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Why real estate could be the next big data frontier

By Joanne Bestall | Joanne.Bestall@am.jll.com | @JoBestall

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It’s been a big year for big data. Tech titans like Google, IBM, Facebook and Twitter acquired companies that traffic in big data, and it seemed that just about everybody else announced some sort of big-data initiative. At this point it’s clear that we are living in a data-driven world.

"Today data lets real estate talk in a whole new way. It tells us more about productivity, growth opportunities, talent retention and sustainability. It helps real estate strategy communicate with business strategy, sales, operations, HR and IT.”

Dave Sawdey, Senior Vice President of Business Intelligence at JLL.

Still, when most of us think big-data in our lives we think about retail, media and mobile. You’d be hard pressed to find a savvy consumer who doesn’t know their every purchase, website visit and Google search is being recorded, dropped into a database and used to help marketers find ways to make them buy more.

What they may not realize is that big data is reaching far beyond their shopping and web-surfing. It’s increasingly part of their workdays as well. Sophisticated employers and property managers are gathering data about how buildings operate, how offices function and how people work. They’re using that data to make their workplaces more efficient, their employees more effective and their businesses more profitable.

"Today data lets real estate talk in a whole new way. It tells us more about productivity, growth opportunities, talent retention and sustainability. It helps real estate strategy communicate with business strategy, sales, operations, HR and IT," said Dave Sawdey, Senior Vice President of Business Intelligence at JLL.

What the building told me

Building data can tell a company who is using their offices, when and how. Tracking sensors placed around the building can tell leadership when employees come and go, when the kitchen is busiest and when conference rooms are emptiest. Office occupancy data may tell a company its space is underutilized or that it needs on-demand, flexible space to account for mobile workers. That shift could create significant savings and remove idle office space from the balance sheet. Seeing how workers move about can help inform office design, leading to the creation of more collaborative space, or more private space or a more inviting cafeteria.

Buildings can also reveal their energy consumption and how well they are functioning. Using JLL’s 24/7 real-time remote monitoring and control service, called IntelliCommand companies can find out exactly how their buildings are performing. Using wireless sensors to collect and send data from various building automation systems to a remote command center, this machine-to-machine (M2M) technology can tell the building ops team where a system is failing and where energy consumption can be improved.

Last year a global consumer goods giant tested this on 12 its buildings in North America. Its energy costs were slashed by 10 per cent across all buildings in just under a year.

Command Center (image)

Nothing to fear

The data revolution is new enough still to be a little scary. Some workers might understandably see shades of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 in the data collection that seems to track their every movement, even at work. But real-estate data is nothing like the so-called dark data that hackers and unsavory actors collect online. It’s generally not connected to any person’s identity, and useful more in the aggregate than on an individual level. And the truth is, businesses have been gathering and analyzing data for years.

“Companies have always used data for customer insights and competitive advantage,” says Sawdey, “Now they are looking at every aspect of their business for meaningful data — the new frontier is data from their buildings.”

Still, many companies have no idea that their buildings can speak to them. But given the relentless beat of the big-data drum, it’s probably only a matter of time until everybody is listening.