“Latest and Greatest” Technology Can you afford not to have it?

Posted on August 10, 2010 at 9:27 pm in

We are quick to believe that new perimeter-weighted graphite/boron/titanium equipment harnessing the latest technologies will miraculously improve our games. Almost every golfer has stood on that first tee of the season wielding a new driver believing that this year’s technology is going to cure his/her slice. Year in and year out, we want to believe it’s the equipment not the player.

Consider the fact that your opponent might already have the “latest and greatest technology.” Getting the newest equipment every year neutralizes your opponent’s advantage. The fear that your opponent’s new tennis racquet might provide some unseen benefit weighs on each competitor’s mind. So, to improve our games, to get every advantage, we look to technology as our savior.

New York’s real estate market is far more competitive than the average tennis match or golf round. More and more buildings are utilizing the latest technologies to their advantage. Similar, to the “radical” conversion in the early nineties from wooden woods to metal woods, eventually all buildings will have online services in their bag. Two years ago less than 5% of commercial buildings used online services for building operations. In 2003, with the advent of energy management programs, lease administration software, work-order systems, online building directories and notification systems, the number of buildings using software for some pat of building operations has climbed to more than 15%.

When was the last time you played tennis against someone using a wooden or even an aluminum racquet? With the benefits of online services, building owners/managers can offer potential tenants better run facilities and more efficient services. The buildings not taking advantage of putting their building services online are stepping onto the court with less than the “best” opportunity to win over the next tenant.

In some areas of real estate, technology is critical. In a survey taken last year more than 75% of all real estate transactions involved the use of online services like CoStar. The ability to retrieve and analyze leasing data makes the use of CoStar very compelling. Ultimately, almost all brokerage firms interested in remaining competitive use online services for acquiring and retaining tenants. Like metal woods or graphite racquets, any real estate firm that desires to remain competitive will use an online service.

Expanding this metaphor further, no one stops at trying to gain the advantage of technology with one club. First it’s the woods, next it’s the perimeter-weighted irons, then it’s the putter and finally the search for the perfect golf ball begins. The reliance that many firms put on online services for leasing is truly only the beginning. Eventually, all building owners and managers will seek to get the “latest and greatest” advantage, or at least neutralize the opponent’s advantage by adopting programs and systems for lease administration, energy management and building operations.

There is a sensible order to technology adoption that focuses on impact. With metal in the club head and a graphite shaft, new metal woods dramatically improved driving distance. Lighter stronger graphite caused a dramatic difference in power and control in tennis racquets. Within ten years of these improvements being introduced, the widespread adoption is apparent. We are only two to three years into the dynamic shift from off-line building management to either server based or web-based building management. In a few more years there will be a similar widespread adoption of online services for building operation, and incoming tenants will expect these services. Right now, in this highly competitive market, can you afford to still be playing with a wooden racquet?

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The Building Channel

Posted on August 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm in

Recently, a building manager asked if the lobby’s existing closed circuit cameras could broadcast images through Shortpath. Yes, certain cameras equipped with the ability to broadcast to an IP address allow web-based viewing. In addition, typical IP-driven software with contemporary security features permit broadcasting of specific cameras to specific individuals. For example, a security guard might be able to see four cameras, a tenant one and a building manager twenty. Viewing lobby activity, watching building staff at work, making sure the front of a building has been cleared of snow or observing a loading dock, the applications are limitless. With the pervasive nature of the Internet, viewing, storing, and accessing data no matter where it resides is possible. So, the questions that come up should not be whether it can be done, but rather what will be achieved and to what effect will the installations have on building security.

New tenants mentioned the desire to see what was going on in the lobby. More specifically, they wanted to observe visitors and authorize their entry without having to come downstairs. Traveling to the lobby and vouching for unexpected visitors was disrupting meetings and was affecting productivity. Based upon what this tenant wanted, quality was not important and the picture could be delayed as much as five seconds. Achieving this solution, not just for this tenant, but also for the entire building would be simple. Once installed a building could turn the image broadcast on and off like a faucet. Tenants desiring the functionality would purchase the broadcast. ie. Property TV.

