Inefficiency Woes in Commercial Real Estate

MAY 22, 2013 11:29am ET

As a 20-year veteran of the commercial real estate industry and a lifelong early adopter of technology it has been very apparent for a long time that my profession and passion do not often intersect.

While many industries with similar stresses—decentralized and geographically disparate operations—have recognized the efficiencies gained from adopting technology, oddly enough, the implementation of technology, in commercial real estate and commercial real estate finance on a large scale has been slow.

Some companies have created platforms to enhance the sales and leasing processes, but have yet to look beyond those systems to broaden their technological abilities and incorporate the burgeoning capabilities of mobile.  What this overlooks is the inherently unique aspect of commercial real estate: that a company’s assets and people are often (if not always) not in an office, but some remote location. With mobile we now have the ability to take the raw data directly from people in the field and extract the information needed to make decisions and take action in a fraction of the time and cost.

Let's take one example—acquiring, financing, or annually reviewing a portfolio of 10 assets. Now sweeten the pot and place those 10 assets in 10 different states, none of which are the same as corporate HQ or lender. What happens next?

There are teams either local to each asset or sent to each asset to gather data and pictures. Then, they will organize it all and send it back to a central point for further cultivating. From there, the information is packaged and ultimately delivered to a lender.

Now, with email being prevalent on essentially all smartphones and tablets, we already have the ability to help the document gathering and delivery process. In practice, though, generic email may not be secure enough for sensitive information. Moreover, frequently during the transfer of information data can be lost and errors can occur, especially if this specific workflow includes numerous manual steps for completion.

Furthermore, simply using a mobile device for just sending email does not even touch the possibility of document creation, data storage or sorting processes.

However, enter into the equation the same smartphone or tablet linked with an intelligent, secure, cloud-based platform that houses the data and provides access to the data as soon as it is collected, in real time. We now have a platform that improves the efficiency of gathering data in the field and a cloud-based platform providing immediate access to the data for people at HQ.

Additionally, a completely integrated platform allows for automatically creating a desired package, utilizing the data collected, pulling the specifically defined items, and generating a package for the team. Before the team in the field can get back to their office or to the next property, HQ can be nearly done working on the first property. Not to mention tasks have changed from blinding spreadsheets and PowerPoint work to actually focusing on the quality of the data in final form.

The efficiencies become more clear as the portfolio grows or during ongoing asset management or periodic servicing reviews. Since the data is already collected and available we can now simply work on new items or review prior issues, all on your mobile device.

While there are clear efficiencies to such a system, I know many firms that have reservations. For many, a major, valid concern is the cost of buying each employee their own mobile device. However, there are a growing number of options to reduce price when it comes to mobile. Moreover, there exists the very real possibility that employees already have access to these devices.

According to a survey my company ran, all of the respondents owned or had access to a tablet or smart phone. The response shocked me—while I have a tendency to adopt new technology early and often, not everyone shares my passion. I had low expectations the respondents would be so active in looking for ways to use their tablets for work; yet, the majority already used their device in some capacity such as email, mapping, spreadsheets, or to take and store pictures.

My suspicion is that respondents had the technology and participated in the survey because they crave apps they can use on their tablets and smartphones. In addition, there are many people that have these devices and want to rely on them for their jobs and completing fieldwork.  For a good idea of just how ubiquitous these devices are becoming the next time you fly, notice how many people in your row are using their iPads.

On a recent flight, everyone in my row had an iPad out and was doing something, and almost all of the passengers within my line of sight had tablets. Of these 18 people, for instance, 11 were awake and working on their tablets, although one passenger just kept watching the Miami Heat Harlem Shake video over and over. But, we’ll take that as an outlier for sanity’s sake.

Slightly amusing parables aside, the bottom line is that in the mortgage industry, there is no substitute for fieldwork—evaluating real estate, jotting notes, and taking pictures. These functions need to occur every day and they need to be done correctly and consistently, every time. Employing smartphones and tablets is a straightforward, inexpensive, and really no-brainer for the commercial real estate industry.

For a few hundred dollars to purchase a tablet and a few more each month to spend on a cloud-based system, a dreaded, time-consuming, manual aspect of the person in the field’s job is automated. According to the same survey mentioned above, the person in the field would gladly to pay to enhance their efficiency.

All industries are constantly looking for ways to improve efficiency, consistency and quality of their data flow and decision making processes. The introduction of mobile devices and highly intelligent, cloud-based systems will provide this improved environment. All companies need to do is make the move to adopt and implement—and the time is now.

Mark Chrisman is the founder and CEO of Chicago-based Real Integrated Technology LLC. For more information, visit www.rit-mobile.com.

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