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The Few Brave Souls Charting the Future of #CRETech. Guest Post: Kevin Kononenko

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Duke wrote a typically provocative post last week on the failed promises of CRE Tech. I am going to offer a little rebuttal with stories of successful #CRETech pioneers.

Last week, Duke tore the whole darn CRE tech industry to shreds. I believe it was unprovoked unless I missed something. A discussion of adoption curves would be simply insufficient to explain the lack of movement, apparently. Instead, it got personal very quickly. Between jabs at the cloistered nature of commercial real estate and shrewd observations on many leaders’ inability to “walk the walk,” we were left with a heaping pile of rubble.

CRE Tech MUST be dead.

Movement has definitely been slow. And yes, many real estate so-called “innovators” have not lived up to their word. But from my position at CrowdComfort, I have seen a different side of the industry. There are a few that are STARVING for new technology. They die a little bit every day when they enter a building that is still run like it is the 80s. And they are exceptionally open-minded when it comes to technology that will help the occupants.

This is their side of the industry, and their ranks are slowly growing. Some facility leaders do not only want to be seen or heard when something goes wrong. Some real estate leaders rabidly search for insights on their portfolio. They have a different approach.

Duke explicitly mentioned three things that these leaders have largely conquered:

-Do not understand that the people inside a structure create value beyond the structure itself.

-Refuse to adapt the physical environment to today’s reality.

-Silo the most important source of data from all possible users. The building itself.

Occupant data leads the way.

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Considering the paltry level of adoption of many advanced building technologies, many FMs and real estate professionals have a tough time sticking their neck on the line and deploying large, expensive hardware systems, regardless of their value. Still, there are plenty of intermediate steps that can start helping these decision-makers become more comfortable with a connected future. It is the obligation of CRE Tech companies to take this into account when they develop their products. Rome wasn’t built in a day. One approach we have used successfully is empowering every occupant with a smartphone to become a “human sensor” for building issues. Since many occupants already have advanced tech in their pocket, it made most sense to utilize that first.

Most real estate and facilities leaders have been appalled at this possibility. Actually making it easier for occupants to provide feedback? Anarchy!

On one hand, this has still been a massive ask for many CRE folks. But, if you review Duke’s three complaints mentioned above, smartphones look like a great option. We have met an entirely separate group of building leaders that have seen smartphones as an easy way to knock out these three common issues with one device. They have been thrilled at the possibility of increased occupant reporting. Having a thousand eyes and ears monitoring your building for you, and happily reporting? Brilliant! These are the ones that are incredibly willing to work with startup companies because they are so darn tired of running into issues from the 20th century.

Today, the smartphone is the easiest way to report an issue. In fact, almost all their employees already have one. Asking employees to send an email by the time they get back to their desk? The employee will have forgotten by then. Why look into expensive hardware when everybody already has an easy interface?

Using simple occupant reports, building managers have discovered hidden problems that actually widely affect occupants. In one case, 10 occupants reported that they were hot in one narrow segment of one floor. These reports came in over a 48 hour stretch. The facilities team was able to trace the issue back to a malfunctioning air handler. Furthermore, the thermostat was mounted on an external wall and was reporting incorrect readings.

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By valuing occupant reports, the team was able to quickly address the issue. In fact, the occupants were just happy at first that somebody would listen to their complaints, and that they did not need to shout into the wind. They had no clue that their honest reporting could expose larger buildings performance problems.

On the facilities side, the team had no idea that occupant reporting could lead them to the answer so quickly. They looked at their BMS data, and instead of kicking themselves for missing an issue, they doubled down on occupant reporting as a preventative measure.

What happens when the inmates are running the asylum?

Right now, an occupant-centric approach is a little secret between a few. They had their own reservations at first, but after activating every employee with a smartphone, they are definitely not returning to the 20th century. CRE Tech solves problems that they have been complaining about for years, and they probably never want to see those facilities and real estate challenges again.

There is one question that remains: are these brave souls indicative of a larger trend? Or are we living in Duke’s reality, where adoption sits at a standstill after years of talk? This remains undecided. But as we search for hope in this muddled future, I can assure you this: there are a few people out there that are PISSED. They are pissed that they are wearing handcuffs when it comes to technology. They are PISSED that they feel a step behind the rest of the world. And they are more than willing to take unusual approaches if it means they can finally join the 21st century!

Kevin Kononenko, Director of Innovation at CrowdComfort.

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