Webinar takeaways: ‘Embracing Data and Digitisation’

September 28, 2022

In the face of a dynamic and disruptive landscape, owners and managers of commercial property are being challenged to evolve to maintain operational efficiency across their portfolios. The key to overcoming these challenges is to embrace technology and adopt a forward-thinking approach.

To that end, we recently invited a panel of industry leaders to lead the first of four webinars in a series on ‘The Future of Property Operations’. Discussion centred around how data and digitisation are driving more informed decision-making, improving collaboration, and increasing productivity.

Our panellists participated a lively and interactive discussion, delving deep into:

  • The digital transformation priorities for senior leaders
  • The importance of culture in effecting company-wide success
  • The evolving role of Operations teams in effectively managing properties
  • Why data is so critical to a successful digital transformation
  • Looking ahead, how we can future-proof property operations to address ongoing industry challenges

The panel consisted of an all-star lineup of industry experts, all equally passionate about advancing the property industry through data, digital transformation, and sustainability. The panel consisted of:

  • Amanda Steele, Executive Managing Director of Property Management at CBRE
  • Adam New, General Manager of Asset Operations at Lendlease
  • Davina Rooney, CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA)
  • David Walsh, CEO and Founder of CIM

Read on for the panel’s core insights, or watch the entire video conversation here

Priorities for senior leaders

All panellists agreed that the transition from ‘gut feel’ decision-making toward data-driven judgments is a step in the right direction, but data is just one piece of the puzzle. Increasing data literacy is a core focus for firms like CBRE and Lendlease, which increasingly rely on massive data pools to make informed decisions. 

As David Walsh put it, ‘The opposite of data-driven decision-making is an Irish saying: “Arguments are rife when the facts are scarce.”’ But it’s easy to slide into overwhelm, taking in so much data that no one can put it to practical use. Making sense of data at scale is a skill—one that requires the adequate tools, technology and software to convert data into insights.

It also requires engagement and buy-in from all levels. In Amanda’s words, “we need to effectively communicate to users what the data will be used for and how it will benefit them. I think we've been quite lazy in getting to the endpoint and just having that approach of, I just want better quality data.”

Keeping technology human

Davina shared her team's analogy to think about the cultural side of technology: the carrot, the stick, and the tambourine.

In the world of green buildings, working toward a net-zero goal:

  • Carrots are incentives like Green Star ratings, which enable higher returns
  • Sticks are regulatory bodies
  • Tambourines are a culture of collaboration, tying all of these initiatives together and ensuring lasting success

Amanda and Adam both stressed the importance of gathering input from people on the field at every level and every asset class type. Any change, including one focused on tech, is always directed and informed by people first.

Adam noted that crafting a corporate culture without fear of failure is vital, meaning that leaders should never shut down an idea because its originator isn’t experienced in the space. “Some of our best ideas and innovations have come from the most unlikely sources,” he shared.

The vital role of the operations team

“We won’t get to net zero by building new buildings, because the majority of buildings in 2050 are already here,” said Amanda. “We will manage our way to it.” This is why it’s essential to ensure the full cooperation of operations teams in embracing digitisation efforts. When Operations teams understand how technology can help them benefit, they are far more likely to affect transformative change.

Dave and Adam both cautioned firms against blind adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), a powerful tool that still requires human presence to fulfil its operational potential. “If you just go in and start immediately with AI, you risk alienating all the humans who have tons of knowledge,” said Dave. AI should empower people, not replace them.

Adam emphasised that the role of Facilities Manager has evolved into a critical cog in the operations wheel, ‘We're no longer grease monkeys who had a shower and put a suit on. They're more than that. They're our front line workers.’ And the process of digital transformation is often led by these teams, ‘They are driving those digital outcomes that our customers who walk through our front door need and want… Embracing digitisation, it needs to start with that front line and then that links back into the culture and back into a customer.’

Data into insight

Everyone agreed that data is the key to unlocking the true potential of a property, portfolio, team and decision-making process. But the key is knowing which tools are the right ones to structure and normalise the data, and translate it into meaningful insights. In Davina’s words, ‘We need to really be focused on data driving information and insight, rather than a very large data lake that someone might choose to go swimming in at some stage.’

Adam added that data is readily available, but knowing how to use it makes or breaks its effectiveness, ‘We have so much history sitting in our data that there's no real excuse to go into that gut feel anymore. There's definitely a day like today somewhere back in the past, but we should be able to grab that day and say, how did our building perform on that day and what did we do that was right then that we can apply today, not because someone walked in with a jacket on and felt cold. What does the data tell us that we should be doing?’.

Looking to the future

Davina anticipates an arms race escalating in the sustainability space. “Last time we saw a motivated federal government pushing energy efficiency and government operations policies into leases, we saw an arms race from the states pushing for higher and higher asset standards, which then trickled into the private market,” she said. She expects to see similar behaviour in the near future.

Interestingly, every panellist spoke about human skill as the most important tool in any digital transformation. A machine can’t currently replicate curiosity and unparalleled customer experience. “Building a culture that’s more infectious than a virus is what will absolutely set apart the winners and losers over the next five to ten years,” says Amanda. 

Dave refers to these people-centric qualities as “the adaptive mindset,” a tendency to explore opportunities to achieve audacious goals rather than protecting the status quo. 

Ultimately, panellists agreed that data and digitisation will play a leading role in the future of property operations, and that people and teams need to be the complementary facilitator to achieve overall success.

David Walsh
September 28, 2022