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Trends and Challenges Facing Commercial Managers Explored at Annual Conference

January 22, 2019 | Ted Thurn

Recently in Chicago, REJournals was host to hundreds of industry professionals for its annual Commercial Real Forecast Conference. The conference, considered the largest, longest running commercial real estate forecast event in the Midwest, covered local topics along with broader subjects such as the overall state of the market and predicted trends. 

During the property management session, panelists addressed some of the challenges property managers faced in 2018. The panel included Angela Aeschliman, CPM, and president of the IREM Chicago Chapter, who is also senior vice president of property and asset management for The Missner Group. In addition, the group was comprised of several industry leaders:

  • Andy Annes, partner at Schenk Annes Tepper Campbell Ltd.;
  • Ashley Harrington, energy efficiency program manager for ComEd Energy Efficiency;
  • Derrick Johnson, senior vice president of property management for Zeller Realty Group;
  • Mark Niehus, director of strategic accounts at Connectivity Wireless Solutions; and
  • Don Stewart, senior vice president of property management at The Inland Real Estate Group, LLC. 

Panel members agreed that 2018 was a big year for change, especially with the closings of countless shopping centers. The main challenge for managers was how to reimagine and revitalize that vacant space. One panelist relayed how her company reconstituted an empty center into a mixed-use property with residential units, a gym and other desirable amenities. 

It was also maintained that not only do property managers need to be creative and flexible in how they utilize properties, they also need to be innovative with transactions. It is not in a property manager’s best interest to use a standard lease for every type of transaction. As properties are being used in more creative ways, managers should also be ready to adapt lease language to suit specific circumstances and benefit both parties.   

Additionally, the panel discussed their experiences with young professionals working in the property management industry, acknowledging they bring many talents to the table. Millennials, for example, are computer savvy, confident and have the ability to multitask. That said, there were some concerns expressed about communication skills and literacy. Panelists noted they spend a good deal of time teaching their young counterparts about business writing and steering them away from relying too heavily on texts and the use of popular acronyms such as OMG and LOL.

Another session, titled The Future is Now for Tech Innovation & Disruption, covered new and impending technology for real estate that will make functions and processes more efficient. The panel consisted of real estate and technology experts:

  • Matthew Gelb, partner at Wipfli;
  • Prasan Kale, co-founder of Rise Buildings;
  • Keith Pelatowski, CEO of One Spot Tech;
  • Kevin Shtofman, tech lead at Deloitte; and
  • Tim Swanson, chief design officer at Skender.

Panelists discussed how real estate is in the early stages of technology innovation and will face the same challenges other industries have confronted when their technology transformations were just starting.

The importance of the “stickiness” of an innovation program was also examined. Stickiness is anything about a site or an app which encourages a visitor to stay longer. A site is sticky if a visitor tends to stay for a long time and then keeps returning. One measure the panelists used to define a good level of stickiness was if 70 percent of a commercial building adopts a new technology.

The panelists also identified three keys for success with tech innovation:

  • Leadership Commitment—The program will likely fail without a strong buy-in from leadership.
  • Relevant Value—If users don’t find the tool significantly applicable to their circumstances, it will be unsuccessful.
  • Ease of Use—Whatever the innovation is, it will need to be user-friendly, portable and adaptable.

Businesses were advised to consider the use of tech innovation for reaching key performance indicators, and panelists assured attendees that technology is not here to replace people but instead is a tool to help people—after all, businesses need people to manage the tech. The panel is certain that AI (artificial intelligence), VR (virtual reality) and ML (machine learning) will be adopted into the real estate industry.

In the end, the panelists sent attendees home with these one-line takeaways:

  • Invest in people, not just in technology.
  • Educate people about the process, communication and security.
  • Push to solve problems.
  • Don’t be afraid to dive into technology.
  • Elevate your property.

About the Author
Ted Thurn is director of government affairs at IREM Headquarters in Chicago.

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