Looking both ways at REMTEC 2000

CLEVELAND - The CIO's mantra: "Improving business practices is more sociological than technological." If true - and let's face it, it generally is - then the Real Estate Management and Technology Conference (REMTEC) exemplified how far commercial real estate has traveled in the past few years in its view and application of technology and what lies ahead. The conference was held at the end of June in Cleveland and sponsored by the National Association of Real Estate and Investment Managers; Cleveland-based Management Reports International; Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft; KPMG Consulting and Deloitte & Touche, both based in New York; and National Real Estate Investor and Shopping Center World magazines.

A few highlights:

* David Srour, a manager with KPMG, pointed to one of the hardest technological facts that many executives in commercial real estate and other sectors must grasp.

"The forward-thinking CEO understands that there's really no return on investment (ROI)," said Srour. "They are laying the foundation for future business practices."

* Sandford Jacolow, senior director and CIO at New York-based Clarion Partners, gave several tips for taking a strategic look at information technology. According to Jacolow, a degree of caution is the first order in any technological endeavor.

With any tech-related venture, Jacolow said to look at the potential vendor/partner's long-term business plan: many won't be in business this time next year; look at who the competitors are; and look at how they will deal with new competition.

With the online listing/information services, Jacolow is concerned about the amount of incorrect data that makes its way onto the Internet. He pointed to four questions to ask when considering one of these services: the source of the data; who contributes the data; how complete and accurate is the data; and how frequently is it upgraded?

On the online-procurement side, Jacolow suggested asking: do you have to guarantee a certain level of purchase; are you paying the dot.com or the actual supplier; can you set approval levels for procurement; and how many suppliers do they have?

In the telecommunications field, Jacolow also offered several suggestions. With building-centric telecom providers, again, look at their long-term business plan and whether they have the capital to deploy fiber optic cable in your building. Also consider their foresight when it comes to future technology, Jacolow said, which leads us to another telecom- and fiber-related issue: riser management.

Checking riser capacity is now an essential element in the due-diligence process before acquiring a property. Without the capacity to deploy broadband, kiss tenants goodbye. Now and in the future, bandwidth is going to be more important than location to many tenants and owners, Jacolow said.

* Finally, Richard Kincaid, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Chicago-based Equity Office Properties Trust, put Internet and high-tech strategies into perspective. While Equity Office has a number of online initiatives - notably the Project Constellation partnership and an extranet with information on Equity's properties - the company knows that it cannot be all things to all people.

"We're not trying to be Yahoo!," Kincaid said. "We've clearly defined what we want to be."

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