Jim Whalen, CIO, Boston Properties Weighs In On NextGen CRE Information Management
Technology has vastly changed the way we communicate and interact, and thanks to the development of new platforms, the commercial real estate (CRE) industry has begun to embrace that change. Leasing and asset management platforms have been streamlining and enhancing how CRE professionals exchange data, without undermining the importance of word of mouth communication. We recently sat down with Jim Whalen, SVP & CIO at Boston Properties, to talk about how modern CRE technology is transforming the way brokers, landlords and tenant reps communicate.
Historically, the time and effort required to get the information that leasing agents, owners, and landlords need on a daily basis was daunting. Even with the advent of big data collection, the issue then became how to efficiently analyze that information in a constant, consistent, and actionable way. CIOs faced a daily challenge in managing their pipeline, and increasingly needed a better way to manage the efficiency of the process.
Jim Whalen agrees, “My biggest challenge is working to keep up with the velocity of our business and the cycle we’re in right now. For the past few years, our main focus has been to increase the efficiency of how we process, handle and package the data that supports how we make decisions. We’re not in a position to take a timeout right now. We have a very active development pipeline at the moment—buildings under construction, working to lease out those spaces—there’s a quicker cadence and tempo to the business cycle right now, and we’re working hard to meet it.”
In the past, teams typically communicated around deal flow through a combination of data on tool sets, reinforced by verbal communications and structured reviews such as quarterly business plans. Still, the verbal communication that the teams do was a vital part of the process, and the engagement that goes on internally. (A piece of paper in front of you shows the analytics of a deal, but you still want to talk about it and have that interaction.) In the new era of CRE platforms, that interaction is still vital, but what has changed is there is no longer a need to have the same amount of interactions to have a pulse on data flow and what is happening in the market. Verbal communication is still key – but platforms have streamlined the process and made it more efficient.
Whalen elaborates: “There’s a term related to social media called ‘ambient awareness’. It refers to the ability to have an awareness of everything that’s going on without having to take a deep dive into each space. This is what CRE tech platforms provide us – the ability to have an awareness of everything that’s going on so we can probe deeper into the things that matter most.”
Prior to using the CRE tech platform, Boston Properties utilized a more traditional platform that captured data throughout the quarterly cycle and focused on the forecast process. However, the flow of information wasn’t aligned with the pace of deal flow and activities on the ground; it did not necessarily give the full story of the interactions that occur on a daily basis. While there was a process, it was a somewhat minimalist approach to support the requirements of business without the insight into activity, the insight into the conversations, and negotiations between tenants and landlords.
In 2011, Boston Properties teamed with VTS, a leading leasing and asset management company that offers a real-time approach to leasing CRE portfolios. Their platform technology offered an interactive stacking plan, and a superior way to track performance and identify opportunities, maximizing productivity, expediting communications between brokers and landlords, and offering an efficient solution for leasing agents.
CRE tech has also been used by executives to communicate key portfolio details to Wall Street. Whalen explained that “Boston Properties already had a pretty disciplined process for revenue forecasting before we started using CRE technology. However, this technology enabled us to do two things. First, it allowed for increased sorting and transparency of activity – instead of the senior management team making phone calls every day to really understand the details of a particular deal, they get insight from the minute they get up in the morning when the first update comes up. The second thing is when we are crunching the data every quarter, there is a two, three, four week period where we are going through the details, and the finance team is required to maintain our forecast and revenue models. VTS has contributed to the process by supporting our teams to have all information at their fingertips – they provide the details and real-time updates that are happening on the ground to reinforce what gets baked into our forecast and our guidance.”
As the CRE industry moves forward, modern leasing and asset management platforms are streamlining how landlords, brokers and tenant reps get the information they need to work more efficiently, and communicate more effectively.
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