Realcomm Advisory: Interactive Technologies and the Maturity of Office 365 and Skype for Business

A key capability for any enterprise to succeed is the ability to gather timely, accurate data, assign meaning to that information, and make decisions based on the information in an agile manner that responds rapidly to changing market and business conditions. In the commercial real estate industry, technology teams generally respond to those business needs with BI solutions, KPI dashboards, IoT data collection, and tightly integrated systems. Many advances have been made in all of these areas over the past few years and they are, in fact, essential to the success of a CRE operation.

However, despite the fact that real estate is the quintessential brick and mortar business, it can be argued that it is first and foremost a people business. Whether the players are investors and developers, owners and operators, leasing agents and tenants, ensuring stakeholders can communicate in a focused and meaningful way in order to align their objectives and make decisions is paramount to success. The most accurate and well-presented data is of little value if the right people aren’t focused on it, collaborating around it, and able to connect with each other on points of common concern in a timely and productive manner. This is a daunting obstacle in and of itself, but is made even more so by the highly mobile, multi-tasking, 21st century work force.
This challenge is not unlike that faced by General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. In his recent book, Team of Teams, he discusses the silos of information that existed in the field, at the command center, and among the various members of the intelligence community. He describes the bottlenecks of communication that existed and how such a cumbersome infrastructure resulted in slow responses to a far more agile enemy. He quickly identified that he needed a more effective means of sharing information among stakeholders than simply emails and conference calls.
“I often ask people what eating ice cream, doing push-ups, and cutting your fingernails have in common”, McChrystal, states in a Wall Street Journal interview. “They’re all things I’ve done on conference calls.” He goes on to tell how he and his team deployed video conferencing as a means of developing trust, focus, and productive collaboration amongst the various stakeholders in his operation. He soon held a daily video conference with a global team of operators and found that trust developed between the various intelligence communities, participants were focused in real time on the problems at hand, and information was exchanged and decisions were made in an agile and effective manner.
In an In The Trenches interview last year, David Stanford, Executive Managing Director and Founder of RealFoundations, noted that the very same obstacles are being faced and overcome in the CRE arena. “We spend a lot of time focusing on the interaction layer of the information model, where much of the innovation and exchange of information is happening… {We need} the ability to interact and work in a materially different way. It’s not always one-on-one; we often do not execute work in a synchronous manner. So when you have tools like Yammer and Skype for Business and have IM, voice, video, screen sharing, and these multiple channels are just one click away, it dramatically changes how people work. ”
Eric Hohmann, President of Madison Marquette, concurs. “I work with a team of associates and business partners that are distributed throughout the world. Everyone’s time is valuable and it is paramount that we make the most of virtual meetings. The quality of engagement improves significantly with videoconferencing. The amount of focus, the level of interaction, and degree of connectedness is much better than you have with a disembodied voice on a conference call.”
Kevin Riley, COO of North American Properties, has seen tools like Skype for Business revolutionize how they do business. “Skype was introduced to North American Properties in 2014 to allow our employees to be able to choose their method of communication be it data sharing, audio/video conferencing and instant messaging with a click of a button whether in our office or on a project. We saw the mobile benefits of Skype as our business continues to take our employees out of the office, but never could have imagined how it transformed the way we communicate. Functionality such as video conferencing and screen sharing were virtually nonexistent and now we cannot imagine hosting meetings – internal or external – any other way. Skype’s functionality has been a powerful tool for our dynamic industry and the increasing need for real time communication to exchange information.”
Many in our industry are seeing 2016 as the year they migrate to Office 365 and with that migration, many are looking to leverage the Skype for Business component as the type of interactive technology their company needs. A perfect storm is brewing as IT leaders realize the solid operational track record of Office 365 over the past few years, their need to retire aging infrastructure instead of CapEx to refresh it and their desire to place more resources on user facing solutions rather than the deployment, maintenance, and administration of the back end infrastructure. Additionally, when offered as a hosted solution with integrated telephony, Skype for Business can replace their existing phone systems and be the single platform for true Unified Communication.
In addition to providing the communication and collaboration tools teams need, the scalability of these cloud-based solutions are well suited to the CRE landscape. They can be rapidly deployed or scaled back and their cost is easy to quantify and allocate. They help keep our highly distributed teams connected and sharing information in a highly effective manner. 2016 is the year we will see many companies who have been looking on from the sidelines or kicking the tires take the leap forward to cloud-based interactive technologies such as those provided in Office 365 including Yammer and Skype for Business.
[Article reposted from Realcomm Advisory]

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