Yesterday our very own Louisa Dickins hosted the CREtech webinar on Best Practices for Tech Adoption in the Real Estate Sector. Speakers included Eric Flohr, Senior Vice President - Transformation of Berkadia; Suzy Bashore, Chief Technology Officer of PGIM Real Estate; Kristen Magni, Consultant for CREtech Global Innovation Consulting Practice; and Kim Lewis, Senior Vice President of Technology, Oxford Properties Group
The webinar touched on key topics around the differences seen in real estate companies and their willingness to adopt new tech in the last five years. They discussed the effects of Covid on the adoption of new tech, the common obstacles and solutions for companies when integrating their systems with new tech, tech savvy talent and tools real estate companies are interested in today, and finally what real estate companies should consider when vetting new tech to invest in.
There has been tremendous progress in digitalization in the last five years. As Eric Flohr mentioned, there is more communication happening between companies today than ever before. There is a willingness to share useful data and to integrate API’s and other electronic systems to facilitate the exchange of information and speed up transaction processes.
If the integration of tech within real estate companies has been progressing for the last few years, Covid has sped up this process in a way no one could anticipate. However, there is still a long road ahead for the digitization process for real estate companies. As Kristen Magni noted, a company’s technology only counts if people actually want to adopt it.
One interesting observation Suzy Bashore noted was that a few years ago, employees didn’t feel the need for video conferencing tools as part of their everyday work tools. Now almost every employee across different organizations not limited to the real estate sector are using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and other similar tech tools to manage the remote-working reality of today brought about by Covid.
The most common challenge real estate companies face when adopting new technology is getting people on board. This is where the leadership teams play the biggest part in creating enthusiasm for the product. As Kim Lewis mentioned, it is a giant leap forward for a real estate company to adopt new technology. Senior leaders need to inspire innovation, own the vision, and encourage people to feel empowered and embrace the change in strategy.
Kristen notes that one way to get people inspired to learn and use new technology is to get “Change Champions” involved in the early decision making process. This creates momentum and excitement within the company. Eric provided an excellent example with the junior brokers at Berkadia. Without an extensive book of contacts, junior brokers were looking to expand their business as quickly and efficiently as possible. They were more willing to adopt different tech platforms to help. Eventually they started hitting targets and their senior counterparts took notice. This created a ripple effect within the teams and inspired the senior brokers to learn to use the same tech platforms to improve target results across the board.
Tech savvy talent real estate companies are interested in range from chief innovation officers, to product managers, to data analysts, UX and UI designers, and software engineers.
Most established real estate companies aren’t looking to create their own technology but rather adopt the existing technology out there and support their fellow growing organizations, as Kim and Suzy both note. The kind of technology that real estate companies drift towards today are best-in-class SaaS platforms that offer out-of-the-box solutions. Platforms that collect and organize quality and consistent data and that can be scaled and used globally across different teams are what companies look for.
Consumers are looking for more ways to engage with companies through technology (for example: virtual self-guided home tours). Employees are looking for better ways to communicate whilst working remotely. Technology can provide solutions to improve front-end interaction with consumers as well streamline internal systems for real estate companies. So how does a company vet the kind of technology they invest in?
Real estate companies should first consider what their requirements are, what are they trying to get better at, what services can be automated to give people an easier time, what tools do different teams need to improve cross-functional communication, etc. Real estate companies should also take into account their budget. They should spend time piloting the tech product, testing to see if it works across all product lines and across different countries. Lastly, real estate companies should only invest in new tech that aligns with the organization’s principles and framework so that the desired business outcome is ultimately what the adoption of new technology brings about.