Identifying and implementing the best real estate technology tools for your team are the most challenging pieces of the commercial real estate tech puzzle. Logan Soya, Founder and CEO of Aquicore, sat down to discuss the best way to approach this challenge with Scott Sidman, Senior Vice President at Building Engines. Part one of the Q&A segments from CRE Tech Talks podcast covers the foundations of Aquicore, while part two covers the way tech has restructed commercial real estate. Now, let’s turn it over to Scott and Logan.
Scott: As a startup, nimbleness and agility have always been the weapons of choice for smaller companies competing against larger firms. How do you feel about large organizations being able to embrace new capabilities in a relatively short period of time?
Logan: Psychologically it could be a challenging shift for a couple of organizations, just because it’s not a mentality that’s very widely adopted, or it’s not as easily understood. But the reality is that today it is possible that an organization the size of Apple could have this type of real-time access to information. A lot of that is contributed by integrated solutions.
From my perspective, one way that these larger organizations can start approaching this problem and tackling it is to say, hey, look, this isn’t going to be a marketplace where one shop solves all of your problems anymore. It’s going to be a multi-vendor solution where there are a number of players that are the best at what they do. They’re highly focused companies, but they all play nicely with each other and they all integrate with each other, and as a result you’re going to have this solution that is continuing to be nimble and modular in nature.
Scott: I believe if that’s the position that a company would take, then obviously the requirement on the vendors is that they’re building their applications in a way that allows them to meet the requirement: That they have open APIs to share information, and, as you said, play nicely with each other.
Logan: In this era where things are a lot more transparent, organizations really have to prove that they’re adding true value, and as a result they must have open data sharing. Any organization or any type of vendor that doesn’t follow that philosophy will get left behind over the next three to five years.
Scott: If you look at things from the large organization perspective, and bring a change from the executive level to the person who’s responsible for implementation, oftentimes it begins with winning hearts and minds of your people and changing behavior. How would you suggest a CRE exec who gets the concept should work with his people to start implementing?
Logan: I think the goal here is to start small. Pick one specific topic that you want to attack and implement, and try to make it easy to adopt. It’s really about understanding how this tool can advertise itself. If the tool is usable on the front line, it’s a lot easier for executives to win the support of their team members.
At any given time, a user of Aquicore could start a live conversation with a subject matter expert, just about what are the energy trends that they’re seeing, for example. I think that goes a long way to how CRE is sort of this relationship network, and it’s a way that technology firms could still provide a high level of personal touch without necessarily having that heavy consultative overhead that has historically plagued the industry.
Scott: Typically, software was evaluated by looking internally first to ask, “Are our people capable of using this, and what kind of training are we going to require? How do we get people to become technically proficient?” From what I hear, the way you’re approaching this is that shouldn’t be a requirement because of the way the application is built and developed. Right?
Logan: It’s this era of “How do we take the lessons that Apple and some of these other industry leaders brought about with this revolutionary thinking and design, and started implementing it in an enterprise environment?” The idea is that, if it really is a great piece of software, it should be either A). fairly intuitive to use with very minimal training or B). the company or organization using technology to help solve that problem of training and onboarding.
There are innovative approaches of training and onboarding that are available. Be on the lookout for vendors that are adopting those practices, to make sure that you’re really getting the value out of the tools that you’re purchasing.
Scott: One of the things that’s really interesting to me is the wave of venture capital investment in commercial real estate technology. What do think the investment community sees, and what should the real estate community take away from that? How does this impact them?
Logan: I think it’s a very good thing. These technologies require a lot of upfront capital to be able to really get the wheels moving. I think CRE executives should be getting involved because there is still an education vertical. VCs historically have invested in SaaS companies that are focused on marketing, or sales, or some other IT thing. For VCs to start to break out of that and be focusing on something as specific as commercial real estate is a great thing.
However, I would suggest that many VCs still have a lot of learning to go through to really feel like they understand the industry well. I would even recommend that CRE executives should get involved. They could become LPs (there are funds investing in CRE technologies that are looking for LPs that are highly attuned with the marketplace, a win-win opportunity), or executives might have some cash that they want to work. This could be a new opportunity for them to look into.
Then, I think it would be super beneficial if the CRE industry got a bit more familiar with how VCs think and operate, because it will help us continue to lubricate the gears, if you will, in making these new adoptions that everybody has been waiting for, possible.
Scott: What three to five things would you advise a commercial real estate exec and firm to do to begin this process of improving organizational velocity – which is another term you used which I love – and some of the capabilities of the tools and technologies available to them.
Logan: Be hyper-focused. Start small, and don’t be afraid to try out a product or two in your building portfolio, especially if it has a decent track record with other portfolio. Look for companies and vendors that are promising weeks to onboard as opposed to six months. That’s a really good sign in terms of being able to get your speed and velocity ramped up.
Helping your teams realize that more iteration and a more iterative process use is important. Look for quick updates in a matter of months or weeks, as opposed to every quarter. I think those would be really good starting points. Then, if your tech vendors are really great tech vendors, reach out to them. We love to have conversations with our clients, and I’m sure you [at Building Engines] feel the same way. It helps us learn.
We want to be as helpful as possible, beyond just the technology. Technology is about enabling, value creation is not. Technology isn’t the value itself, and so your vendors very often can be a great resource to give you tips, and tricks, and other things that are out there in the marketplace, and we really like that community attitude.