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The Promise and Perils of AI, Machine Learning, Mobile Apps and Other Tech for the Corporate Workplace

​(Washington, DC – February 1, 2019)  As corporate real estate decision makers seek to bring enhanced experiences and efficiencies to their employees and customers, they are exploring how best to integrate AI, machine learning, mobile apps and other smart technologies to optimize their work environments while maintaining the security of their data and the privacy of their employees.  To meet these needs, culture and technology must fuse, which requires more thorough collaboration among the Corporate Real Estate (CRE), IT and HR functions than ever before, according to leading technologists and CRE professionals who presented at CoreNet Global Mid-Atlantic’s second Annual CRE Technology symposium.

“After our first CRE Technology Symposium last year, we observed an interest in going deeper into consumer experience of the tech applications,” said Peter Van Emburgh, Global Director, Corporate Workplace and Facilities at CBRE and the organizer of the symposium. “Corporate real estate was one of the last industries to be hit by technology, but it’s now become a huge part of this work. Last year’s event was about the prop tech landscape, and this year we focused on the human element, and how you make the tech work for people.”

Technology Makes Anywhere a Workplace

Mobile technologies make it possible for employees to work anywhere, any time.  But if employees are no longer tied to a fixed desk, how do CRE professionals, IT and HR teams develop solutions and processes that connect these far-flung workers to each other and to the corporate brand?  Furthermore, how can employers ensure security of information when employees are working remotely?

“The culture of a company isn’t just about your leadership, it’s about how you work together, which is the design, both physical and virtual,” said Nathan Rogers, Chief Information Officer at SAIC.  “This is where CRE, IT and HR have to collaborate. People care about their office space, the physical space where they work, but they also care about their privacy, their access to information and communications tools, and a seamless experience.”

Brian Watson, vice president of Enterprise Innovation at Traction Technology Partners, noted that millennials, who make up a larger percentage of the workforce each year, aren’t concerned about where they work, as long as they have the right tools and technology.
This shift in workforce demographics is significantly impacting the design and functionality of physical office spaces, creating both opportunities and frustrations for leadership.

Rogers agreed. “I have no wires in my house, I use apps seamlessly, but I can’t use that technology at work. So how do you bring that seamless consumer experience to employees while maintaining the high level of security and sticking to a budget? The way you work at home should be the way you work at the office. We need to strive to create a consumer experience that more closely resembles how we live outside of the office,” he said

Proprietary Mobile Apps Create Awesome Experiences

The explosion of mobile apps has given employees the ability to exercise greater control over their lives at home, and now workers want the same thing at work.  The quality of that work experience, which includes the physical space and communication and collaboration tools, has become an essential part of the equation to recruit and retain the best talent.

The most important features on mobile apps at work include access to food, coffee and other amenities, information on shuttles and other transportation schedules, the ability to easily book meeting space and workspace, and wayfinding throughout a facility.  It’s through this lens that major businesses are developing their own mobile apps for employees.

“We know our associates are looking for food and beverages, and looking for other amenities. It’s also really important for people to be able to connect with their peers at the office,” said Erin Mical, Senior Director, Capital One Workplace Solutions.  Our associates are building the best products for Capital One customers, so it’s critical for us to have the best workplace possible.”

“Now that we’re reserving spaces, people need to be able to see what’s available for use. People also get lost inside the building, so indoor navigation is important,” said Paul Westenberger, Strategy and Execution Leader, Real Estate Technology and Innovation, at EY.  He also noted that they are using apps to gather employee feedback about the facilities but “employees really use it for anything. We want our employees to drive what the app looks like because that’s the best way to ensure it’s effectiveness as a tool.”

Technology Deployment Requires New Ways of Working 

The increasing use of mobile apps, AI and other technologies means that companies need to de-silo the CRE, HR and IT functions.  It also means that CRE professionals need to be sure they have people on their teams who understand these new technologies and have capacity to innovate – without having to focus on putting out fires every day.
“We really had to think differently about what we were doing with technology but also how we were going to support it moving forward,” said Scott Phillips, Director of Corporate Real Estate at McDonalds Corporation. “Moving the CRE side of our business over to tech has required new skillsets, so we’ve had to bring in new positions – people who can coordinate with IT and integrate systems. It forced us to think differently about staffing, skills.”

Rogers agrees. “On the IT team, people have to have a facility counterpart. You have to find the right talent to bring in to work with the facilities team, but on the facilities side, they have to be able to work with IT. And HR should be at the table, too!”

What are you doing with my data? 

While these new technologies are helping to shape positive and productive workplaces, they also present security risks that must be carefully managed.  The Internet of Things (IOT) embeds data gathering capabilities in HVAC systems, conference room chairs, and kitchen appliances and so on, increasing the risk of data breaches.  Because employees have concerns about how their employer is tracking them, top executives must exercise both transparency and vigilance.

Speakers talked about the need to carefully explain to employees what data is being collected, how it is being used and the benefits to them and the company in doing so.

“I don’t want your data. I don’t want to store it. I don’t want to handle your PII,” said Rogers.  “A lot has to do change management and messaging.”

With regard to cybersecurity, speakers recommended that companies rely on providers of cloud based services who have invested billions of dollars in security. 

 “All of the solutions we’ve been talking about, any kind of workplace solutions technology involves integrating with multiple systems. It’s never just one thing. You also have to think about what data you’re collecting, where you’re going to keep it, how to avoid collecting personally identifiable information. What are you tracking? What are you expecting people to supply,” said Chris Fine, Senor Strategist Smart Spaces and Iota, Aruba Networks. “You really don’t want to be on the wrong side of cybersecurity. Help them understand the and why, early in the game. Make sure that your IT cohorts are doing that proactively.  It’s not just a box to check,” he said.

Norma Kelly

Liz Wainger