While the commercial real estate industry has been comparatively slow to adopt technology, there’s no question that the market has become increasingly enthusiastic about technology that helps them improve efficiencies, save money, and attract clients and customers. At CREW San Diego’s lunch event Wednesday, “Technology Impact on Commercial Real Estate,” the panelists discussed how certain technologies have affected their business, what technology can do for CRE, and what’s coming down the pike that will have a profound impact on the industry.
Held at The Lot at Liberty Station in San Diego, a luxury movie theater, the event allowed attendees to sit comfortably in the theater’s reclining leather seats and be served lunch while the development-oriented panelists gave their presentation, with slides presented on the movie screen behind them. Moderator Darcy Miramontes, EVP of JLL, asked the panelists how technology is impacting cost and timing of development projects, and Pat Fuscoe, founder and CEO of Fuscoe Engineering, said technology has been incredibly disruptive to his line of work, with exponential cost and time savings. Information that used to take weeks of precarious human-led surveillance to compile can now be achieved in a day or two with drone technology at a fraction of the cost.
Katerina Milovanoska, senior VDC/BIM manager for Rudolf & Sletten Inc., explained how software is now used for virtually every aspect of the pre-construction process, allowing her firm to create a financial database and to provide architects with tools and data about a project early in the design stage that will enable them to save both time and money. Cost savings are crucial to this process, she noted, and technology helps everyone involved make better decisions about pricing.
Jason Wood, project principal for Cisterra — developer of 7th & Market, a mixed-use project in Downtown San Diego — said it’s vital to use the most current models and technology systems and to coordinate those to see where there are potential conflicts in a project’s development. “You don’t want to have to call a developer and say, ‘We have an issue.’”
Wood said he favors modes of technology that allow the principals and those working on the project to see it from all angles in order to prevent conflicts, which saves money. But the downside to this is that the agencies who approve projects are also well aware of this technology and ask for the extensive data and renderings such technology can provide before giving approval — a process that can be rather costly. However, once approval is achieved, the true cost savings can begin.
Fuscoe agreed that having drone and virtual-reality technology can help eliminate complaints stemming from NIMBYism, i.e., those stakeholders who are worried about how a project’s look will affect their neighborhood or their views. This results in fewer people who are opposed to a project at planning-commission meetings, which streamlines the development process.
In addition to drone technology replacing inexpert surveillance methods like using a hot-air-balloon ride to capture views from a potential project, Fuscoe pointed out how VR technology can help results meet expectations. He showed several side-by-side photos of a VR rendering next to actual finished space, and the two photos were nearly indistinguishable. “We’re able to use this technology before a project is even designed.” Rather than choosing paint color or tile from a small chip or sample and possibly being disappointed in the result, VR allows us to see exactly what a room will look like with that paint color or tile.
So, what’s next for technology in the CRE arena? After demonstrating the benefits of mixed-reality eyeglasses like HoloLens, Megan Lubaszka, regional creative media leader for Gensler, said in three years the industry is expecting smart glasses to be “as light as the glasses you wear now.” It’s possible that some of us may not need a desk or computer, but instead will do our work using the Internet of Things “so that if you go into a conference room, it will know it’s you.” She said the convergence of physical and digital is coming.
Wood said technology will become more affordable and more flexible in many aspects of property development. It may become as easy and fast as creating your own burger order in a restaurant like Stack.
Fuscoe said he can “now scan anything and turn it into a 3D file,” but the next step is artificial intelligence. “It’s way out there on the horizon, but we are about a year and a half into our AI program.” Being able to count with extreme accuracy the number of trees in a forest or the number of cracked tiles on a roof that need to be replaced, in addition to sorting and thinking about how to use that data, is both here and on the horizon. And Fuscoe believes technology won’t take away jobs but will instead take away the mundane part of jobs and allow people to “do the fun stuff” of CRE.