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Digital Transformation

Accelerating Digital Transformation in Commercial Real Estate

Written By: Joe Demski
September 2, 2022
7 min read
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At many points in history, extraordinary events shaped and reset the way we interact with physical space and the outside world. Recent events not only forced businesses to rapidly adapt in real-time, but it also reset how consumers expected the physical places they visit to operate.

The last few years have affected real estate projects immensely. The quick pivot to digital operations and away from physical commercial spaces generated a new set of consumer expectations that are challenging traditional real estate projects. In turn, businesses are rapidly adjusting their physical space and digital operations in order to meet customers where they are. Successful businesses are excelling in this transformation because of rapid and intentional adoption of flexible, digital tools. To understand how they arrived there though, you must first recognize the process challenges they face.

Challenges Facing Commercial Real Estate Projects

Companies with large real estate portfolios like those in retail, financial services, medical care, and more recognize the need to update their physical footprints to match the digital experience that customers now expect. That is a massive undertaking, but most organizations do not need to start from scratch. They have plenty of data and insight to inform changes to their physical spaces, but their software systems and existing processes block them from being able to make insight actionable.

According to research from Deloitte in the 2022 commercial real estate outlook, nearly half (44%) of commercial real estate executives state that their business is accelerating technology innovation in their organization. Innovating is a major hurdle though, as 80% of respondents report they “do not have a fully modernized core system that could easily incorporate emerging technologies.” Outdated technology is keeping companies from making crucial decisions with the best possible insight.

Many organizations are relying on a combination of spreadsheets, manual processes, and point solutions to plan and execute real estate projects. In these situations, data for processes like site selection, building project tracking, and portfolio management are disconnected and siloed across multiple places, so project leaders lack the ability to information easily. They also run the risk of losing critical information with the departure of someone with institutional knowledge or a single errant action in a shared spreadsheet.

Even if companies use a legacy system to manage their real estate portfolio, most software programs are notoriously difficult to change because of complex programming. Without access to large, dedicated IT teams getting changes made is an uphill battle. This leaves most businesses mired in data chaos when it comes to managing their real estate projects. The only solution to overcoming this situation is adopting a solution that can be business-led.

The Rise of Business-Led Technology Solutions

Crafting a software solution for an organization’s critical processes can no longer be predicated on having dedicated IT resources. This is backed up by the recent Gartner® report- Future of Work Trends: Tinkerers Become Mechanics. Overcoming data chaos or, as Gartner® calls it, “reducing digital friction” must be accomplished by “business-led democratized technology delivery.” In other words, leaders within lines of business must take action to develop their own software solutions. As a result, no-code/low-code technology platforms are rising to aid these “citizen developers” in that effort.

Flexible, low-code software platforms are empowering non-IT professionals to create work management applications that solve their specific business problems without disrupting other departments or being held up by minimal IT resources. As Gartner® points out, “Workers crave autonomy to solve problems and create work efficiencies; many love to get paid to learn and are hungry for a variety of career development options.” Business-led technology deepens the engagement of the workforce to take control of challenges they face daily and take advantage of opportunities they see.

While flexible platforms are giving non-coders the ability to take action, the fact is that technical skills are widely available among most line of business professionals. Tech tools are a necessity for all work today, so most workers have a baseline knowledge and are comfortable with learning new software. In fact, “Gartner® survey data suggests that 62% of business technologists have high levels of technical dexterity and are advanced users of specialized technology creation tools.” This set of workforce professionals with a drive to make their processes better and a baseline technical knowledge are taking advantage of low-code tools to deliver the next wave of technology solutions for their organizations.

Adopting Business-Led Technology in Commercial Real Estate

Many companies feel pressed to adopt modern systems, but the stakes are higher for organizations managing large real estate portfolios. Not only are outdated or non-existent systems hampering their processes, but these inefficient systems also affect the way building projects and changes to physical spaces are completed. Data chaos leads to project overruns and timeline delays. The only way to arrive at modern systems is by facilitating business-led technology solutions. When insight is cohesive and contained in a single source of truth platform, your real estate portfolio can be a driver of business insight instead of a burden on resources.

So, what can organizations do to facilitate business-led technology? And how can this be applied to commercial real estate portfolio management? Here are 3 recommendations from Gartner® and how they apply to transforming CRE management.

Take the work of business technologists seriously

The work of citizen developers in crucial lines of business isn’t merely a hobby they take on during work hours. The applications they develop are driving the transformation of operations. Gartner® asserts it is incumbent upon executive leaders to recognize the effort line-of-business leaders and support them. Provide access to technical experts and reward employees that develop solutions.

Within real estate, we believe, this means executives need to promote access to tools, like Quickbase, which portfolio managers can use to build their solutions. Make it clear that the line of business leaders have ownership over how they work and the software they use. Empower users to familiarize themselves with these platforms and celebrate when new applications are developed.

Be active in identifying processes easily addressed by digital transformation

Executives and managers have a broader feel for how organizations operate. They serve an important role in identifying opportunities across the business which are low-hanging fruit to be addressed by a business-led tech solution. Gartner® recommends leaders look for processes that “exhibit common work patterns, pipelines or value streams that include intake, triage, planning, execution and reporting.” Individuals within the business function should drive the creation of applications, but leadership should help provide direction and guide the beginning stages of development.

For real estate, this means organizational leaders need to be active in collaborative discussion with potential citizen developers charged with managing real estate activity. Engage with employees whose work is mired with data chaos. Provide recommendations for where to begin with addressing those challenges or guidelines to help business users identify areas of improvement on their own. Repetitive tasks needing organization like contract management or work order processing may be simple starting points.

Promote workforce growth and connection

Most employees seek opportunities to learn and grow in their jobs. Business-led technology development is a win-win. It provides employees with the chance to hone new skills and improves a company’s operations. Executives improve their workforce by providing training and digital workforce programs. Employing a business-led technology push also leads to engagement between the line-of-business, company leadership, and IT teams. Promoting digital workforce development leads to professional skill building and collaborative work within an organization.

The desire to grow and learn new skills is universal across departments, and real estate management is no different. Spreadsheets are the technology of choice for most real estate operations, not because of their effectiveness but because of familiarity. Embracing business-led digital transformation gives CRE professionals a chance to flex tech muscles that may otherwise be neglected and builds relationships between groups that are often very separated.

Conclusion

On the other side of most challenges lies opportunity. Within commercial real estate, an upheaval in expectations for physical spaces has also led to a reengineering of the legacy technology that businesses employ. With data chaos wreaking havoc on many CRE operations, accelerating digital transformation has become a top priority. Unfortunately, the demand for digital transformation cannot be fulfilled by IT resources alone. The businesses evolving most effectively and efficiently are doing so by relying on line-of-business professionals to drive their digital transformation.

Written By: Joe Demski

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