Technology

Real estate giant CBRE has an 'unparalleled' amount of data. Its tech chief lays out how it's putting it to good use.

Sandeep Dave CBRE

  • Sandeep Davé became the Chief Digital and Technical Officer at CBRE, the world’s largest real estate services firm, in July as the pandemic accelerated real estate technology adoption.
  • Business Insider spoke with Davé about how the pandemic has affected CBRE’s use of technology and the promises of what real estate data could do.
  • Davé also walked through how the firm thinks about what technology to buy, build, or partner with.
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Data has permeated every part of the real estate value chain, from capital markets to construction, and is influencing how business is done. 

Landlords are even using motion sensors in offices to collect data and monitor social distancing in the workplace.

CBRE, as the largest real estate services firm in the world, has potentially the biggest cache of real estate data out of any company in the world. With the coronavirus accelerating the impact of real estate technology, the data that underpins the technology will inform what the future looks like.  

Sandeep Davé, CBRE’s chief digital and technical officer, touted the possibilities of CBRE’s unmatched access to real estate data worldwide.

“We operate at a massive scale, we manage 7 billion square feet of real estate and we process over $400 billion in transaction volume,” Davé said in an interview with Business Insider. “So we have access to unparalleled data, and we want to continue to mine that data.”

Davé, who promoted as the pandemic began to accelerate tech adoption in an industry that was already seeing unprecedented digital change, sat down (virtually) with Business Insider to discuss CBRE’s role as a tech advisor during a pandemic, and why we’re still in the earliest stages of real estate’s data journey.

The promises of data and technology

CBRE and real estate as a whole are still in the early days of where data can take people, said Davé. The challenge isn’t so much the collection of data, of which there is plenty, but learning how to use the data in a productive way. 

As of today, the firm monitors data for its clients buildings and aggregates it across the portfolio, using it to track everything from energy usage to health and safety risks. The future of the firm’s data selection is closely tied to its advisory focus, choosing what to monitor based on the data’s alignment with the client’s goals.

Davé described CBRE’s approach by comparing it against a common way that data is used. 

“Hey let’s create a data lake, and then go fishing, and then we find there’s no fish in the lake,” Davé said, describing the way data is used when it’s not clearly tied to an organization or client’s goals. 

Instead, CBRE has made sure to build the tools that their clients need, said Davé. He gave the example of Vantage, CBRE’s suite of data analytics tools that can fit a wide range of use cases. These use cases came from actual clients, instead of being dreamt up separately from the company’s advisory business.

Read more: Companies need to add contactless-entry tech to safely reopen offices. Here are 7 firms ranging from startups to huge conglomerates that are set for a surge in business.

 This comes as tech has become more essential than ever to landlords, which have seen their bottom lines constricted by the pandemic and economic fallout.

“Our clients have all focused on high-quality service delivery at a low cost and now the standards around the delivery are going up, for example, increased cleaning frequency, and at the same time pressures on costs of the business have increased,” Sandeep told Business Insider

In this new world, Davé said that the giant’s role hasn’t changed, even though we’re living through “unprecedented times.”

CBRE’s place in real estate tech

CBRE’s global business is composed, roughly, of a brokerage team that helps companies sell, rent, and buy real estate and a team that works with both landlords and corporations to do everything from property management to advise them on technology to bring into the office space. Davé’s role supports both sides of the business. 

After beginning his career as a software engineer, Davé had an 8-year stint as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton (later Booz and Company), before becoming Citi’s director of global digital strategy in 2012. In that time, Davé learned the importance of learning from one’s clients. 

“Often in those interactions, not only do we get to advise our clients on the benefits of our technology but we also learn as to what their pain points are and that in turn informs our own technology roadmap,” Davé said. 

The technology roadmap had to adapt to the pandemic, but, other than notable exceptions like temperature sensor technology, Davé said that this mostly meant “an acceleration of trends that were already underway.”

A notable example are workplace experience apps, which were becoming increasingly used for their ability to connect office workers to amenities and building information

“Today, workplace experience has been pivoted to safe reentry, the main focus of all of our clients,” Davé said. 

These apps are now able to give employees notifications when the building and their office has opened and can connect to access tools and workplace sensors to provide information about what parts of the building are potentially overcrowded. 

Read more: Virtual tours are being hyped as a way for commercial real estate giants like CBRE and JLL to keep deals flowing. Here’s a look at how they work — and what factors they can’t replace.

Looking for innovation

While CBRE’s develops its own products, the firm also acquires externally built technology and partners with other tech firms. Unlike competitor JLL, which has its own JLL Spark venture fund, CBRE doesn’t directly invest in tech companies but instead chooses to invest through partners like Fifth Wall Ventures, MetaProp, and Taronga Ventures.

Davé said that the company decides between building, buying, or partnering depending on whether the product is significantly differentiated from what’s on the market. If it is, CBRE will build it themselves, or if they need to accelerate going to market they will buy a product.

If the technology is commoditized and offered by multiple companies, CBRE will choose to partner instead. Oftentimes, they source their partners from the venture firms who spend all day sorting through real estate tech startups.

A partnership doesn’t always mean working with smaller tech providers, it can also mean working in concert with one of the world’s largest tech companies, Microsoft. CBRE and Microsoft have worked together on multiple products, including CBRE’s Host workplace experience application that uses Microsoft’s Azure digital twin technology to build digital models of workplaces. CBRE’s partnership with Microsoft to use digital twin technology was announced in 2018.

SEE ALSO: 10 CEOs from Coldwell Banker, JLL, Cushman Wakefield, and more lay out a post-pandemic future of how we’ll buy, build, and use real estate

SEE ALSO: Virtual tours are being hyped as a way for commercial real estate giants like CBRE and JLL to keep deals flowing. Here’s a look at how they work — and what factors they can’t replace.

SEE ALSO: VergeSense, an office-sensor startup that tracks employees’ movements, just nabbed $9 million. From social distancing scores to real-time occupancy alerts, here’s its pitch to big companies on its tech.

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