Technology

7 Tech Trends That Will Change Your Business

Here’s what real estate companies need to know.

Business computing choices are becoming more complex — from cloud computing and software as a service to ascertaining the best security measures and managing by exception. These technologies are changing the way you do business on a daily basis. In short, these are the seven trends real estate companies should know about today.

Private Clouds

In the 24/7 environment of commercial real estate, staying in communication is of vital importance. That’s why today’s real estate companies must adopt long-term solutions to meet their business continuity needs following disasters. A modern business continuity plan that uses private cloud technology along with time-tested procedures provides a critical backup plan for managers facing the issues caused by damage or failed public infrastructure.

A private cloud safeguards a company’s system from on-site mishaps and network failures and allows management to continue via remote operations both distant and local. It is a secure and convenient way to network your organization virtually and allow people to work from anywhere — from home, different offices, or even the local Starbucks.

In terms of security, a private cloud offers greater control over a company’s data because it is a separate and secure network that is managed by the organization, whether it’s a real estate investment trust, property management firm, or brokerage office. This arrangement better protects sensitive data such as lease information and sales contracts.

However, since most real estate companies cannot afford to implement and maintain their own data network, server, and storage platform, private clouds are a growing alternative that offers customizable space on a distributed infrastructure. Shared hardware and base software “distributes” only the portion of storage and processing power that the company network needs to operate efficiently while remaining reliable, fast, secure, and flexible. All computing, memory, and disk performance are dedicated to each distinct organization.

Private clouds provided on distributed architecture can save an organization 75 percent or more as compared with implementing it internally. While the private cloud on distributed infrastructure can cost approximately 20 percent to 30 percent more than upgrading the typical existing client/server network, it provides all the redundancy and business continuity that configuration provides today. Real estate organizations running critical enterprise resource planning systems on conventional licenses such as Yardi, MRI, and JD Edwards are able to transition to the private cloud while continuing to utilize the in-place licenses they own today. This is critical for supporting legacy environments.

BYOD — Bring Your Own Device

Companies that use private cloud infrastructure can allow employees to use their own smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers to conduct company business. The company no longer needs to support the employee-owned hardware because they are relegated to “dummy terminals”: no processing occurs locally; it all happens at the data center. It also frees up everyone to work in a uniform environment from anywhere. For example, Mac users can perform their jobs in a Windows desktop environment by simply downloading an app. This enables all employees to enter the corporate environment from wherever they are (at home, on vacation, while traveling for business), from devices they choose to use, and collaborate and share files within a secure digital platform.

For example, employee-owned iPhones, iPads, and Android phones and tablets have invaded the real estate landscape. These devices allow users to access both personal and work-related email accounts, creating better time management of work and personal lives, and instant access to work documents, such as providing space plans to potential tenants or equipment service manuals for repair technicians. The BYOD trend has saved companies thousands of dollars a year as company-provided-Blackberries and Blackberry servers have been dramatically reduced. Apps such as 2x Client RDP/Remote Desktop allow employees to access their work Windows desktop and applications on their mobile devices.

Managing by Exception

The notion of 24/7 monitoring is being turned on its head, thanks to next-generation remote video monitoring. This new technology precludes the need for live-guard security at your office, apartment building, retail outlet, or even construction site, while saving the owner or property manager up to 50 percent on the costs for such surveillance.

Emerging pixel-on-demand video technology — think Google Maps — can transmit video with minimal compression to allow the security company to remotely monitor the video in real time. Not only is this form of monitoring safer — no live human must check on a potentially unsafe or dangerous situation such as intruder or a fire — it can be integrated with the property’s safety systems such as fire, security, or elevators, which can then be deployed based on the video surveillance findings. As a result, being able to send resources to attend to a problem in a timely and safe manner is also a benefit. This is called managing by exception: to act only if the monitoring picks up something that is unusual or requires attention.

Companies such as Engineered Security Systemsare outfitting state-of-the-art network operation centers with software that allows remote video monitoring with intelligence and fire/life/safety integration. Such companies can provide “virtual guard tours” to various types of real estate at 50 percent of the cost of maintaining a live guard onsite. Software packages such as N3N’s Innowatchare enabling these service platforms and changing the way we think about security.

SaaS — Software as a Service

Software providers now offer multiple software licensing models, from standalone licenses to software as a service, or SaaS, which is generally cloud-based.

When comparing purchased licenses and SaaS, think of it as the difference between buying and leasing a car. Like leasing a car, SaaS gives companies access to the license for a cost-effective monthly fee.When you stop paying monthly, you no longer have access to those licenses. However, the out-of-pocket costs are significantly lower and there is generally no hardware to buy.Note that SaaS providers are quickly eliminating the option for clients to purchase or upgrade their core onsite licenses, making SaaS the only option going forward.

