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Q&A: Real answers re: Realcomm

For the next month and a half, Jim Young will be chained to his desk in Carlsbad, Calif., tying together the myriad loose ends for Realcomm, one of commercial real estate' technology events. Of course, for the remainder of the year, Young, president of The Jamesan Group/REApplications and co-producer of Realcomm, and his team cross the country to get a feel for the latest high-tech applications applying to real estate and the way we go about our everyday lives.

Young started Realcomm 10 years ago when only “me and the barber were listening,” he says. The show mushroomed from about 750 attendees in 1999 to about 2,500 in 2000. Young expects more than 4,000 to attend the conference in Dallas.

This year, Realcomm has the backing of 16 real estate organizations and will include 48 sessions and 16 innovation showcases to display the latest in aerial photography, Web pads, mobile phones and digital office applications.

What's next in terms of tech applications for commercial real estate?

In 2000, five main factors converged that will impact not only our transactions but also every transaction in the world. We won't see the long-term implications for another three or four years. By that time people will start to understand.

First, broadband access is about to go through the roof. Three years ago, 56K was the norm. At Realcomm, the norm is 100 megabits, not even T-1s anymore. The next level after that is called giga-ethernets, 1,000 megabits. The pipe is going to be bigger and faster than anybody ever could have imagined.

Next, wireless technology is becoming more of a reality than I can even begin to tell you. Two or three years ago at all the tech conferences, 14.4K was the most you could use to send data. Now, [next-generation wireless protocol] 802.11B is here — 11 megabits. The Adam's Mark, the hotel where we're having the conference in Dallas, is totally wired already.

We'll have a fully functional 802.11B wireless network in the hotel. Receptors have been put in from the 37th floor all the way down to the basement. You can basically walk around Realcomm with your Webpad and be on the wireless Internet at 11 megabits and do a videoconference with Sam Zell on your notebook or Webpad.

Just to give you a perspective of where we'll be by June, 802.11B has gone from 11 megabits to 45 megabits. The wireless world is about to explode, and that takes mobility in accessing information to a new level.

Third, for the first time in the history of the world, we have an integrated, connected, standardized wide area network. Previously, one person would have an IBM system, another would have a Deck and I'd have a Hewlett Packard. We could talk through company e-mail, but the systems could not talk. And it was too expensive to make them talk.

Now, with the Internet we have one standardized wide area network, which means all computers can talk to each other now, as well as every appliance, every cell phone, every toaster. Everything will be connected to this wide area network in the next five years.

The entire facilities management side of the business is going to be connected to this wide area network, which basically rips apart every business process we've invented in the past 100 years. It makes us rethink it.

Fourth, we're going to look at the Internet in ways never imagined. Basically, wherever you are, you will always be able to get to a screen that allows you to get to the Internet.

From the transaction side, you can do project management or check an appraisal, etc. You'll be able to view the 'Net from anywhere.

“The five major things that all came together in 2000 now set the stage for the next generation of automation.”

The last thing that's begun to come together is the need for integrated, information management systems, which means we take a look at each one of our practices inside commercial real estate — brokerage, lending, appraisal, property management, facilities management, you name it. Because of those first four things that happened, each of those entities will have to rethink how they do their businesses, and then once they understand how this infrastructure will allow them to re-tool their entire business process, they will need to integrate their automation.

The five major things that all came together in 2000, which have never happened before, now set the stage for the next generation of automation. Again, those five factors are broadband speeds that are out of control; wireless technology; a standardized wide area network, the Internet; multiple ways of viewing that information; and integrated information management systems that tie the whole world together.

That's evolutionary. That's a paradigm shift. That's not a tactical technology. We'll see the benefits from that starting in about two years, and five years from now will really start seeing that all come together.

We've seen a handful of companies either die off or struggle in the past few months. What is it going to take for the new dot.coms and other high-tech real estate related firms to make it?

There is still money out there for smart companies that can demonstrate legitimate business models with happy customers with emerging technologies that make sense. Last year, the biggest problem was that some of the traditionalists in commercial real estate began to say, “Oh, see this technology is not going to impact our transactions.” They got a false sense of security. Don't even believe me.

Money was wastefully invested last year, and that had to come to an end. My 30-second answer is that it's not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

The ones that get it, what are they doing differently?

They're ripping [their business] apart and looking at everything from the bottom up, from the way the receptionist answers the phone — if he or she answers the phone — to what information the receptionist is telling people all the way to the CEO.

A lot of these companies are creating e-versions of themselves. They can't change the parent. It's too hard. So they get the 10% of the people that get it, and they put an “e” in front of it. E-Staubach is a perfect example.

Compiled by Bailey Webb, Associate Editor of National Real Estate Investor magazine, a sister publication of Shopping Center World.

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