First of all, let me say that in general, I learn very little in the men’s bathroom. Pretty mundane stuff, although TV monitors in new bathrooms means I can at least get some news and sports scores.
Being on top of things in the tech world can give you an edge in pretty much any industry, and CRE is no exception.
It was some time coming, but technology has taken up residence at the heart of the CRE industry, and it can serve us well, both as a vehicle for productivity and as a way to attract and retain the best and brightest in our field.
For the past few years, office demand has been rising faster in cities than it has in the suburbs. And, this increase in demand has been occurring on a significant level too. Since 2010, the rents for office space in urban areas have increased on average by 18.7 percent, compared to the 3.3 percent growth exhibited for office space in the suburbs. Why is this occurring exactly? It’s because demand is being driven by the millennial generation, which is increasingly infiltrating the workforce, and their expectations are often much different than their baby boomer counterparts. For instance, this spike in urban office demand can be attributed to the fact that on average, millennials are seeking to occupy centralized locations that promote a work, live and play atmosphere and have convenient access to public transportation. A good number of millennials have massive amounts of student debt (the price of being the most educated generation in history) and therefore, are seeking to downsize and simplify in as many ways as possible. New technology has allowed them to achieve this in so many ways, and has had such a far-reaching impact on the way that people work that even industries that revolve around tangible assets (such as real estate) are being seriously affected. Collaborative workspaces and working remotely have now become much more common with regards to typical working environments, at least for the younger generation.
In terms of the industry veterans, composed mostly of baby boomers, adaptation to these new forms of technology has been occurring at a relative snail’s pace. Many power players who have successfully cut their teeth in the business still believe in the sanctity of interpersonal relationships above all else. They’re not completely oblivious to the prevalence of modern technology; they’re just less aware of it in terms of its direct effect on their bottom line.
Also, change is hard, especially when it comes to changing something that has worked well for so long. But, change is also ultimately necessary in the evolutionary sense in order to avoid extinction. The baby boomers in the real estate industry need to realize that the young up-and-comers aren’t just pimply faced, socially awkward number crunchers who feel more comfortable behind a computer screen than in a face-to-face meeting. This is an extremely shortsighted perspective that will eventually render close-minded CRE professionals who hold it as dinosaurs.
Why do baby boomers in commercial real estate need to catch up with the times? It’s simple. As I’ve written about extensively in previous blog entries, technology makes team members more accountable, while simultaneously enabling them to communicate better. In short, it promotes more efficiency, transparency and collaboration in a workplace. I don’t think that can ever be considered a bad thing when you have a team that’s working towards a common goal. You have to outfit them with the tools to be successful, and if you’re not knowledgeable in this area, the burden is on you as the team leader to take the reigns and improve your company. Remember: the competition is doing it.
Outside of the immense internal benefits that result from using the latest technology, you also, in turn, enhance your company’s brand as a reliable source and a thought leader in the industry. Big data and analytics-driven decision making have made it more possible than ever to identify future trends and plan accordingly, or even the ability capitalize on a specific anomaly that would have been previously unrecognizable had it not been for all of the data analysis. The reams of information now available at your fingertips makes the negotiation process easier as well. In terms of presenting a good investment opportunity, people aren’t forced to necessarily take your word for it anymore. Not only that, but in this day and age, they will probably be expecting some type of in-depth analysis.
While we shouldn’t underestimate the new workforce, they should know that technology alone will not get them to the promised land. There are tons of things that baby boomers can learn from Gen Y, but we have a few tricks up our sleeves too. Combining fundamental interpersonal skills with technology is when you will become a real estate rockstar. Once you can master the combination of personal relationships WITH technology, you are golden.
Data entry has made up a huge part of how companies have done business since computers were invented. It also happens to be a huge time suck. What’s the quickest way to drive someone crazy, especially in an office setting? Distractions and hiccups caused by inefficient processes (like data entry). But, there is newfound hope, especially given the recent introduction of modern technological solutions. Thanks to the application programming interfaces (APIs) and virtual private networks (VPNs) offered in the present day, we are no longer bound by the simplistic, inefficient, end-all be-all data entry processes.
Let’s talk about legacy systems. In my opinion, the problem is contained within the term itself: legacy. Personally, the first thing I think of when I hear this word is outdated. But, for the sake of fairness, let’s go with a word that connotes less bias. How about rigidity? Legacy systems are old, fragmented and outdated software programs that are preventing companies from evolving. They require the same data points to be superfluously entered four or five times across the network in order to keep everything up to date. The logic is obviously flawed. As we all know, time is money, and you can’t afford to be wasting either.
If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you’ll know already that I’ve been writing ad nauseam about the increased flexibility and continuity made possible by cloud computing (SAS). I hope that you keep humoring me, because I will continue to beat this dead horse ragged due to the nugget of truth contained within. Yet, in the end (like with all forms of technology), you will need to be able to accurately distinguish what your team’s strengths and weaknesses are and how you work best together first in order to properly outfit your company with the newest gadget or software that’s going to make it more productive.
