Big Data

What does it mean for corporate commercial real estate users?

Long before brokers, investors, and other commercial real estate professionals embraced smartphones and tablets, commercial real estate was a data-driven business, even if many of us didn’t realize it. Successful professionals in our industry have always been masterful networkers and information-gatherers, with encyclopedic knowledge of market conditions. Today, this mastery of data and analytics has earned a place of even greater importance and is becoming the tool of choice for gaining a competitive edge.

What’s Fueling the Data Fire?

Technological advances have increased the capacity — and lowered the cost — of data and analytics platforms that enable quick data aggregation and new ways to create real-time analyses and scenarios for commercial real estate decisions. Advanced Web platforms, cloud computing, and new storage technologies are speeding up the data and analytics evolution, making it cheaper and faster than ever before to acquire and interpret the data.

And it’s not just numbers, anymore. Today’s business intelligence platforms can include “unstructured” data that doesn’t fit neatly into a spreadsheet, such as emails, social media posts, images, transaction logs, and other kinds of non-numerical information — even social media-sharing figures.

The result is better-informed site selection, transaction negotiations, workplace design, and facilities management, along with a competitive advantage for the clients of data-focused commercial property owners, investors, asset and property managers, and brokers.

The Tenant Perspective

The increasingly sophisticated use of analytics across various business activities has led to powerful shifts in how companies make decisions, innovate, and strategize. In a 2014 study by Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 66 percent of executives reported a gain in competitive advantage derived from data and analytics, up from 37 percent in 2010. Similarly, a Harvard Business Review study found that companies in the top third in their industries with regard to data-driven decision-making are 5 percent more productive and 6 percent more profitable than their competitors.

Unlike the consumer products sector where intensive data and analytics have long been used for consumer segmentation and marketing, the commercial real estate industry has been relatively slow to invest in data management and analytics software. True, such companies as Yardi and Real Capital Analytics have been established providers of commercial real estate data for many years. Also, some of the largest commercial real estate investment companies have created their own proprietary databases and software for their own reporting needs. However, many commercial real estate practitioners — even at large companies — continue to rely on spreadsheets and manual analyses.

Where Data Gives the Competitive Edge

The following are some of the major ways data and analytics are propelling the transformation the business of commercial real estate.

Complex Comparables. Companies such as LoopNet, Real Capital Analytics, Reis Inc., and Compstak were among the first to see the potential for automating database functions for commercial property brokers and investors, providing everything from recent transaction prices and capitalization rates to concessions and operating expenses in thousands of markets. Rather than leading to the demise of commercial property brokers, today’s new analytics platforms enable data-focused brokers to provide nuanced insights about long-term value, risks, the true costs of a particular transaction, and more.

Sophisticated Site Selection. Consider a third-party logistics company that is expanding its distribution center network. It needs to know which makes more sense, paying more for a premium site close to customers or a lower-cost location on the outskirts of the market.

With data and analytics tools, you can compile such factors as macroeconomic trends, real estate costs, transportation channels, dock access, and workforce availability into sophisticated risk and return-on-investment analyses. These inputs can help a company locate operations where the labor availability and real estate options will support broad business goals such as speed-to-market and workforce expertise — in addition to keeping costs under control.

Workplaces That Actually Work. Real estate shapes the working environment and can tell you a lot about key corporate priorities such as employee engagement and innovation potential. It can also tell you what employees don’t report, such as where the best work actually gets done.

To inform site selection and facilities decisions, a company can use data and analytics to determine how and where employees are working — and why. For example, sensor logs and mapping tools can reveal when and for how long employees are using a particular space. Real-time monitoring of space utilization can help companies optimize their real estate footprint, tailor services to employees, and design spaces that match work patterns, thereby improving overall productivity.

In one classic example, a global pharmaceutical company used data and analytics to reduce its real estate and facilities costs by $200 million over the course of three years while improving productivity. Aggregating more than 100,000 portfolio and business data points with on-the-ground market intelligence, the corporate real estate team used analytics, automated financial modeling, and scenario tools to determine which facilities were the least productive or non-strategic. With robust data to guide its facility consolidations and disposition decisions, the team achieved its aggressive savings goal and freed up additional capital to invest in research and development.

Expedited Transactions and Move-ins. Site selection expertise can be combined with virtual tour technologies that not only provide remote site visits, but also provide tracking metrics. An analysis of how clients are using virtual tours — which videos, for how long, and by whom — can help brokers predict how many tours will lead to a successful deal, and how to improve the “hit” rate. Then, occupancy and workplace strategy data can be used to create various move-in scenarios to optimize workplace productivity.

Smart Data, Smarter Buildings. Today’s increasingly informed clients and investors want hard data like long-term energy costs and operating performance. Advanced smart building management technologies make it possible to obtain this data and more. New building technologies offer tremendous energy-savings potential derived from the data generated by today’s computer-controlled “smart” systems, and a data-savvy management team can prevent costly and disruptive equipment failure, optimize building performance, and manage resources across a huge property portfolio with a single highly efficient dashboard. Combined with financial and legal inputs, this portfolio performance data becomes an invaluable tool for long-term strategic planning.

Is Your Team Data-Centric?

Inside corporate real estate departments, companies have begun investing more heavily in data and analytics platforms. Data-centricity is quickly becoming the strategic vision of choice among corporate real estate and site selection executives, according to Mind the Gap: Aspiration vs. Reality in Corporate Real Estate, a new Forrester Consulting survey commissioned by JLL.

More than half of corporate real estate leaders say they aim to become data-centric by 2017 — that is, using corporate real estate data not just to support opinions or decisions, but also to actually shape opinions and corporate strategy. Sixty-four percent of corporate real estate teams experienced an increase in their data and analytics budgets in the last fiscal year and expect a budget increase this year, too, according to the study.

These in-house leaders are using data-driven business intelligence and analytics to, for instance, determine which facilities are most productive in terms of revenue generation, or which sites are most appealing to critical talent pools. Some are using complex mapping tools to visualize data relating to hundreds of sites around the world and quickly determine the best strategies for optimizing the corporate real estate footprint.

The clear rise in the use of big data and analytics technologies is transforming the commercial real estate industry, and the evolution has just begun. Rather than detracting from the very human skills required for managing people, transactions, properties, and portfolios, data and analytics are bringing faster and better-informed decision-making capabilities to all parties in the commercial real estate sector.

David Kollmorgen is an international director and head of business intelligence at JLL. Contact him at


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