Implementing PropTech with Purpose

At CRE.Converge Virtual 2020, a panel of speakers from across the commercial real estate industry took part in a discussion to explore the latest PropTech, following the “why,” where to start, and which tools have the biggest impact on your bottom line.

Kate Bryden, vice president development for MRP Industrial LLC, moderated the panel, which included Aaron Ketner, director of sustainability/building performance specialist at Dekker/Perich/Sabatini; William O’Donnell, managing partner for Prologis Ventures; and Patrick McGrath, executive vice president, CIO and head of client technologies at Savills Studley.

WFH for Tenants and Your Team

When the coronavirus pandemic sent many workers home for the foreseeable future, it was in many cases a trial-by-fire as major companies scrambled to figure out their work-from-home processes and procedures. The speakers talked about their experiences leveraging technology during the pandemic, both in working within their own organizations and serving their clients.

“When COVID hit, we had to figure out: How do we put our employees in a spot where they have access to all of the resources and data they need?” said O’Donnell. “In a virtual environment, how to we share information with our clients? How do we digitize the leasing process or do digital tours?”

These were all initiatives Prologis had started to put in place, but the COVID-19 pandemic was an accelerator. While it wasn’t perfect the first day, O’Donnell said it really forced a very positive change.

The good teams out there are adapting. “From a client perspective, having your data in order around people and property is critical, especially as pricing shifts and demand shifts,” said McGrath. “We’re making sure we’re helping clients get that information, that it’s easily accessible.”

Ketner talked about what he’s seen in the architecture world. “As a building is being constructed, there is a necessary of digitization every communication.” He said there’s no longer a quick touch-base conversation at a construction site, for example. Plus, “coordinating social distancing on construction sites requires a lot of next-level effort.”

Data Capture with Purpose

With the Internet of Things (IoT), beacons, sensors, and more as sources of a seemingly endless deluge of data points available for building owners and operators, how do you narrow your focus to ensure maximum efficiency and ROI?

“Data for the sake of data is worthless,” said O’Donnell. “What insights or action can you take from that data? What problem do you have, what data can you collect to help enhance your decision making?”

O’Donnell added that he sees real value in tools that alert the property manager, for example, when there is a problem at a site like a leak, which allows for immediate action.

“Capturing on a day-to-day basis how many times a door is opened isn’t necessarily useful. Reams of data without insight produce no ROI. We focus on what insights our customers need to be more operational and more efficient.”

On the other hand, McGrath used an example of wearable health technologies, like Fitbit trackers or the Apple Watch, which allow you to track personal health information. “Apply that to large portfolios. At some level you want to know what the ‘heartbeat’ is, but you don’t need to know other more granular data.”

All of the speakers talked about tools and technology that provide data to enhance decision-making – without replacing it.

McGrath added another point: “In a lot of big decision processes, there tends to be a lot of political hyperbole, and people feel certain ways based on gut or instinct. The more you can introduce a fact-based approach, you’re able to better allocate resources and prioritize.”

WELL Building and Health Tech Integration

O’Donnell said Prologis is investing heavily in WELL buildings. “One of the greatest underlying challenges our customers face is labor retention,” he said. The company’s industrial tenants see high turnover rates, and the labor itself is often physically demanding. Worker safety is a major consideration.

“We’re systematically examining what we as a building owner can do to help our tenants recruit and retain workers,” he said.

Following the COVID-19 crisis, McGrath said he’s seen many offices integrating thermal imaging in the lobby. “I’ve had a push for a frictionless experience coming in and out of buildings, technology to more efficiently manage building energy use. Those are some areas that are very active right now,” he added.

“We’re seeing the energy implications that might go along with some of the UV sterilization and additional air filtration,” Ketner said. His team has analyzed and scored different building configurations based on risk – “Is this a 75% risk space or 25% risk space?”

Building a Tech Strategy – Big or Small

So where does an organization start when looking to build their tech strategy?

“Establish the ‘why’ at the highest level,” said McGrath. “Why are you doing it?”

O’Donnell agreed: “What are your one or two pain points? Don’t try to do too much at once.”

And while every company may not have the significant resources that behemoths like Prologis do, the speakers agreed that there’s no need for investment in a big-ticket, shiny tech tool to make a difference. 

“It’s a commitment to learning and evolving, more so than making a significant investment. It’s a mindset,” said McGrath.

“It’s easy to get enamored with the bells and whistles. Sometimes there is a technology searching for a solution. If you understand your pain points, you can invest in technology that solves it. Pick a few key areas to improve on,” said O’Donnell.

“At any scale you can use technology to assist you,” Ketner added.

“Big or small, you’ll get left behind if you don’t embrace technology,” said O’Donnell. “If you’re 3-5 years behind in tech, it’s hard to catch up.”

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