Market View: Top Real Estate Tech Trends 2011: A Year in Review

We jumped the early-adopter stage on many technologies in 2011, moving innovations like intelligent buildings and mobile applications to the forefront in the CRE industry. By Jim Young.

By Jim Young

Just a few years ago, many of the big ideas impacting our industry were in their infancy. People had great visions of integrated systems and smart buildings, but the case studies were just not there. In the past year, we jumped the chasm on many ideas; we left the early adopter stage and are now proceeding to early majority adoption.

Integrated Business Systems: For years, we recognized that there were a number of different automated business solutions that were good but disconnected. Meeting the basic business needs was enough, despite the fact that there was data critical to other business processes that went unused. During the past few months, there has been a great deal of activity from solution providers that will allow synchronization and connectivity of disparate business systems. The bottom line for the business executive will be the availability of aggregated, very deep, very relevant and relational data sets that will provide business insight like never before.

Intelligent Buildings: With a more-than-20-year history, intelligent buildings are really nothing new. Companies such as Johnson Controls, Siemens and others have provided end-to-end building systems automating HVAC, lighting and other electro-mechanical systems for years. However, only recently—and with the introduction of open-architected, interoperable, IP-centric systems—did the idea of an intelligent building begin to be accepted into mainstream thinking.

In 2011, early-adopter real estate organizations at Realcomm, representing more than 1 billion square feet of real estate, clearly stated that they were aggressively moving forward to automate their portfolios using advanced intelligent building technologies. The substantive conclusion was that smart buildings are moving from innovator to mainstream adoption. For business executives, this means operating real estate with more efficiency and effectiveness while lowering operating costs. The above diagram illustrates the complexity of the next generation of intelligent buildings.

Mobility: The commercial, corporate and institutional real estate industries are very information intensive. From occupancy reports to complex financials, they have never been accused of producing too few reports. With the advent of devices such as the iPad, it seems that everyone in the real estate organization, from the on-site property manager to the CEO, wants this new electronic device. In the first part of 2011, chief information officers were inundated with requests to automate a variety of functions, with a good number of requests centered on leasing activity. A leasing agent armed with access to the company database could provide prospective tenants with the information they needed on a real-time basis. Leasing was only one area impacted by this mobility craze, with companies such
as CoStar, LoopNet and others all coming out with their own respective mobile applications. It became obvious that if gathering information required an individual to return to their desk to retrieve it, their business processes—and possibly their organizations—would be out of date.

The Cloud: The “cloud” has actually been around for a long time. Some might argue that mainframes offered up cloud computing. In today’s Internet age, we could say “cloud computing” was first mentioned in the late ’90s, when the term “ASP,” or application service provider, was more prevalent but the functionality was still the same. In practice, this means you no longer have to install software or house data on individual machines but rather on applications hosted in the cloud. Cloud computing is here to stay, and as every year passes, more and more applications, even those very specific to the commercial real estate industry, are migrated to the cloud. What this should mean for the business executive is easier, less expensive, more reliable and more secure access to all the information required to operate a real estate company.

Organizational Realignment: Quite possibly, the biggest insight from 2011 is that everything required for transformational change in how our industry operates is now in place. All the components—clouds, integrated solutions, smart devices and mobile technologies—are present, inexpensive and reliable. This was not possible just a few short years ago. Today, if an organization has the vision to automate to extraordinary levels, everything they need is available.

The final hurdle is organizational realignment. Technology, automation and innovation create drastic changes to organizational structure. Business processes that were once housed in very specific departmental areas are converging. Departmental lines are now being blurred as technology cuts corners and eliminates redundant tasks.

It is important to recognize that the old job descriptions are quickly being redefined and new skills are required. The No. 1 insight we can offer a business executive dealing with the strategic use of technology in a real estate organization is to create a big, bold and transformational vision, but be prepared to seriously consider the new organizational structure required to operate a real estate company in the 21st century.

Jim Young is founder & CEO of Realcomm.