Dana Point, California, with its sunny beaches and green hills, might not be the kind of place that comes to mind when you think of innovation. But this idyllic beach town is home to one of the major innovations in watersports, thanks to a local surfboard shaper named Hobie Alter, who realized that sailing would be a lot more popular if sailboats were more user-friendly. He designed a boat that was affordable, easily beachable and incredibly fast thanks to a double fin design that was revolutionizing the surfing world at the time. His creation was called a Hobie Cat, and the Hobie Cat Company went on to become the largest manufacturer of small catamarans in the world.
Hobie Alter was able to use his knowledge of both sailing and surfing to import innovations from one to the other. Cross-industry collaboration and outside-of-the-box thinking is once again happening in Dana Point, this time in real estate, at the ARGUS Connect conference which kicked off yesterday. The parent company of ARGUS Software, one of the most widely used tools for commercial real estate valuations, Altus Group, created the event as a way to bring real estate executives together from all over the world to collaborate, teach and learn from the people designing the software that they use every day.
Altus’ leadership understood that the best tech platforms can’t rely on clients redesigning their workflows around new technology. Rather, the platform must be able to integrate into existing processes. Although just an event, ARGUS Connect is part of something more, something truly collaborative, an ongoing conversation between software providers and their clients across the spectrum of technological sophistication.
That was the spirit Altus Group’s Vice President of Product Management Dhinaker Dhandi captured when speaking about a couple of new features coming to Argus Cloud. Dhinaker explained that the investment management platform would be gaining benchmarking and reporting functionality, implementations meant as a specific response to client feedback. “One of the common challenges we heard from our customers was the challenge of getting the data and reporting on the data they have within Argus,” Dhinaker said. “So the portfolio dashboarding capability allows our clients to quickly get a snapshot of their data in their portfolio on their assets and slice and dice it in key fashions to understand the performance of their assets in real time.”
The new benchmarking functionality is meant to allow portfolio managers to compare asset performance not only against other properties within the same portfolio, but also data from third party sources and outside providers. This way, managers will be able to base decision-making off analytics for internal goals as well as trends and performance baselines across the industry as a whole. “Now using our algorithms to show you similar assets within your portfolio, we can give them that intelligent insight that they have been looking for on their asset performance for a long time”, Dhinaker said.
When Hobie Alter released his company’s best selling “Hobie 16” catamaran, sales were impressive and a legacy was made. But despite the fame and success of the boat, it never rose to become the only boating option out there. Even for similar uses, numerous other catamaran types as well as other monohull boat designs continued to draw plenty of recreational sailors.
In PropTech, a similar story is unfolding. There are lots software options for the real estate industry and most people end up having to use many of them simultaneously. This means that these applications need to be able to communicate with each other and easily send data back and forth. This can often be difficult since so many real estate companies have their data in different forms. Many have postulated that the industry will eventually adopt a single data standard, but Altus Group CEO Bob Courteau thinks that technology might be able to eliminate the need to try to force ARGUS users to conform to one data standard.
Bob’s words are far from hyperbole. Other industry leaders have similar perspectives. Diane Vrkic, founder and CEO of investment management platform Waypoint, which now integrates with ARGUS, explained that one particular client operates 20 buildings with 19 total service providers, all speaking their own unique languages.
Indeed, it’s far from self-evident that a data standard is even necessary within the commercial real estate field. “The ability to massively collect data to put it to work is happening right now,” Bob said. Platforms leveraging AI and machine learning are working every day to make ingesting data easier and more efficient, no matter the type or state of raw data used as a starting point. Why spend time and money building a data standard if each analysis platform has the ability to homogenize data at the push of a button?
In boat-building and surfboard shaping, designers and hobbyists are always looking for the next innovation that will provide new levels of excitement for today’s user. Likewise in the business of real estate. A data standard would no doubt be a great help today, with today’s level of data science sophistication. But that technology is rapidly improving. A data standard implemented right now might end up solving a problem with a near-term organic solution of its own.
In the end, creating solutions to the real estate industry’s problems takes expertise in both real estate and technology. Bringing these worlds together to collaborate is one of the only ways that new ideas can be introduced and adopted. Like Hobie Alter, PropTech companies need to make products that are more readily accessible to their users and bring ideas to the table from other industries. This is happening in boardrooms and Slack channels, in spreadsheets and in computer code and yes, even at the conference in Dana Point, overlooking a Pacific Ocean dotted with sailboats, including plenty of those iconic Hobie Cats.