“A lot of the software we use already has a component of machine
learning,” says Shank. “Machine learning for lease abstracting
sounds very specific and very small, but if a machine can learn how
to do a lease abstract, it can learn other abstracting services, which
we pay law firms a great deal of money to do.”
She says one company in particular has marketed this capability in
Europe and is bringing it stateside, and it has her ear. “We’re maybe
six months out,” she says, “and it will be incredibly helpful to us.
And it will help us better understand legal documents, which can be
long and confusing.”
“We’re beginning to see uses of AI in many sectors of our business
and in the systems that we employ for running our back-of-house
work, like leases, contracts and transactional processes,” agrees
Deborah Boyer, executive VP and director of Asset Management for
The Swig Company in San Francisco. (Boyer will join Shank at the
BOMA Conference as fellow panelist on the Adopting New CRE
And it extends far beyond documentation, she adds. “
Applications such as those from Comfy allow tenants to control their
physical environment on-demand from their cellphones,” she
explains. “Over time, Comfy learns personal preferences and
Of course, AI and machine learning are just a sampling of the
technologies available to inform the way real estate goes to work.
Dennis Crowley, who is SVP of Integrated Technology for Allied
Universal’s Monitoring and Response Center in Richardson, TX, pro-
vides a short list of others.
Robots or No Robots?
Crowley, who specializes in tech-based security systems, explains
that robotics are an advancing technology in Europe and are now
Right or wrong, deservedly or not, commercial real estate has had a
long-standing reputation of being technologically averse. On what was
once called the information superhighway, real estate could be seen
chugging along in the slow lane, trailing a paper spreadsheet out the
Happily, that scenario is changing rapidly, thanks in large part to a
reported $12.6 billion in venture capital that in 2017 started turning
its attention to the industry. As a result, once-futuristic concepts such
as artificial intelligence, robots, drones and cryptocurrency are working their way into a business-as-usual mindset of service providers,
changing not only that old perception, but the way real estate works.
“Part of my role is to stay on top of new technologies,” says Sara
Shank, Managing Director and Head of Portfolio Management for
Beacon Capital Partners in Boston. (Shank will be speaking at BOMA
International’s 2018 Annual Conference & Expo in San Antonio, June
23-26. “Adopting New CRE Tech: Real Stories from Innovative
Executives” is the title of her session.) “There’s so much going on,
and a ton of companies being created. It’s really hard to stay on top of
it all, but I make it a priority.”
Difficult as it may be, she manages to do it through a lot of reading, research, comparing notes with colleagues and industry peers
and attendance at real estate-related tech conferences. As a result,
Beacon continues as a tech leader, embracing new technology
through the planned implementation of such advancements as
First, some definitions. “Artificial Intelligence is the broader concept
of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that we would
consider smart,” according to a recent article in Forbes Magazine.
Machine learning is a subset of AI, the article explained, a process to
“give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves.”1
Simply, it allows those machines to self-program the if-this-then-that
approach that historically was done by a human. Got it?
“If a machine can learn
how to do a lease abstract,
it can learn other abstracting services, which we pay
law firms a great deal of
money to do.”
Service providers are embracing a range of technologies like never before,
but it’s not tech for tech’s sake.
Commercial Real Estate
Plays Catch-up in Tech
“How we use office
space is changing.
How can we position
ourselves to meet
and lead the market
Sara Shank, Managing Director, Head of Portfolio Management,
Beacon Capital Partners, Boston, MA
Deborah Boyer, EVP & Director of Asset Management,
The Swig Company, San Francisco, CA