisions from the data, but to start a conversation.”

Nagrani answered this question finding greater efficiency. “There are systems out there that will help us do our jobs better and make better decisions, and in the end it also comes down to being competitive in the marketplace,” he said.

Colonna focused on construction, which Ali-Khan pointed out tends to be somewhat of a lagging industry when it comes to innovation.”It is [lagging], but what’s fascinating is in the last three years, the volume…of venture capital that’s coming into this space is really dramatic. And it’s because the investors see the opportunities. The biggest challenge is winnowing out what we focus on,” he said. For us it’s really about collaboration first and foremost. On one side with our owners and the other side with our contractors.

How do you activate your flexible working program and how do you use the data to enhance your programs?

Mcmillan tackled this question first. “Building a community to engage with your customers almost takes an opposite path to the way in which you would construct a building,” she said. “Typically when you construct a building you know exactly what you’re going to do brick by brick before the shovel goes into the ground. When you’re building a community its almost the opposite. The very first thing you need to do is start building and start engaging with that community. So the way the data is used is…experimental, which is a little bit scary sometimes in the real estate industry, but it needs to be experimental, it needs to be agile.”

Colonna discussed how VR had saved tens of thousands on mockups for a student residence on the West Coast. He also described the quality of the mockup.  “You walk through the room, we actually put the university’s website on the computer on the desk in this virtual world,” he said. “You can actually interface with the mockup, you can open the blinds, you can see the sun from morning till night.”

Nagrani answered in terms of tools that streamline the actual transactions of commercial real estate. “There’s bunch of systems out there that focus on how to track deals, how to get the most out of your deals,” he said. “…it’s just going to make you more competitive and get the lease going faster.”

Diana discussed an exciting project Verizon had its sights set on. “What I’m most excited about for Verizon…we’re building a smart city down in Texas,” She said. “It will be a living lab…we’re not calling it a smart city we’re calling it a connected city because…the minute you come off the Dart Rail, your app will come to life…it will tell you…how long is the line at the Starbucks, how fresh is the fish at the restaurant…all those kinds of things.”

As for the question of what technology seemed most exciting in the future, Mcmillan discussed how landlords and real estate professionals are faced with a world of options and new choices when it comes to tech, and how she looked forward to this stabilizing, as well as an integrated technology that covers the full spectrum of real estate needs. “I’m looking forward to technology fading into the background and doing what tech does, and creating…a human experience that makes me want to come to work every day, but also helps me be more productive,” she said.