For example, when choosing between ERPs and disparate systems, you need to first determine if the uniformity offered by ERPs is a priority, or if maintaining optimum functionality for all of the different tools at your team member’s disposal is more important. ERPs can put your company and the potential for maximizing their productivity in a box, because of how much time is spent customizing all of the different functionalities in order so that they are in line with one another. In the end, there really aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to workplace technology. So, if you’re looking to have the best tools in place above all else, than disparate systems are more conducive to your needs, due to their flexibility.
In the end, no matter how you cut it, data entry blows. Now that we’ve acknowledged it, the next step revolves around to what degree as a manager are you going to let that have an impact your team’s productivity? The solutions are out there, the onus is now on you to research your options and determine what will realistically work best for your team. We are entering a new day and age of information gathering and data mining. The best way to achieve maximum results with data is to minimize mistakes and issues of the initial data entry process. So, think outside of the box, and get moving. You don’t want to equate a “time suck” into a “you suck.”
While there are many roles that new technology has assumed in our workplaces today, in my opinion, one of the most intriguing consequences of modern technology is how it has suddenly made everything much more quantifiable. In past blog posts, I have written at length about how technology has helped to improve workflow, collaboration and visibility amongst team members, therefore enhancing the daily operations of any business that is using these new tools effectively. Going one step further, and as a result of all of the improvement in the aforementioned areas, team members are not only able to work more productively, but their managers are also able to do their jobs much better as well. For instance, let’s use the same parameters as the ones I referenced above. Working in the cloud has ushered today’s workforce into a more collaborative, more transparent, more organized, and much more FUN work environment than has ever existed previously. Team members can all work on the same project, at the same time, using the exact same tools, but from completely different locations!!! Finally, we’re deconstructing the real estate silo effect! They have access to all of the same information, can monitor the work that their fellow teammates contribute as soon as it is completed, and can devise strategies on the best way to proceed moving forward; all as a team.
Now, this is all well and good for the members of a team, but it also benefits the managers (coaches) of these teams as well. For example, gone are the days where team members are relegated to their offices and only drudged up on the occasional basis. In the world of the cloud and collaboration, you’re able to produce and track results all the time, even when you’re not in the office. A coach (manager) can pull up the status of a project anywhere on his/her mobile phone and know in an instant how the team is doing, what kind of help the team needs, what kind of progress is being made, etc.
Now, the coach can be way more proficient in assisting his/her team because they’re equipped with the proper information that they need. This new level of visibility enables them to do that. Bill Parcells had game film, real estate operations now has game film, allowing us to see what we need to see as the coaches of the team. Because of the increased transparency technology offers us, we’re actually given the license to coach, instead of just passively “monitoring” our team members. We can effectively coach their workflow, recognize each member’s strengths and weaknesses, and adjust accordingly on the fly (because that’s where the strength of working in the cloud derives from: flexibility)!
So, thanks to technology in the cloud, we can begin to bid farewell to menial, ridiculous tasks and wastes of time. We have tools that have equipped us with the ability to drive our decision making with the aid of real data. The technology has now put the burden on us to coach more effectively.
The real estate business has forever been an uber competitive silo where members eat what they kill, which results in a high premium being placed not only on exclusive and up-to-date information, but the ability to manage that information effectively within a structured line of communication. There are so many people, so much data, and so many moving parts involved that make up a deal that all it takes is one person dropping the ball (or even being a second late catching it) to throw a monkey wrench in the entire process. But, with new forms of technology out there attempting to provide solutions to all of this decentralization, there is new hope. In my humble opinion, technology in general will allow our company to grow in the following ways: Providing the right tools – Analytics. Big data. These are buzzwords for a reason. It’s because they matter. They bring a new level of clarity to managing assets that streamline the entire process. The numbers tell all, but not when they’re fragmented in a bunch of different spreadsheets. New forms of technology are unifying these different sets of data and as such, produce greater insight into every deal.
Transparency – Modern CRMs allow you to delineate your next course of action right down the line to your team members. You can track their results in real time. All of this creates another level of transparency that keeps everyone not only more connected, but more accountable, efficient and successful as well.
Increased Collaboration – Modern technology does not only allow for increased transparency, but increased collaboration. In general, we live in a time where the workforce has been mobilized. Nowadays, you can be expected to be reached anywhere, at any time. The constant free flow of information, and the ability to communicate at all times, has resulted in increased, productive collaboration between the different members of a team. Reaction time, accountability, and maneuverability are all increased through the use of mobile devices. Overall, you have the capability to know exactly what’s going on with a deal or a particular property in real time, at all times.
In my view, this will enable real scalability for real estate companies of the future. These new tools enable us to understand, communicate, and work better together in ways that have never been possible before, and in turn, they allow your business to function in ways that it never possibly could before either. In the end, it allows you to sleep better at night.