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How Blackstone Is Experimenting With Tech

Blackstone's Cargo office scheme in Canary Wharf.

Last week it was possible to get a rare insight into how the world’s biggest real estate owner thinks about tech.

Lionel Hill was appointed chief technology officer for the European arm of the $140B real estate division of Blackstone in February, having joined from CBRE. It is the first time Blackstone has had a real estate CTO.

“We are in the experimental phase right now,” he said on a panel at the Future:PropTech conference in London. “We are looking at how we streamline operations across our portfolio companies so people feel positively about them. Despite the diversity of asset classes and operations there are commonalities and we are looking at what is common and building things around this.”

Hill gave the example of the office sector, where Blackstone owns tens of millions of square feet of office space across the world. He said rather than having one customer-facing brand across its offices, it was trialling using platforms like Equiem, HqO and Locale to improve tenant experience in the buildings, and would roll out the most successful technology across its portfolio.

“We would expect to standardise and settle on one or two,” he said. “We want to see how we can partner with one or two platforms and provide solutions for our offices.”

Hill was bullish about the concept of flexible leasing and space as a service, which he argued will spread well beyond the office sector.

“If you look at the restaurant world, the rate of people booking tables used to be 70-30 in favour of bookings, now it is 60-40 the other way. Whatever sector you are talking about people want flexibility. So you will see flexible leasing coming to logistics, definitely to retail, and maybe in some form to residential.”

In terms of how prevalent flexible leasing will become in offices he said, “I’ve seen research with figures ranging from 10-30%, and I’d say 20% is a figure I’d feel comfortable with.”

Hill said he was also interested in technology that allows asset owners to gather data on who is using their space.

“Mobile phone data can be used to see who goes in and out of a space and what type of person they are,” he said. “That can be aggregated to build a profile of a building and the type of person that is using it.”

In terms of the technology Blackstone uses to manage its business, one area Hill is looking at is how to manage such a large portfolio as efficiently as possible.

“We are not really a company, we are a conglomerate,” he said. “We might have tenants that have relationships with 20 of our portfolio companies but aggregating that information and using it is hard. It is not something we are that good at yet.”

He said the company had also been trialling using artificial intelligence software developed by Leverton to make the process of creating and signing leases quicker, and more broadly said that machine learning would have a major impact on the real estate sector.

Related Topics: Blackstone, PropTech, Equiem, HqO, Lionel Hill