Over the past two years, some heavy hitters of the real estate application industry have moved to offering the SaaS model. Most notably, Yardi now only offers the SaaS model. Sage 300 Construction and Real Estate (formerly Timberline) now offers their Sage Construction Anywhere product. This change in licensing will certainly drive new users given the lower cost and built-in business continuity that the SaaS model offers to users. However, moving all of a business’s confidential information to a client’s hosted system is causing significant push back from many large real estate owners.

iPBX — Virtualized Phone Systems

These new phone systems are a real game changer for properties and construction sites because it allows owners and management firms to launch a single phone system systemwide with just an Internet connection. This means that commercial real estate professionals can take their phone numbers with them whenever they change offices without having to bring in an IT person to set up the new phone. The cost of a phone network is reduced by as much as 50 percent, and this portability allows people to work remotely by turning their smartphones or tablets into an office extension — yet the company has just one phone bill. This type of voice over Internet protocol takes the virtual network benefits of a private cloud to another level.

By utilizing an iPBX, construction companies and real estate developers are opening their construction trailer offices in record time. Since only the basic Internet connection is needed to establish both network and voice capability, reliance on the telephone carrier has dropped, while the Internet carrier dependability is critical. Property management firms and construction companies now have the ability for one employee to reside in multiple offices and have his/her phone ring in multiple places.

4G WiFi Enterprise Routers

In late 2013, cellular carriers launched a product that will allow for enough Internet bandwidth to accommodate all personal computing and phone services at construction sites without ever running a wire. Although this technology is only a few months old and companies should still rely on a main Internet line, this 4G-enabled router can serve as a firm’s backup Internet line. In the event of a downed Internet line, your firewall switches over to use cellular data so that everyone can continue to work on the Internet connection afforded by this new router. The cost for such a router is approximately $699, plus monthly data fees.

Verizon has partnered with CradlePoint to offer this 4G service.Both construction companies and real estate developers are utilizing this hardware and technology to “instantly” open new offices/construction trailers nearly two weeks before wired lines can be installed. That gain in time can be critical for a project timeline.

Apps for Commercial Building Control

New apps now allow property managers to control a building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, lighting, locks, and water systems all with a text or email message right from the property manager’s phone. In fact, the property manager can arrange the settings to turn systems on and off on a scheduled basis or adjust timings when needed. The apps can also enable the manager to shut the system off when an unusual or unexpected event is detected.

Companies such as Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Nest, Control4,and Lutronare leading the way in many of these initiatives. Automated building management systems can save a property owner 5 percent to 25 percent on operating costs, while lighting retrofits and controls can have an even higher return on the investment.

A professional IT service provider will take a holistic look at your operation and suggest the technology that suits your needs, show you what’s new on the market, explain how to integrate applications, and implement the IT solutions that make sense for your company.

Ian Marlow is CEO of FiTech, a technology firm serving a wide range of businesses and industries, including real estate. Contact him at imarlow@fitechllc.com.

Software Trends

by Michael Mullin

Within the rapidly changing real estate management landscape, a number of software capabilities focused on data integration and accessibility add value and provide a quick return on investment.

1. Building Modeling

Commercial real estate organizations have collected vast amounts of information related to building occupancy, systems, and analytics. It often is stored in various places and in multiple formats. Companies want to mine and integrate this data and then push it out to leasing professionals to help them match tenants with available space.

Building modeling software does a good job of assembling two- and three-dimensional, building-by-building stacking plans that can be accessed by mobile phone or tablet. More-advanced integrations can feed tenant detail, space availabilities, rental rates, building specs, and other information from the system to these third-party modeling applications.

2. Facilities Management

Companies are creating products that facilitate online communication between tenants and property operators. However, when it comes to work orders and payments, the benefits are greatest on the back-end. Work orders submitted online can be routed directly into a company’s property management system and assigned to maintenance. When a bill is paid online, accounts receivable automatically updates as well. This immediately eliminates the need — and costs involved — for someone to enter work orders and payments manually. The benefits become even greater when mobile devices are incorporated in the field. Engineers can receive and update work orders and access building plans, equipment schematics, and repair manuals right onsite.

3. Lease Abstracts

The ability to store, access, and create reports from detailed, technical-building or tenant information within a property management system has been around for quite some time. However, in most cases creating lease abstracts has been limited to a “cookie cutter” template. Today’s browser-based technology is enabling new levels of flexibility and functionality that captures information on customized pages. System users can choose what sections they want to include in their residential abstracts and define the fields on each page.

On the property level, this type of next-generation abstract can keep track of every detail of every system — in real time. The abstract might incorporate make and model of a building’s HVAC components: who purchased the units, from where, and for how much; warranty information and expiration dates; repair history and documentation; and maintenance schedules. On the tenant level, abstracts can keep track of contact information; application data; the original lease and all renewals; rental payment histories; maintenance requests; and copies of every communication exchanged with property management.

Michael Mullin is president of IBS, a 35-year-old boutique software firm based in Totowa, N.J., specializing in real estate management systems. Contact him at mmullin@ibsre.com.

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