Being Digital - A primer for commercial real estate. Part 2.

December 2013

So, we are now nodes on a network (see Part 1), connected to just about anything and everything we might want to be connected to. How on earth do we cope with the deluge; of noise, of interruptions, of information? How is this mass connectivity better than what we had in the analogue world. At least we could control that.

Well truth be told you couldn’t could you? Just think how many times the phrase ‘Information Overload’ popped into conversation. Being Digital will put an end to this.

There really is no such thing as information overload. The problem is filter failure; the inability to filter out all the extraneous noise and return just the information you need, in the context of what you are doing and when and where you are doing it. It isn’t less information, knowledge, wisdom you need access to is it? Ideally you want access to ‘everything’. You just need what you need when you need it. Is that too much to ask?

Well, in the analogue world yes. Every time you print a brochure, or roll out research material, or publish a reference guide or white paper then you are throwing that information at a dead end. In print it may be nice to read once but thereafter it has no utility at all. If you can’t search it, if you cannot access it wherever you are, if you cannot cross reference one piece against another then what precisely is its value. Very little is the answer. A one off data dump, soon to be forgotten.

Unfortunately, much of the real estate industry remains in this analogue world. Print, print, print. Glossy, heavy paper reports, brochures and sundry are de rigeur. And don’t they look nice on the shelf. Gathering dust or leaping to the bottom of a briefcase. And best of all are the lengthy printed expositions of how desperately keen xyz company is to ‘save the planet’. This is a madness that has no value and has to stop.

Being Digital means giving up those old analogue ways and digitising everything. And if it is not worth digitising then bin it. CBRE reputedly binned 900,000 documents during the process of moving in to their new Los Angeles, deeply digital, HQ (http://lat.ms/1ePboVD).

You cannot have great filters unless you have digital material to work with. But if you do digitise your world it is remarkable what will become possible. Leaving aside what you should be able to develop using your own data (if it is digital you should be able to ask for anything), the likes of Google are developing extraordinarily powerful contextual search capabilities that are aimed at predicting what information you need just ahead of when you might ask for it. For example, by examining the diary on your smartphone they can warn you to cut short one meeting, as the traffic is bad on the way to your next one and if you do not leave now you’ll be late. In CBRE’s HQ they have a curved wall running Google Earth over which they lay all their available space data. In Burberry the sales assistants can see what a customer has purchased before and call up new season suggestions based on that data.

Ubiquitous connectivity, combined with unlimited data availability and CONTEXTUAL awareness is a recipe for extraordinary outcomes. Information overload gives way to prescient wisdom. Maybe a bit outlandish within the real estate world but someone will get it right. And I wouldn’t want to have to compete with them.

Antony