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Technology Creating New Ways To Invest, Manage And Work In Buildings

Technology is changing not only how buildings are bought and run, but also how people are interacting within them. Several platforms are making it possible to bring technology on board that streamlines employee days, makes buildings safer and more secure or gathers and reports data in new ways for those managing the building.

Carbon Lighthouse's Eric Brown, Waypoint's Brian Wong, CBRE's Ashley Lippitt, Smarking's Wen Sang, Datawatch Systems' Ted Low and Buchalter's Manuel Fishman

To meet these demands, more commercial real estate companies are hiring technology officers. Dealpath co-founder and CEO Mike Sroka said many CRE firms didn't have technology officers when his firm was meeting with those companies even a few years ago, but now more than half do.

"It's clearly maturing very, very quickly," said Sroka, whose firm provides a cloud-based real estate deal management platform.

Advances in technology and their applications for investment, management and end users were discussed at Bisnow's San Francisco CRE Tech Summit May 9 at Hotel Nikko.

Some of those advances have come from addressing internal needs, as was the case with CBRE's Host. About six years ago, CBRE moved to a full "free-address" workplace where no one had their own office, but everyone could reserve the space they needed for when they needed it, whether a desk or a conference room.

That approach has efficiencies, but it also raised a question, said Ashley Lippitt, head of Host Labs for CBRE. If technology would allow more employees to work remotely from home, why would they want to come into the office? What was the added value and benefit?

The company determined there was a need for a higher level of service that made the workplace a destination where employees wanted to be.

That led to a discussion of the user experience, which was a key factor for many of the companies at the event: Where are the pain points and how can they be addressed?

CBRE looked at what made it hard for people to work in an office, such as meeting room logjams or technology breakdowns, Lippitt said. It then looked at how to create community and a sense of belonging.

Panelists and attendees network at Bisnow's San Francisco CRE Tech Summit.

The result was Host, which offers a technology solution, such as scheduling meetings or reserving workspace using an app, as well as a human one through a dedicated concierge. It became something CBRE could use in its own offices and offer to its external partners and enterprise clients, Lippitt said. Customers can choose the technology solution, concierge or both.

"The point of Host is it allows us to meet people where they are," she said.

She offered up an anecdote of what this looks like: On a recent trip, she stepped into a CBRE office between meetings and one of the "hosts" walked up and handed her a bowl of peanut butter pretzels. He had remembered she liked peanut butter pretzels from the last time she was there and knew she would likely be hungry running between meetings.

"It showed me that someone was out there caring for me," she said. "It creates that stickiness that makes me want to stay."

There was also a lot of discussion of what could be done with real-time data.

Smarking uses real-time data to inform property owners of what is going on in their parking properties. It also can create pricing adjustments for events as spots become more scarce or allow people to use their phones to reserve a parking space the same way they do an airplane seat or a hotel room, co-founder and CEO Wen Sang said.

Carbon Lighthouse uses an array of sensors to determine building energy usage in real time and algorithms to determine energy savings. Such data is becoming increasingly important as cities like New York and San Francisco are seeking to increase policy pressure on carbon emissions, Executive Vice President of Business Development Eric Brown said.

"It shifts from being an operational headache to being a real strategic driver," he said.

Symbium's Leila Banijamali, Bumblebee Spaces' Justin Botros, Brookfield Ventures' Judah Siegel, Dealpath's Mike Sroka, JLL Spark's Kitty Sullivan, Prologis Ventures' Breton Birkhofer and TenantSee at Cushman & Wakefield's Greg Fogg

Ultimately, the decision to invest in these types of platforms comes down to creating a tenant experience that is going to attract and retain tenants and their employees, said Ted Low, senior vice president of Datawatch Systems, an access control company.

"Tenants today want technology, convenience and peace of mind. Inside management wants ways to streamline operations," he said.

The best programs can provide both. He noted that Datawatch also acts as an emergency management platform. In an active shooter situation, a manager can click one link and lock down an entire campus of buildings and hit another to send an automatic message to tell those on-site to shelter in place and those away from the campus to stay away.

The next question is what to do with so much data, which is something companies like Waypoint are tackling.

"We see a lot of our clients struggling with proliferation of performance data across their portfolio," Head of Client Experience Brian Wong said.

Waypoint seeks to create a central hub to bring all of that information together and present it in a format companies can use internally to benchmark and to report back on performance.

"Connectivity and having flexibility between your software tools and other technology tools is so important as a landlord," he said.

Sroka also talked about the need to integrate information as more companies leverage software services that help unlock market data.

"As firms and teams are adopting more of these tools to unlock value, these tools need to be integrated to seamlessly transfer data between them," Sroka said. "Not only can we learn how to become experts in evaluating software and technology, but also being thoughtful in how we integrate [them]."