The Promise and Pitfalls of CRE Tech: Recap of the February 25 End User Dinner


UberCopters, self-driving cars, occupancy sensors, IoT (internet of things) systems, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.  These and other CRE tech present exciting new opportunities and head-spinning challenges for corporate real estate professionals.  How to navigate the explosive change wrought by technology was the topic of CoreNet Mid-Atlantic’s first 2020 End User dinner, where representatives from the auto industry, hospitality, insurance and financial services, technology, foundations and nonprofits shared their questions, insights and knowledge. Moderated by CoreNet Mid-Atlantic Chapter’s Treasurer and CRE Tech SME, Katy Redmond (JLL), here are few things they had to say:

Do the Demo Last

The next newest thing can be very alluring.  CRE tech makes big promises about efficiencies, user experience and cost savings. And many of these technologies and apps do live up to their promises.  When presented a flashy demo, beware the impulse to rush to buy, thinking “I have to have this”—without stopping to check compatibility with existing IT, security systems, or protocols. CRE tech, in this case, can become an expensive mistake. The lesson? Figure out first what you want to accomplish, then assess how tech can achieve those goals and bring IT and other departments into the decision-making process.  

Plan for the Future with Today in Mind

Know how to plan for profound tech-enabled shifts that may not be immediate. Where this is particularly acute is around parking. Driverless cars and Ubercopters may cut the need for parking garages down the road.  But companies still have clients and employees who need parking now. As one participant noted, “People can’t chase after the cool stuff when some of that is so far in the future.  We need to make good business decisions for the company, not just follow the latest trends.”

Occupancy Sensors as a Game Changer.

Occupancy sensors that now usemachine-learning algorithms to anonymously track how people make use of physical spaces is among the most exciting new developments in CRE Tech. One participant postulated that sensors in the company cafeteria could provide intelligence to inform how much food to cook on any given day.  Another pointed to sensors as predictive indicators to manage occupancy, from the cafeteria to the conference room. Still another cited a big-four accounting firm’s creative use a of reservation system to push people to certain floors first, letting them close off other floors to save on costs and promote energy conservation.  The “conference room conundrum,” where a 15-seat conference room is booked only to have only three people (or even no one) show up because of remote work options, still confounds even the savviest CRE experts. But the use of sensors and other data can lead to refined policies and practices.

Collect Data Wisely

Occupancy sensors, IoT and other tech put massive amounts of data about use and performance of space at the fingertips of CRE pros. But just because you can collect data, doesn’t mean you should—or even that all of it is useful.  Employees have concerns about an employer’s ability to track daily movement, so participants recommend keeping in mind goals and the data that’s really needed to make the best real estate decisions.  As one pointed out, “There is no shortage of data to collect, but you have to collect the right data.”


Personalization Is Key

CRE tech can help create frictionless and personalized experiences that make the workplace more comfortable and user-friendly, enhancing employee satisfaction and boosting recruitment and retention efforts. Apps foster value by  enabling employees  self-service options to book conference rooms, order coffee delivered to their desk or control the temperature of their workspace. And when people see value, they are more likely to embrace technology--even if there is a trade-off to privacy. But no one size fits all. What works for a competitor may not work for your organization. The selection of new apps and other CRE tech should involve more than an assessment of capability. New tech must also fit the change management that facilitates adoption in an organization with a distinct personality, culture and attitude toward tech, privacy and security. 

Do Your Due Diligence

Make sure tech partners are technically and financially sound. One CRE executive noted that a  Microsoft Gold Star partner they worked with had been hacked and failed to realize it, putting the data of multiple clients in jeopardy. Though the partner was a smaller company, it had earned the Gold Star credentials…Lesson learned? You still need to perform due diligence on not just technology, but also the firm who will manage the implementations.  With so much consolidation in the CRE tech arena, it’s important to understand how M&A activity impacts the stability, service delivery, development investment and roadmap for a technology product.  

Become Digitally Literate

CRE tech is changing the way we design, manage and operate real estate. CRE executives must understand technology: what it can do and what it can’t.  Participants agreed that familiarity with trends, new tech and the language of technology is an essential aspect of the profession. Events such as the CoreNet Global Mid-Atlantic Tech Symposium and End User dinners and other chapter programs are a gateway to tech literacy.