Technology

Are You E-Savvy?

These 10 Trends Will Change the Way the Industry Operates.

Because of the Internet, every aspect of commercial real estate transactions is going to be tipped upside down. I've identified a handful of technology trends that are re-engineering our business, from how we get listings, to how we manage projects, to how tenants ask for building supplies. Here are 10 trends that all commercial real estate practitioners should consider.

1. We're all connected. It's no longer all in your computer. Internet addresses are connecting all of us. Leases, listing systems, and procurement are all in one system. If your leases, contracts, and listings are not part of that system and you don't understand it, then you're a little bit behind.

The brokerage community has a problem with the Internet because it means sharing information. That's the opposite of what we're all used to. But if you don't share, if you don't collaborate, you're going to have your knees knocked out.

2. Get bandwidth. Bandwidth is the speed at which we can send information over the Internet. Even if you don't know what a T-1 or a digital subscriber line is — it's high-speed Internet access — your first priority is to get high-speed access to the Internet. If you're using a 56 kilobytes per second modem in- stead of high-speed Internet access, you have no idea what the Internet's all about.

When we get the bandwidth, the imagination goes crazy. And all those old tools start going away. The cardboard models, the file cabinets, the documents — all those things that we used to do to communicate about our projects start to change.

3. Investigate new tools. For a conference site, we chose a hotel in Dallas, and I signed a significant contract without ever visiting the site. I used 360-degree virtual tour technology to view every single room we were going to use.

Would you buy a building like that? Maybe not. But you're going to limit the number of sites you visit, maybe from 20 down to 10. Would you lease a 1,000 square foot space? Maybe.

4. Get a multiapplication device. Today's e-broker needs a handheld computer, a business card scanner, a cell phone, a notebook, a pager, and more. He now weighs about 4,000 pounds.

I don't want 12 devices. I want one multiapplication device. A Web pad called the Qbe has videoconferencing and a pen for handwriting recognition that converts notes and puts them into Microsoft Word or e-mail. It has a headset and voice-recognition software. It has a built-in camera. You click a button, take the picture, the picture drops right into e-mail. Your cell phone can connect right into this. It's a Pentium III computer, so Excel, Word, everything you need is sitting right here.

When configured right, this information appliance really wires you to the world. I'm not promoting this particular one as much as I'm saying the concept of portable Web appliances is going to go through the roof.

5. Think wireless.
Point your cell phone at the front door, click a button, and open it. All your office doors can be opened with cell phones so there is no more rekeying of locks.

This illustrates the Bluetooth low radio frequency technology, one example of local wireless connections, another big trend for buildings that avoids cables through the ceilings and walls.

Need some bandwidth to go across the street, but don't have any fiber in the street? Put an antenna from one roof to another and shoot 10 megabytes.

Applications are all over the place for commercial real estate. If you're going to be leasing or selling office buildings in the future, you've got to be cognizant of this stuff.

6. Learn about large screens. We're not going to watch the Internet on 15-inch monitors. It's going to be on 6-, 8-, and 10-foot flat-panel monitors and plasma screens.

What about putting a flat-panel screen in your office? Number one, if the dot-coms come in, they'll think you're really cool. You very subtly, one at a time, show different projects. Or maybe you have a multimedia presentation going on about your company.

The price of these screens is coming down. Internet video networks are becoming realistic — the MTV generation demands that kind of energy and impact.

7. Welcome to the digital office. There's not a lot of paper lying around in a digital office. There's a wireless keyboard, 42-inch flat plasma screen, and video teleconferencing capabilities. You're looking at floor plans, having a discussion with your client, and you're having an Internet meeting with the architect, watching him as he changes the design of a building. Maybe you have three screens, with the architect on one, a lawyer on another, and the financial guy on the third. The person in the middle — your client — is watching all this information change.

Now, you say, “I just go shopping on the Internet. My business is in file cabinets. My business is in Word documents.” Then you've got to start getting your business on the Internet.

8. Put your business online. I did a strategy session at one of the largest privately held asset management companies in the world. I asked their top-level executives how many hours a day they were on the Internet. One guy said he was on seven hours a day. Someone else said, “What are you doing? Shopping? Looking at porn sites?” — because that's what people think the Web is all about.

But in business, the Web is about minimizing time constraints. Put your meetings online, using Web-based project management. All the team members' name and addresses, the documents, the contracts, the floor plans are all up on the Web seven days a week, 24 hours a day in a password-protected environment. So when you go home and your file cabinet is locked, everybody else can keep working.

9. Ask the young for advice. I was on a panel with representatives of companies holding about $1 billion in commercial real estate. I asked, “How many of you have 23 year olds in your focus groups?” Dead silence. 

I said, “You're building buildings that your fathers worked in. Anybody asking 23 year olds what kind of office spaces they'd like to work in?” And there was more silence. I just knew their brains were going “Ooh, that's a good idea.”

The [experienced] commercial real estate people are thinking, “Oh yeah, we know everything, we're not going to change.” And the 18 year olds are thinking, “These guys are idiots. We're going to take it away from them.”

The reality is it's going to be a combination of both.

10. Hire an intern. For those of you scared to death that you're so far behind, here's what you do: Go to your local college — not the information technology department — but to the information-processing department, and get an intern. Take your 15, 20, 30 years of commercial real estate experience and live with that person for six months. Pay the intern $8 an hour and arrange a college credit. At the end, the intern will know about commercial real estate and you'll know about the Internet and technology.

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