City skyscrapers and office parks may remain scarcely occupied in the post-pandemic work era, but commercial real estate player JLL\u2019s business is not slowing down, thanks to the company\u2019s embrace of technology and high-growth opportunities to adapt and prosper.\n\nThe Chicago-based commercial real estate company, one of the largest in the world, has invested heavily in developing its own homegrown facilities management and sustainability software and service offerings aimed at high-growth commercial ventures such as cloud data centers, e-commerce warehouse operators, and even fast-food chains such as Wendy\u2019s to keep its own $20 billion empire growing.\n\nJLL, for instance, provides facilities management services for many cloud and data center operators. More recently, the company launched Carbon Pathfinder, an AI-driven sustainability software planning tool that is sold as SaaS or a suite with professional services.\n\n\u201cAI is definitely one of the key differentiators JLL has [to compete] against competitors, and sustainability is another key driver for us from the technology side of our business line,\u201d says JLL Technologies CTO Yao Morin, who formerly held the same title at StubHub, claiming JLL is well ahead of other commercial real estate brokers in the technology realm.\n\n\u201cNo other company can do it because we have the AI technology and data to understand the kind of investment required, the regulations, and what it takes to make a building sustainable,\u201d the CTO says of the net-zero carbon planning tool, adding that \n\nJLL\u2019s strength lies in its extensive portfolio of leasing and selling brokerage services as well as its technology services arm, which has also developed tools for financial reporting, energy usage, and HVAC compliance.\n\n\u201cWe have a very diversified portfolio,\u201d says Morin, who oversees roughly 1,000 IT employees within the company\u2019s technology arm but estimates that between 2,000 and 3,000 employees in total are developing, selling or servicing JLL\u2019s software.\n\nPivoting to tech provider\n\nJLL\u2019s move to develop facilities management software is part of an expanded business model that has enabled the company to perform well in tough times, says Morin, who is employing a hybrid strategy for software development in which JLL Technologies will both build in-house and partner with other SaaS vendors.\n\nAt the heart of JLL\u2019s transformation into a technology provider is the cloud infrastructure JLL built using AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure, as well as Snowflake for data storage and Azure AI and Databricks for AI models.\n\nThat last part is key for JLL, as Morin sees the evolution of AI offering JLL more opportunities to provide services to existing customers and to gain new ones. \u201cWe are very serious about leveraging AI and generative AI to its full potential to solve our problems,\u201d she says.\n\nTo date, JLL has been developing classic AI models using cleaned and structured data in table format, Morin says. For example, one model incorporates rent and lease terms for customers in the 84 counties in which JLL operates. Currently, the company\u2019s IT experts train algorithms to extract the most structured data on its leases; this data is then fed into the AI model.\n\nBut the availability of generative AI and large language models (LLMs) has been a major advancement because they enable JLL to incorporate all types of data, not just the most structured, Morin says.\n\n \u201cWe do a lot of paperwork in leasing and contracts, pages and pages of legal documents in multiple languages,\u201d which has thus far been challenging to incorporate, the CTO says. Generative AI and LLMs are changing all that. \u201cThey can directly process different languages in a very natural way. You don\u2019t have to clean it up. You can just give the lease to generative AI models and ask it to extract all of that information itself.\u201d\n\nMorin views generative AI as a \u201cvery revolutionary technology\u201d and notes that it is providing efficiencies that are freeing up developers\u2019 time and will expand what JLL can accomplish. \u201cIt has completely changed the game of how we can use the information,\u201d she says.\n\nOf course, JLL has only just begun to use generative AI and LLMs. The company has also issued guidelines to its software developers and business executives about how to protect client data and define what they can and cannot use.\n\nEvolving the core businessStill, it\u2019s no secret that the shift to remote working has had a negative effect on JLL\u2019s business. Aside from its software development arm, JLL, like other commercial real estate brokerages, is under pressure to find new prospects. According to JLL\u2019s own research, so far in 2023, the range for physical occupancy compared to pre-COVID levels is between 45% to 65% in the US, for example.\n\nTo counteract that, JLL has targeted commercial segments that are experiencing high growth, such as cloud and data center operators, which require lots of square footage.\n\n\u201cCommercial real estate covers many different things,\u201d Morin says. \u201cWe help data centers, hospitals, science parks, and e-commerce companies that are booming to buy and sell buildings. Data centers like cloud infrastructure are growing; especially in the wake of AI, there\u2019s been a huge demand for data centers.\u201d\n\nMoreover, the demand to outsource facilities management, which increased during the pandemic, remains robust as workplace environment strategies remain in flux, the CTO notes.\n\n\u201cGoogle and Facebook don\u2019t manage facilities themselves and they outsource us to do [that],\u201d Morin says. \u201cSomeone has to change the toilet paper and make sure there are enough snacks and coffee for people in the office.\u201d\n\nOne analyst says the commercial real estate industry is adapting and changing its business model to meet post-pandemic demands and emerging technology needs.\n\n\u201cThere has been a significant shift in the capital markets over the last 20-plus years from tangible to intangible assets,\u201d says Gartner analyst Janel Everly. \u201cThere has been a significant push from manufacturing and heavy tangible asset\u2013intensive corporations to diversify their portfolio to incorporate intangibles.\u201d\n\nJLL is taking that route, Everly says, seeing the commercial real estate giant incorporating more \u201cas-a-service\u201d offerings, along with its move toward facilities management software.\n\n\u201cAs it relates to data centers and e-commerce warehouses, it is mostly driven by demand and the macro real estate shifts in space type utilization,\u201d she says.