A CIO’s Introduction to CRE Tech

Ryan Anderson, VP of Digital Innovation, Herman Miller
Ryan Anderson, VP of Digital Innovation, Herman Miller

Ryan Anderson, VP of Digital Innovation, Herman Miller

The physical environments in which we work are being transformed technologically, and it’s important that IT leaders play an active role in this transformation. While the term “digital workplace” is not new, it often focuses more on how technology can impact internal work processes rather than the work environment itself. In the same way that many IT leaders have partnered with counterparts in Human Resources to impact how work gets done within an organization, there is equal opportunity for IT leaders to partner with their Corporate Real Estate (CRE) counterparts to positively impact organizational outcomes. In order to do so, it’s helpful to have an understanding of how the physical workplace is changing, and the technologies that many real estate teams are already exploring to improve the use of space.

Changes in our Places of Work

The spaces in which we work are in the midst of a significant time of transformation that began nearly a decade ago with the rise of mobility. In the era of desktop computing, work environments were planned in highly standardized ways. People did their work from assigned desks to access their computers and needed to come into the office to access the network and other technologies such as printers and video conferencing. As a result,offices were designed to support fairly predictable patterns of behaviors. However, as organizations embraced mobile technologies and work became more collaborative and distributed, work patterns shifted and CRE leaders have been forced to rethink their workplace strategies, asking deeper questions about what it means to provide effective workplaces for their organization.

  The array of technologies designed to optimize the use of real estate and create better workplace experiences is increasingly being referred to as “CRE Tech”  

Higher Levels of Workplace Expectations

In particular, CRE teams are seeking to understand how to plan and manage work environments that can positively impact organizational outcomes, walking a precarious line between eliminating wasted space and providing enjoyable and productive experiences for employees. Because work isno longer fixed, there isn’t a need for the same amount of real estate as was once required, offering significant opportunities for cost optimization. But because these work environments are essentially in competition with anyplace else an employee might choose to work, it’s important that corporate office spacesprovide positive experiences that reflect the cultural aspirations ofan organization. Since corporate real estate is often the second highest cost for organizations after their investment in people, CEO’s and CFO’s (to whom most CRE leaders report) are asking their Real Estate teams to simultaneously help improve productivity and retention while reducing costs. Not surprisingly, a host of technologies have entered the market in recent years to help realize these goals.

The Rise of CRE Tech

The array of technologies designed to optimize the use of real estate and create better workplace experiences is increasingly being referred to as “CRE Tech.” In truth, this category isn’t new as there have been technologies focused on improving real estate for decades, but most of these centered around improved operational outcomes such as reducing energy usage or improved building security. In the same manner that digital transformation strategies have turned the corner from costs saving to employee experience, this too has marked the recent changes in CRE Tech, and the interest in this category among corporate real estate leaders has never been higher.

Examples of CRE technologies include sensing technologies to measure and improve the use of space, room and desk reservation applications, indoor navigation and wayfinding solutions, technologies focused on improved work experiences through smart lighting and thermal comfort, and software platforms that manage changes within the work environment. These technologies are available from a host of providers that include leading real estate companies such as CBRE, JLL, and WeWork, established technology manufacturers such as Siemens, and a wealth of new startups backed by venture funds focused on CRE tech. Additionally, an increasing number of systems integrators, some of which are owned by commercial real estate services organizations, are specifically focusing on using CRE technologies to enable smart, connected building strategies.

Partnering with your Real Estate Counterparts

While the growth of CRE Tech in recent years has been significant, it’s presented new challenges for corporate real estate professionals, few of whom have a background in technology. There are excellent resources available to them from industry organizations such as Realcomm and CoreNet, but there’s no substitute for internal collaboration and knowledge-sharing with their IT counterparts. Unfortunately, this type of collaboration is the exception rather than the rule for most organizations. Many CRE leaders are apprehensive about discussing these solutions with their IT counterparts, perhaps out of fear that IT will stand in the way of their use. Most CRE professionals and are unfamiliar with the concept of “shadow IT” and aren’t aware that the solutions they are evaluating may inadvertently create security and privacy risks for an organization. Since many employees within the ranks of IT may be unfamiliar with the benefits of CRE tech or don’t feel empowered to support them, it’s ideal for CIOs and other IT leaders to proactively reach out to their CRE counterparts to invite collaboration. Because the impact of these technologies can save organizations substantial sums on improved use of real estate and also positively impact productivity and employee experience, it’s mutually-beneficial for both IT and Corporate Real Estate teams to proactively collaborate and co-create a CRE tech strategy.

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