Automation and digital transformation in CRE

Posted on September 29, 2021 by Rochelle Broder-Singer And has 2 comments

Commercial real estate and construction are notoriously slow in adopting new technologies. But digital transformation is coming to industry. At CRE Converge 2021 in Miami Beach, experts discussed how various new technologies affect developers, builders and owners:

Capture reality technologies allow you to see and/or record what is happening at a job site, either remotely or in person. This includes robots, drones and various automated cameras, as well as sensors and other data collection devices – all connected to the internet.

For example, HITT contracts now has a few different types of robots that can be used on job boards. One such robot is a rover that the company has developed specifically to operate on large horizontal work sites, such as industrial and data center projects. It helps reduce the time human team members spend visiting different parts of a project to answer questions or look at something in person, increase productivity and improve on-site communication. HITT has also used off-the-shelf robotic options to help their teams perform difficult and dangerous work. They recently teamed up with Hilti to implement their semi-autonomous Jaibot for a project to drill ceiling anchors, a traditionally physically demanding and time-consuming job, which the robot completed in nearly a quarter of the time with team supervision. Other robots allow inspectors to see what’s happening in one workplace while physically in another location, enabling quick and efficient remote troubleshooting.

HITT is exploring additional types of automation, such as robots that can capture a reality location overnight and translate findings each morning into a progress report for superintendents, to automate labor-intensive and manual processes and improve the experience of on-site operations teams .

While teams may be disappointed at the thought of robots, Megan Lantz, vice president, research and development at HITT Contracting explains, “After using robotics on the construction site and seeing its value, our site operations teams are asking now specifically to robots for use in their places.These devices can help with manual and time-consuming tasks, allowing our teams to focus more on what they love about construction: solving complex challenges and delivering a quality building.”

Data and analytics are a major pain point for many companies in the real estate industry. “All these companies now have a lot of data and they don’t know what to do with this data — and it won’t change the way business is done,” said Bryan Colin, CEO of technology company View Labs. “They’re spending all this money on all this data and these platforms and they don’t look at it or don’t know what to do with it.”

Lantz agreed. “We have so many more data points than even three years ago, and the number will continue to multiply,” she said, but the company is still trying to figure out how to turn the data into meaningful insights.

A single dashboard of data remains a target that escapes too many real estate companies. For example, a few years ago, HITT had a few dozen tools to collect data in workplaces, but none of them were interconnected. “We’ve seen individual technologies that solve specific problems come online, but there’s still a lack of connectivity between all the solutions to really make the most of the data. We have a team dedicated to our digital transformation looking at that pain point and how best to solve it,” said Lantz.

Still, a single dashboard can enable faster trades and uncover new opportunities. Too many large companies rely on a broker to track all their assets and report to them once a month, Colin said. He added that every technology solution needs to be implemented and used across the company and at every level. “You have to make it mandatory for everyone,” he said. “You can’t have silos, because then they have nothing to do with each other. … All the most effective solutions that spread and have real value are company-wide and targeted.”

Electric Vehicles (EVs) have seen a significant increase in ownership over the past five years, but charging infrastructure lags behind. EV chargers can be requested by a municipality in a new construction project or requested by tenants. Either way, installing them usually requires “talking with municipalities and guiding developers through new code requirements that may or may not be realistic,” said Jose Manuel Correa, PE, a civil engineer at Kimley-Horn. Quite a bit of coordination, time and money goes into their installation and there is no clear answer yet about the ROI on EV charging stations. “What I can say is that right now there are some heavy hitters investing millions of dollars in the EV and EV charging market,” Correa said.

EV Readiness is a top priority for many property owners, despite the lack of clarity in ROI. It is cheaper to install the infrastructure for charging electric cars when a commercial building is being built, even if charging stations are not in the immediate plans. Correa advises customers to talk to their utility company as early in the process as possible to determine if the local grid has charging capacity. The planning of charging stations can be a five-year or even ten-year process with the utility company, allowing the property and the grid to grow simultaneously.

Tips for success

  • Digital transformation requires careful change management. A few tips for success:
  • Talk about what you do and be as transparent as possible about failures and successes.
  • Drive home why you are making these changes.
  • Deploy all technology solutions across the company, including at the leadership level.
  • Involve employees at all levels in technology choice and implementation.
  • Consider internal innovation competitions in which the company funds winners, but be prepared for some innovations to fail.

This post is brought to you by JLL, NAIOP’s social media and conference blog sponsor CRE.Converge 2021. Read more about JLL on or