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How An ‘Operating System’ For CRE Could Speed The Return To The Office

HqO CEO Chase Garbarino

Even though most of their users are stuck at home, the real estate technologists are still hard at work revolutionizing the day-to-day experience for office workers. 

HqO, a tenant experience software company, has recently launched what it calls an operating system for commercial office buildings. The former startup, which now counts CRE titans like Hines and Vornado among its client base, wants to make its new platform — dubbed “HqOS” — the gateway for innovative proptech creators to reach forward-thinking landlords and vice versa.

“We’ve always thought of HqO like an operating system, but we’ve hesitated to use that name before,” HqO CEO Chase Garbarino said. “Now, we feel we’re ready to deliver on that promise.” 

The CRE industry is banking on technology to solve many of its pressing issues as cities slowly reopen. Bisnow spoke with Garbarino and HqO Chief Technology Officer Jim Butler to talk about the launch of HqOS and the role it will play in the recovery from the current crisis.

Bisnow: Why do you call HqOS an ‘operating system’ for commercial real estate? 

Butler: In technology, an operating system manages the complexity of the underlying computer, phone or laptop, so that app developers don’t actually have to worry about the details of the hardware or memory or CPU, they can just build what they want. We’re trying to do the same for buildings: to provide a layer that manages all the complexity and craziness of the physical environment. 

Bisnow: What will the new platform actually consist of?

Garbarino: First, there’s a marketplace of different technology solutions. So far, we’ve integrated 20 apps across nine categories. These are things like digital access control apps, which let you use your phone to swipe into your building, apps to submit work orders for your office, or order food so you don’t have to wait in line, as well as communications platforms and public transportation trackers. The goal is to help build an entire ecosystem of technology providers adding value to buildings.

Butler: Then there’s the Digital Grid. There’s an enormous amount of data available across buildings owners’ portfolios, but it’s not usually well-captured or in an actionable state. What we’re rolling out in the next few months is a comprehensive way to map out and track a building and its systems — the smart devices, access control, HVAC, lighting, density monitors, amenities, air quality systems — so that owners can start deriving actionable insights. Maybe you see in real time how improving air quality in your gym improves usage and customer satisfaction. 

We’re also going to provide, in an anonymized fashion, a way for owners to see how they stack up against other buildings, so we can answer questions like ‘How effective is our property strategy? How happy are the people in my building?’ What we’ve learned is that there’s a strong correlation between understanding what your tenants want and operating your building to its highest value.

An example landing page in HqOS

Bisnow: A lot of the proposals that we’re seeing about how to reopen offices rely on touchless technologies and on-demand services — it feels like this is an apt time for a platform like HqOS to be rolling out.

Garbarino: We started designing HqOS long before this crisis struck, and we wish that we could have rolled out at a time other than a pandemic. The health impacts of this virus are so shocking and saddening, and it has made life and business difficult for so many people.

But given what we’re seeing now, yes, this kind of platform is a painkiller, not a vitamin. There are some critical, fundamental problems that landlords have that technology can help solve. The coronavirus is going to force commercial real estate to reinvent itself. Landlords have the option to be problem solvers and benefit their business, or to sit on their hands.  

Butler: From the position of an operating system, we’re not trying to figure out the solutions to everyone’s problems, we’re enabling others to figure out clever solutions and to plug them into the real estate market in a much faster way.  

We’re having conversations with different potential partners in contactless technologies, like a way to summon an elevator without pressing a button or keypad, and access control to particular areas of a building, the sorts of technologies that are going to make it safer and faster to return to the office. 

Garbarino: What we saw even before the coronavirus was that landlords want to build unique property experiences. The response to the virus is no different. One of our partners is developing an app to give tenants the ability to send daily questionnaires to their employees before they come into the office, about whether they’ve had a fever, or come into contact with someone infected. That’s a use case that wouldn’t have existed 90 days ago.

Bisnow: When is HqOS being rolled out?

Garbarino: Many of the elements were just launched on Monday, most importantly the Marketplace, which works like any app store, so landlords can log in to HqOS and see all the third-party technologies they can procure. We’re rolling out the Digital Grid data infrastructure in Q3 to select clients.

Bisnow: What asset classes are you anticipating will use HqOS?

Garbarino: Right now, we are predominantly in office assets and retailers associated with offices, but we built HqOS to be asset-class agnostic. Obviously, an office employee will want a different mix of capabilities than a multifamily resident. Where HqOS shines is in mixed-use developments where asset classes overlap and merge, for instance, a residential building with a coworking space and on-site restaurant.

Bisnow: Why is it so important that all these capabilities live in one place?

Garbarino: The statistics are pretty clear that people will only use seven to nine apps on a weekly basis. As a stand-alone app, it’s really hard to crack into people’s routines. If landlords have the opportunity to bundle all that functionality into one place, that will drive adoption and use.

Bisnow: You mentioned that part of HqO’s mission is to drive human connections. How can you foster connection when we all have to stay 6 feet apart?

Garbarino: We believe in the power of real connection which can happen online, but we believe it is impossible to replace human connection in the real world, even if we are 6 feet apart. Landlords have a leading role in bringing people back together amidst this crisis and they must leverage technology to help us rebuild our local communities and make people feel safe interacting again. History has shown that epidemics often to lead to the adoption of new technologies that make our physical environments safer and more efficient without sacrificing our deep human need for connection. This crisis will be no different if landlords and technology providers come together to develop creative solutions.

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and HqO. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.