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Akridge CTO Tommy Russo On The Growing Demand For Strong, Secure Office Connectivity

The Homer Building in Washington, D.C.

In a digital-dependent economy, office tenants expect a reliable internet connection. For commercial landlords and developers, connectivity has become an essential part of the tenant experience. Standards like WiredScore's Wired Certification, a commercial real estate rating system that empowers landlords to understand, improve and promote their buildings' digital infrastructure, have emerged to ensure offices are ready for the needs of modern tenants.

A recent report from CBRE found 90% of owners and property managers rank advanced communications as their most important selling point after more traditional real estate deal-makers like location, price and parking. The importance of connectivity will only continue to rise, as data production is expected to be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009. 

Akridge Chief Technology Officer Tommy Russo has seen firsthand the shifting priorities for commercial tenants. Since joining Akridge in 1997, Russo has been a leader in providing connectivity services to the developer's clients. At The Homer Building, a Wired Certified Platinum property in D.C., Russo installed the nation’s first complete neutral-host, in-building wireless system in a multiclient building.

Bisnow: In today's market, what are your tenants' top three demands regarding their office space?

Russo: Clients are asking for efficient floor plans, connectivity and amenities. From a connectivity perspective, everyone is demanding fiber. Copper no longer satisfies their needs. Clients want speed, access to the fastest providers and, ideally, multiple options from which they can choose. That’s one of the reasons why we pride ourselves on having multiple ISPs servicing properties like The Homer Building and 1200 17th St. NW in D.C. The amenities that today’s clients want often vary from client to client. That said, they are focusing more and more on communal space within the property. This often means a rooftop terrace, private event space or conference facilities. In order to fully integrate amenity spaces in the office culture, you must ensure they offer WiFi and mobile coverage. No one will value those amenities if they can’t connect from them.

Bisnow: Over the last 10 years, how have your tenants’ needs changed?

Russo: Ten years ago, a T1 [line] was plenty of connectivity. Today that is about as fast as a dial-up connection. Clients must connect to other office locations and the web to do business. Businesses cannot operate if they can’t communicate on a real-time basis. This problem is only growing in complexity as we move toward cloud tech and data centers, which makes us more dependent on connectivity every day.  

Bisnow: How important is internet connectivity to Akridge’s portfolio?

Russo: Connectivity is crucial to Akridge. We prioritize connectivity infrastructure in the design process and manage every aspect of connectivity in our buildings to ensure that our clients have access to the most secure, reliable and cost-effective services. Akridge is committed to providing reliable internet and telecom connections in all the buildings we develop, as well as all the buildings we manage. Our clients are able to achieve more favorable standard level agreement terms because we maintain strategic partnerships with Tier 1 internet and telecom providers and implement redundancy of service, providing clients with more service provider choice. We also actively manage the building DMARCS (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance, a system used to prevent and detect emails with a forged sender address), preventing rogue providers. With that level of preparation, even if a client is unsure of which provider they prefer, having business-class connectivity available makes it easier for them to make an informed selection. We require full distribution of the fiber for any ISP to enter an Akridge building. This eliminates unnecessary build-out time and reduces setup delays for the clients so that their business can be fully operational. 

Bisnow: What do you think tenants are going to care about in the future?

Russo: It's all about optimizing efficiency: of space, of workers and of systems. The key is to understand how closely related these aspects are. Efficient space saves not only clients money on rent, but it also makes their employees more efficient because their offices are physically closer, enhancing collaboration. As their employees work more collaboratively, they require stronger and faster connectivity. These aspects each affect the bottom line of a business. Akridge takes all of this into account, applying a comprehensive view of what clients want whenever we develop and manage properties.

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