On the technological side, one of the relevant issues in IP broadcasting and security cameras is the delay. A security incident can take place in as little as two seconds. In fact, a person can commit a crime and run 30 yards in five seconds. So, IP cameras require significant bandwidth in order to broadcast quality digital images in real time and be effective in alerting security guards on premise of suspicious activity. Many buildings already have this bandwidth and have either applied it or could apply it to digital broadcasting. Some of the great reasons to go with digital feeds include price and ease of storage, transfer and search.

Eventually, tenants are going to want access to lobby cameras and other views of the building in order to manage their own security. The nanny cam was merely the beginning, and an accessory that could be included for individuals at work as well. With all the installations of cameras by the Department of Transportation to enforce traffic laws, people’s expectation of privacy is quickly eroding. Larger tenants are looking at new and different ways to control their own security. Increasing the number of background checks, scrutinizing people’s lives, now owners and officers are going to find themselves liable for the safety of their employees and businesses are going to look to their landlords for help. One way to economically deliver this kind of help is through the Internet.

Building on IP technology allows owners to integrate existing systems and augment security as necessary with new technologies as they become more affordable. For residential, tenants can see if the laundry room is busy or whether the freight elevator is in use. For commercial, confirmation of identity or even a look outside at the weather might be of interest. Whatever the application, secure and economical, through cables or wireless, the Internet provides a great delivery system for broadcasting images throughout a building community.

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CRM is TRM… the Best in Breed Shortpath.net

Posted on August 3, 2010 at 1:24 pm in

Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”) solutions continue to be at the top of every company’s software shopping list. Whether you are a Fortune 500 company or a small three-person office, CRM solutions provide the modern ties that bind relationships. Who among us doesn’t use Outlook, Act or some other form of contact manager? For building owner/managers who are focused on maintaining and enhancing relationships with tenants, the answer isn’t CRM, its TRM (“Tenant Relationship Management”).

A TRM solution focuses on the specific needs of tenants by providing pertinent information to tenants about their building, its contractors, work requests, and notifications. A TRM solution, like an operating system, can be outfitted with software for visitor management, access control, architectural information and much more. Though an online work order management system alone is great for building operations, it fails to focus on what tenants really need. Whether by phone or online, the light bulb is going to get changed. The real question is how are tenants getting their fire drill notifications? How are they managing building access? Can they contact relevant service providers for building related work?

Having implemented several TRM solutions in both multi-tenanted and single tenanted commercial properties, the most noticeable difference with each installation is the improvement in tenants’ opinion of building management. Providing tenants with access to pertinent contacts and communication gives tenants a sense of empowerment. For the first time, tenants can access a building’s relevant knowledgebase without a phone call, without scrounging around for the notice slipped under the door, or calling the building office looking for the approved contractor for carpet cleaning.

Most recently, we replaced a very expensive work-order management system with a less expensive TRM solution. This work-order software company let the building have their work-order system for free for one year. They must have thought that once the building was hooked, a change would be difficult. They were wrong. Quickly, we discovered less than ten percent of the building’s tenants were using the work order system. We were even more surprised to find out that tenant’s attitude was, “I get charged enough for rent, I am not helping them run their building!” With the simple change to our TRM platform, the building usage jumped to eighty percent, the building is running smoothly and the tenants are happier.

The typical customer relationship management solution is applied to situations where a product or service is delivered from a business to a client on a one-to-one basis. While in some respects supplying space is a service, the interaction of janitorial services, contractors and building staff with tenants is not a one-to-one relationship. Each property is unique and building services are provided in a multi-dimensional fashion.

For example, requests for service might be made directly to building staff, but a third-party might handle the actual work. Or, a building might have an emergency response system for brown-outs, but the notifications are dispatched from a central location. Faxes and porters handing out letters just wont do anymore. A well-designed TRM allows for off site instant notifications to selected tenants and/or direct contact with selected vendors.

