IREM Symposium Attended by Building Engines, a Commercial Property Management Software Industry Leader

The very well-attended 2015 IREM Asset & Property Management Symposium took place last week in San Francisco in the beautiful Julia Morgan Ballroom located in the equally impressive beaux-arts style Merchants Exchange Building deigned by Daniel Burnham.

I was able to participate again this year as a panelist on the Operations / Trends Power Panel with terrific fellow presenters – Charlie Hobey (SVP Ops, Equity Office,) Heather Ahuja (VP Ops, Avalon Bay Communities,) Heather Wallace (Dir. Business Development, Alliance Residential.) All of us kept in line by our moderator, Dan Stuber, Director of Real Estate and Facilities for Franklin Templeton.

Given our topic and my bias, it was fairly easy for us to spend a significant portion of our time discussing technology and its current impact on operations as well as what we thought was coming in the near future and how today’s property manager needed to prepare themselves for the inevitability.  But, we weren’t alone on that point.  – I sat through every panel session and the coming onslaught of CRE technology was the consistent theme throughout the day. It was core to every discussion whether the discussion was centered on reputation management, marketing and leasing, sustainability, healthy building practices, or what was on the horizon.  All of what was discussed came back to technology and its impact on those items.

Contrast this to last year when the discussion seemed  to center on amenities in buildings designed to keep tech workers happy (and working,) as well as the impact of rising costs and the “millennial factor.” While technology was still discussed then, it did not dominate discussions like it did this year, nor were there as many participating members from several of the hot new startups this year like Hightower, VTS, Rentlytics and Building Robotics.

There’s clearly still a lot of work to do before everyone is completely bought in.  – I heard healthy debate and questions related to the need for better information sharing between systems and providers, making platforms easier to use and deploy as well as skepticism that any real disruption was taking place.  All things that we as technology providers need to listen carefully to and take to heart if we truly want to help the industry make progress and remove the stigma of commercial real estate as technologically 10 years behind other industries.

Some other insights and comments from the day –

  • Very interesting keynote presentation from Jaja Jackson, Head of Landlord Partnerships for Airbnb.
    • Announcing their multi-family revenue share program.  …Not sure that the audience was entirely receptive?
  • Tom Stubbs, Partner, TMG Partners (Quote of the Day)
    • When discussing current market forces that drive development of micro-apartments and condos in urban markets like San Francisco…. “What happens when all these 25 year olds get too fat for their skinny jeans and start having families in the 300 sf units they’re living in?”
  • Brandon Weber, CEO, Hightower
    • With regard to why all the VC interest in CRE Technology… “It’s a huge industry, that still relies heavily on inefficient processes…the next 3 years will bring great change.”
  • Emily Herson, GM, RiverRock Real Estate
    • On attributes and skill sets she looks for when hiring… “I look for customer service experience or a hospitality background. There are skills gained from those you can’t teach.”
  • Jeffrey Needs, VP Portfolio Management, Hudson Pacific Properties
    • On what’s on the horizon… “I think there is an opportunity to make our buildings and the occupant experience more interactive.”
  • Albert Pura, Senior Portfolio Manager, American Realty Advisors
    • On what needs to happened for technology to really take hold in CRE… “All CRE firms struggle on the technology side of things. We rely too much on manpower to assemble and aggregate information. Confusion and the perceived human capital costs lead to no-decision.”

Apologies in advance for any of the quotes I butchered and there were certainly many more terrific comments that I didn’t capture here, but it was an absolutley well-informed group of presenters and a terrific day spent listening to the conversations and debate. – I look forward to next year and whatever new focus that will bring.