There are times when the advantages of property technology are crystal clear. PropTech can sometimes help commercial real estate professionals identify and seize opportunities in a matter of days, whereas an older tool may have required weeks or months – at which point the opportunity may have passed.
Such a scenario was shared by Daniel Levison, CEO of CRE Holdings, during a panel at CRE.Converge 2022 as he outlined two instances in which his firm rapidly identified opportunities thanks to tech tools. One relates to the electric vehicle (EV) charging station gold rush sparked by the recent $7.5 billion federal allocation under President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Partnering with Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, and inputting criteria such as parcel size, proximity to the interstate, and proximity to power substations, his firm identified the owners of 25 strategic spots along the I-20 corridor in Georgia in less than one week.
“There are groups that have raised a tremendous amount of money to focus on commercial vehicle charging stations,” said Levison. “So, we will either try to flip those sites to them or do a joint venture.”
The other project, a conversion of a landfill site to a solar farm, turned up a prospective site in a few days. If done “the old-fashioned way,” said Levison, it would have taken months.
Other times, however, the pros and cons of any given PropTech decision are murky, at best.
Celeste Tanner, chief development officer at Confluent Development, who served as session moderator, asked the panelists how they wade through the “sea of options” continually being marketed to organizations.
Ryan Rademann, senior manager of construction and real estate, Wipfli, LLP, noted that companies should seek to tap into the capabilities of applications that they already have. In addition, “just let the business problems surface, and then go out in search of the right solution for it,” he said. Sometimes, he added, those solutions “may exist inside your organization.”
Ben Grippi, head of strategic real estate technology at The RMR Group, said his firm focuses on four pillars when evaluating its use of technology: revenue generation, such as monetizing Wi-Fi; decreasing operational expenses, such as leveraging artificial intelligence to better manage energy use; acquiring, normalizing and putting intelligence on top of data; and gaining a better understanding of customer behaviors, such as a tenant experience app, to help manage and cultivate those relationships.
Panelists discussed navigating the tension between being so cutting-edge and innovative that they are on the “bleeding edge” where they encounter bugs and other problems, versus being so slow to adopt a piece of technology that they are left behind and at a competitive disadvantage.
Marat Safir, ITRA, principal and co-founder, TMG Real Estate Advisors, noted that one flaw in the marketplace is that many companies “look at one-sided systems, whereas we’re a two-sided system. We incorporate all our stakeholders on a transaction, which limits the amount of potential error, of somebody else who has to upload data, has to do double work after certain stages of a deal…that’s a huge issue today with PropTech.”
Much of the discussion covered various cautions, such as this one from Grippi: “Don’t ever let anyone own your data; don’t let anyone take your data if they fold up. You need a way to be able to receive that information.”
Rademann voiced strong skepticism about consultants and others who tout tech that purportedly serves as “connectors out there as being the solution.”
“All of a sudden, picture all the arrows that you’ve got,” he said, indicating a level of complexity that can be problematic.
Rademann also encouraged those in attendance to educate themselves on Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) “when it comes to trying to crack this code of a long-term reorganization …this centralized brain that knows how to orchestrate the movement of this data across a number of those systems.”
Rademann added that iPaaS underscores the benefits of open API, which enables universal access to consumers, “so that it can connect to this master hub, rather than relying on these connectors for every individual app that exists in your [system].”
Panelists also said to be inclusive and collaborative in making decisions – which results in more buy-in than if decisions are made in isolation – and to be careful about which tech providers they retain, such as start-ups that might not have the financial wherewithal to survive for the long term. Companies should not shy away from asking a prospective vendor about its financial health, so that “if I turn over my back office to you, [I know] you’re going to be here” for years to come, said Levison.