From farm-to-table catering to pet care and dry cleaning, corporate offices operated by Silicon Valley titans such as Google and Facebook have forced commercial real estate companies to up their game. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), which is pairing mobile software with sensors, analytics and other technologies to woo clients craving the digital amenities today’s workers require.
The $7.5 billion company, which employs more than 83,000 people in more than 80 countries, is writing applications that will empower corporate employees to control room temperature and lighting, and book conference rooms, Eddy Wagoner, JLL’s global CIO of corporate solutions, tells CIO.com. Complementing such digital services with flexible work environments, including anything from open seating to Starbucks-style lounge areas and nap pods, is top of mind for progressive companies seeking to land the most desirable employees, he says.
If JLL does its job, it will help its corporate clients lure top talent. “To win the war for talent, you have to focus on work things that impact employee experience,” Wagoner says.
Proptech or bust
It’s just one of many fronts JLL is tackling as it seeks competitive advantages from digital real estate solutions, also known as proptech. In 2017, the company launched JLL Spark, a business unit focused on boosting JLL’s proptech footprint. In March, the unit acquired Stessa, an analytics startup that lets investors aggregate and analyze information about their property portfolios. JLL Spark pivoted earlier this month, launching a $100 million venture fund to help find and invest in other proptech startups.
Wagoner meanwhile is focusing on technologies employees can use to personalize their work environment from their smartphones. His teams are building “employee experience” applications that help occupants control various assets by tapping into internet of things (IoT) sensors located throughout the buildings.
In addition to being able to control temperature and lighting and to reserve conference rooms, JLL’s apps would allow employees to ensure that packages were delivered directly to their desks or a destination of their choosing in the office, and enable building managers to dispatch workers to complete maintenance work.
Many CIOs are building similar apps, but those are typically proprietary one-off tools built or licensed in silos. Such apps face tough sledding if they don’t integrate well with apps from other purveyors and service providers, Wagoner says. “New technology is incredible, but it’s an utter failure if people aren’t willing to change processes or adapt to their way of work,” Wagoner says.
JLL is tailoring its employee experience apps for a variety of clients, Wagoner says. For example, due to stringent security and compliance requirements, JLL must build bespoke software for banks and life sciences enterprises. “Every day somebody has discovered a new flaw and the threat level has just gone through the roof,” Wagoner says. “And when you start thinking about IoT, you have to make sure you don’t create a security back door.”
To that end, Wagoner says JLL is creating a central store — think Apple’s App Store — where clients can access and download the employee experience apps. Clients can whitelist new employees for easy onboarding and blacklist workers upon termination.
Key to Wagoner’s innovation philosophy is a willingness to “break my own glass” before someone does it for him. “It’s been a whole different mindset for me,” Wagoner says. “The way that digitization is hitting corporate America, if you embrace it you will get into new business lines that you never thought existed.”
Delivering business value with data, IoT
Another initiative of Wagoner’s is RED, an analytics platform whose data lakes and IoT sensors give customers deeper insights into their properties. For example, the platform can help building managers complete work orders more efficiently, routing engineers and other service staff to the right place at the right time, optimizing “wrench time versus windshield time,” Wagoner says.
As RED accrues more data it is enabling JLL to help predict when certain building management systems might fail so that they can be fixed or replaced before any downtime. It also helps JLL better understand how occupants are using office space. The challenge with this, Wagoner notes, is that occupying companies have a hard time hearing about changes they should make to maximize their office space. It’s a change management thing — something with which CIOs are familiar.
JLL’s rivals, including Cushman & Wakefield and CBRE, have also been leveraging digital technologies to court new business. In January 2017, CBRE acquired Floored, which develops interactive, 3D mapping technology that brokers use to “walk” prospective clients through property layouts. Cushman & Wakefield has partnered with real estate tech firms, including MetaProp NYC, EX3 Labs, and Slalom Consulting, on similar technologies.
JLL got into 3D visualization tech more than five years ago with Blackbird, which blends property and stackable floor plans, along with real-time data such as demographics, tax incentives and access to transit. “It can take you to see the city of Chicago, see the floors and layout,” Wagoner says. JLL recently built on these capabilities with InSite, a workplace design, planning and budgeting application designed to help companies compare locations and envision new space with 3D walk-through visualizations.
Such innovation is paying off, as JLL was recently granted a patent for Blackbird. At the rate that JLL is engaging with proptech, Blackbird won’t be the last tool the company will patent.
“It’s about thinking differently, and getting people excited and taking real estate IT from being a back office function to an investment we’re making to create revenue,” Wagoner says.