Remember, it is the everyday things that people appreciate. Leveraging technology to make relationships stronger and more valuable is the purpose of implementing a Customer Relationship solution. A TRM solution for building owner/managers is no different. Sharing information and communication on an easy to use platform sends a positive message fortifying existing relationships.

Before deciding on what online work-order system should be implemented, consider a TRM solution as a comprehensive communication system, one that not only allows building staff to administer work-orders, but also enhances the overall tenant experience.

Must see www.shortpath.net

Lease Tracking

Posted on July 29, 2010 at 11:20 am in

Good decision-making has always been based on good information. While real estate related software creates everyday efficiencies, its long-term effect of capturing information may be its greatest value. Analyzing information over a long period of time requires that somehow data has been generated and stored. If that data does not exist now, can it be re-generated and at what cost? Preventive maintenance, visitor-access control systems, and work order management ASPs (“Application Service Providers”) all create operating efficiencies, and, if designed well, have a tremendous ability to capture and store data. In most ASPs getting good data is a fortunate result rather than a primary function. However, in lease tracking applications the service of capturing data is the core value.

Generally, sophisticated software developers understand that establishing well-organized data collection procedures is as important as developing functional requirements. Since data can only be analyzed after it is captured., aspects of generating and storing data are usually carefully considered before ever implementing the tools for analysis. The lack of analysis tools in most leasing programs exemplifies these notions of software design.

Consider the simplicity of placing all lease abstract data in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Any small to medium size property owner can develop a database that stores data and generates reports. Creating a graphic interface to search and view the data takes a few good weeks of programming; however, capturing leasing data requires time and expertise This is not necessarily found within the software, but with the personnel operating or initially populating the data in the software.

Pay a lawyer to do a lease abstraction, pay a person to do data entry into a software program and have the data in a safe and accessible format. The combined cost of the lawyer, the data entry personnel and the software is going to be approximately $500. Using a complete leasing ASP the cost of a similar transaction is reduced to less than $300.

With leasing ASPs, landlords are not paying so much for the application, they are paying for the great service. Low cost lease abstractions, offsite data storage, reporting and analysis are key benefits. Converting paper documents into digital data can be very laborious. Extrapolating information from contracts and reviewing leases tends to require legal expertise. Also, once the data is captured it must be assigned to its relevant place within the database. There is an expectation that porting data from paper files to digital database is performed without mistake. Perfection has always been expensive.

Digitizing leasing data eliminates document shipping, copying and faxing. It allows for the sharing of real time information and disaster recovery. Storing data in such an organized format assures that lease documents are never misplaced or lost. Once the data is captured, permission can be granted to tenants to view their lease information online. Instead of spending time arguing various aspects of the lease with a tenant, a landlord can direct the tenant to the specific information online. Moreover, any dispute as to what the lease document contains can be quickly resolved by the click of a mouse. With this online feature for tenants installed, incorporating the expenses associated with this amenity into each lease makes perfect sense.

While searching for a partner in developing our own lease tracking software, we have reviewed many providers. Many tend to create complicated tools that put the onus on landlords to input and capture the data. An application that merely serves as a “bank” of data is usually not worth the cost. It is exactly what is wrong with most real estate related software; all function, no service. The oldest trick in selling product, “now that you bought it, nice knowing you, good luck, bye.”

One of the apparent problems of most real estate based ASPs is they deliver the application, but forget about the importance of expert ongoing service. The everyday value of an ASP is not merely answering the question, “Is the application working?” Instead, Application Service Providers should truly help operate businesses and answer the important questions. “Does the service work for you and is it valuable?”

Outsourcing non-core functions of a business makes economic sense. Focused on capturing and storing lease data all day everyday, service oriented leasing ASPs are going to be more cost effective for most landlords. If your looking for a better way to capture and store leasing data, convert paper in to a digital database to be queried, searched and analyzed, look no further than a leasing ASP. Fortunately, there are solutions out there that do provide both the application and the service.

Finding a partner has not been easy, but Shortpath has begun incorporating a leasing ASP into its comprehensive building operating system. There is the opportunity to increase ROI (“Return on Investment”) by using technology for what it is being built for, efficiency.

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