Recently, I participated in a fascinating webinar about CRE Technology. One reason it was fascinating is that my co-presenters—Henry Chamberlain, President and Chief Operating officer at BOMA International and Coleen Spratt, Managing Director of Real Estate Management Services at Colliers International—are bright lights in the industry. Another is, of course, the topic itself. The basis of our discussion was “Commercial Real Estate Technology Trends 2018”, a research report Building Engines produced in partnership with BOMA International earlier this year. 

Among the insights that emerged from the discussion was an emphasis on taking action quickly. This is not easy, and the reasons are the same reasons we did the research in the first place: A general sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of building-oriented technologies that are now competing aggressively for a precious share of mind. But our findings show that the benefits of taking action outweigh the cost of standing still. In the webinar, we talked about a couple of whys and a couple of hows that can help CRE professionals push past the paralysis and start adding value with technology.

1. Try something new early on. Early adoption is key.   

Those who adopt new technology early—as soon as they become aware of its availability—are more successful than those who adopt late (or never). We know this because the “Achievers” in our study were much more likely than others to be early adopters. These are the organizations with consistently strong selection processes, depth and breadth of feature use, and successful systems integration and data use practices, and 65 percent of them say try the latest technology as soon as it’s available. That’s 4x as many as for “Laggards”—those with low technology effectiveness. 

So, what makes early adoption so heavily correlated to success? For one thing, those who try software early are initially better positioned for success. By the time the Laggards get around to trying new solutions, the early adopters have already worked out any kinks, enjoyed success, and are looking for their next win. Another reason is that in this case, something is almost always better than nothing. A decade ago, when environmental sustainability was taking the industry by storm, the value proposition was so obvious that those in the know advised building owners and managers not to worry about waiting for something better—the right choice was to start improving efficiency right away because the cost of doing nothing was so high. We think the industry is in a similar position today with technology.

2. Be proactive even if resources may be limited. You can’t afford to wait.  

Searching for and evaluating new technology is a time-intensive process that often falls to the back burner for property management teams and building owners, both of whom are often slammed with other tasks. In fact, we found that nearly a third of CRE professionals say that they don’t have the time or resources to evaluate new technology solutions, even when the solution they are using is only minimally effective. 

But building owners and managers need to stay out in front because it will end up costing them more time if they don’t. On our webinar, Coleen urged her fellow CRE professionals to be proactive with technology: “You don’t have the time not to take the time to look at new solutions,” she said. Aside from the long-term implications for time and cost, it’s an opportunity for CRE organizations and their properties to position themselves at the forefront of the industry. 

And, lest we let CRE tech firms off the hook, it’s on us to make our products easier and easier to evaluate, test, deploy, adopt, and use. Demonstrating a positive ROI is great, but the less friction involved for our customers and users, the better things will be for everyone.

3. Spend appropriately on technology. Don’t under or over invest.  

Often hand-in-hand with a lack of time comes a limited budget. Time and money are both scarce resources, which is why saving them is a classic benefit of technology (more on this below). But often, the up-front cost can appear prohibitive, especially for property managers who may not control the purse strings at their buildings. Despite this, our research found that Achievers are able to get past the sticker shock and spend appropriately on technology. By contrast, most Laggards underinvest in tools that would help them operate better. 

How can CRE professionals flip the script? By educating themselves and becoming advocates for the business case. One way to do this is by pointing to the tenant experience. As Coleen explained, “Tenants want the best tech too. Investing in it provides a better customer experience and competitive advantage.” The price for tech may look high, but consider the value of innovation. If you don’t, you risk limiting your team, possibly including their ability to attract and serve tenants.  

4. Invest in technology that will best represent your brand.  

While many technology solutions absolutely offer efficiencies that save time and money, CRE Achievers are looking beyond these benefits. In evaluating tech options, they are placing a higher priority on serving customers and enhancing their own brand images—benefits that will separate them from others in the market. 

During the webinar, Henry returned to a theme from last June’s BOMA International conference in San Antonio: Technology as an amenity. “Tenants are looking for apps [and technology] that are different than ones that other buildings offer,” he said. As an example, consider the simple task of communicating with the occupants in a commercial building. The technology building management and tenants are using to share information with each other says something about how serious a building is about offering the best possible tenant experience. Doing something innovative—something that stands out from the crowd—contributes a better experience and can foster loyalty to the building.  

If I could distill down the takeaways from the CRE Technology Trends report into one word of advice, it would be this: Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from moving forward with technology that you already know will improve your building or portfolio. Start with a clear goal in a targeted area, then narrow down the universe of possible solutions within your budgetary constraints. From there, determine the best option to help you achieve your goal, and run with it. There’s less to lose and more to gain than you think. 

Download the full report to understand how effectively embracing and utilizing technology will give you a competitive advantage.