There is a longstanding concept within business and entrepreneurship that people often don’t know what they want until they can see it and use it. This idea has its fair share of supporters. Henry Ford may not have actually said “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” but Steve Jobs certainly said “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” But here’s the interesting part: that goes as much for your own coworkers as it does your customers. For real estate companies looking to innovate, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity.
Employees who use systems and experience challenges every day, whether with property operations, portfolio management, or otherwise, are ideally suited to identify, at least in broad strokes, new technologies that could reduce friction and increase efficiency. However, when employees, whether they have technical positions or not, assume the impromptu role of tech evangelist, they’re automatically assuming a reputational risk. If the system or tool they are recommending works well, then great! It’s both an organizational and a career victory. But if things go wrong, and the implementation doesn’t work, goes over budget or otherwise becomes an issue, then it’s not only the company’s efforts, time, and money on the line, it is also the reputation of the evangelist.
This is tied in part to the size and scope of the tech project in question. No one is going to suffer much blowback if a new graphic design tool or social media management platform that doesn’t cost much and only takes a small investment of time fails to take off. But some projects can be so large, so intertwined with every facet of property company operations that the amount of stakeholders, time commitment and budgetary requirements that failure could cause very real impacts to both the company and the sponsoring individual.
Portfolio-wide IoT applications and technologies that can automate big parts of property management are two examples that fall into this category. “There’s a personal risk in taking your portfolio on a smart building program,” said Deb Noller, founder and CEO of Switch Automation, a smart building platform company. Ms. Noller added that it’s important to try to de-risk the tech rollout process as much as possible, and that even failed tech implementations can be a net positive since they represent a learning opportunity for the company.
Rolling out smart building solutions doesn’t need to meet with failure, though. By checking the right boxes, gaining the right support, and answering the necessary questions before embarking on the smart building rollout, property companies can position themselves to avoid the worst impacts of implementation failure. We discuss the full universe of implementation strategies and pitfalls in our newest research report, Commercial Manager’s Guide to Property IoT Implementation, but one of the most impactful single tactics is to be sure to set clear goals and communicate with stakeholders ahead of time.
This is particularly important with smart building tech amongst other types of PropTech as smart buildings, by nature, involve such a diverse set of stakeholders. Brokerage software needs to make sense for brokers, apartment leasing tools need to work for leasing agents and managers, but full-on smart building software suites, when connected with networks of sensors, access control systems and beyond, need to get buy-in from managers, maintenance staff, IT teams, firmwide tech leadership, and in many cases even the occupiers themselves.
Before engaging in a smart building project, it is critical to make sure that all these stakeholders are given a place at the table. It’s also important to ensure that data is not siloed between these stakeholders when it needs to be centralized in one place to ensure the rollout occurs without error. One of the best ways to approach this challenge is to hearken back to that Steve Jobs quote and show, not tell, through the strategic use of a pilot program that includes company decision makers across real estate, IT, and management business lines.
Buy-in is only the first step in a series of actions that together make up the blueprint for the right type of smart building rollout. Managers also need to consider the physical element, ensuring that servers, computers, sensors and even simple cables are set up properly to support such an undertaking. And there is also a data element to the equation since different formats and data protocols can make or break a building-wide system. But without the support of the people whose knowledge and skills are a necessity, a smart building rollout will be dead before even launching.