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Don’t Be Held Back By Fear: AI Can Help You Grow Your Business


We all know about generative artificial intelligence, but how many people can truthfully say they know the best use for it in their business? While 96% of organisations say exploring AI is on the boardroom agenda, a third of employees across Europe are using a tool not approved by their company, potentially putting their organisation at risk, Salesforce Market Strategist Ed Thompson said. 

In contrast, forward-looking organisations that have their data in order achieve impressive efficiencies, Salesforce Regional Vice President and Head of Built Environment Yalda Gerami said. These tools can support company growth, allowing even the most highly paid employees to be more productive. 

Following their talk at Bisnow’s Artificial Intelligence — Enhancing the Built Environment webinar, Gerami and Thompson talked about how AI should be used in the built environment. The main message was that although people might be held back by fears of both security and unknown costs, when implementation is planned properly, the gains can be huge.

Bisnow: Given the many possible applications of generative AI, what uses are there in the built environment, specifically?

Yalda Gerami: The power of data can be huge. Take supply chains. Today, we can look at every element of a supply chain, from the sustainability of supplies right up to anti-slavery and human rights. Before, analysis would take months.  

In reality, AI reduces time and effort and allows us to not only gain from efficiencies but look at a sustainable way to use data. We can use AI to understand the behaviour of our customers to reduce energy consumption or proactively support all elements of property management, from legal processes to engagement with an occupier. 

Bisnow: Where should an AI-curious organisation start?

Ed Thompson: They’ve already started, actually. Last October more than half of companies were piloting or in production with generative AI solutions, and we know that's now more than 95% of organisations.

The trouble is, more than half of employees across Europe are using a tool not approved by their company. They’re sharing data with the outside world in a tool like ChatGPT, which could be putting their organisations at risk.

The challenge facing boardrooms is knowing which use cases to pursue. They might have already identified hundreds of ways to use AI. There’s an element of AI fatigue. The initial excitement has faded, and they are faced with the hard reality of how to actually make it work. 

Bisnow: What else is holding the built environment back from implementing AI? 

Thompson: The main challenge is data. Few organisations currently have data in an AI-ready state, which is the main reason why many AI pilot projects are failing. A business might have contracts stashed in 50 different systems across a company in different formats, which can’t be used to train a generative AI tool. 

Realising this is a problem is a hard lesson for organisations. The next question from a chief executive will be: How much will it cost to get the data right? 

Gerami: We also see a lot of fear around security and trust. There’s a general idea that AI is being done to us, it’s not something we have control over. People don’t see it as something we can be proactive with. 

The result is organisations are trying to do it all internally, which is costing more and more money. Salesforce is a cloud-based platform, and we make sure that when we’re handling customers’ data, we protect it. We ensure our customers don’t violate any data protection laws, and we have a strong ethics team focused on the ethical use of generative AI. 

Bisnow: To lay the groundwork for AI implementation, what should a company consider?

Thompson: First, there’s trust with employees to consider. Some employees are concerned that if an organisation adopts AI, it might start laying people off. However, in every boardroom meeting I’ve been in, nobody's planning to lay anybody off in favour of this technology in the next few years. In fact, they’re talking about adopting it due to a shortage of staff and recruitment difficulties. 

In reality, AI can get people away from doing boring, manual tasks. Our focus at Salesforce is how to make people more productive in the flow of work — in design, contracts, leasing, legal, planning and so much more. If you have a solution that can scan a photo and write a property listing, as we do, people can better use their time managing client relationships.

At the board level, chief executives should be asking: who has the highest salary in this organisation and how do we make them more productive? Because that’s where the biggest return on investment will be. AI is a conversation about growth, not cost-cutting.

Bisnow: How can using a single platform and following a measured strategy help an organisation get the most from AI? 

Gerami: Every organisation in the built environment has a Northern Star of where they want to be with AI, but they’re all still on the journey to get there. They start with renovation, then evolution and then finally get to the point where they’re able to do something they hadn’t dreamed of. They need to create big datasets to get to that Northern Star. 

This is where the power of a platform as large as Salesforce comes in. Salesforce allows you to start as small or as big as you like on a single platform. It’s much more than a CRM. It gives landlords, developers and facilities managers a customer-centric view at every stage, from design and build to servicing their occupiers. We think about the actual processes our customers use in order to collect the right data and develop algorithms that can support that. 

Bisnow: What is your advice to a boardroom trying to strategise around AI?

Thompson: Don’t sit on your hands and do nothing. You need to be willing to experiment and throw things away if they don’t work. It then comes down to value. Chief executives and finance officers are not just interested in how much they can save, but how much they can grow. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Salesforce and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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