Category Archives: Commercial Real Estate Innovation

Meet George Jetson! The Future of CRE

By Ken Ashley

May 7th 2012 (Atlanta)

As a kid, I remember watching the mesmerizing Jetsons cartoons in the mid to late 1970’s. The show was produced by Hanna-Barbera, and was the space age counterpart to one of my other favorites, the Flintstones. After launching their careers at MGM, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera opened their own studio. They went on to largely invent the TV cartoon show format and in the process won seven Oscars and eight Emmys. In my mind, The Jetson’s was one of their masterpieces; it certainly captured my attention.

In the show, the Jetsons family lived in the year 2062 – a 100 years in the future from the cartoon’s debut. They experienced a world of robotic contraptions, and whimsical inventions of every sort. Perhaps most interestingly, George works three hours a day, three days a week at Spacely Space Sprockets. Nine hours is a typical workweek for the time, but George complains about how hard he works and how hard life is at the time. I guess some things will never change.

Back in the 1970’s I was amazed by the many labor-saving devices that came from the amazing minds at Hanna Barbara.  Now, nearly 50 years after the show’s

Family Man of the Future

debut, I still sit in traffic wishing I had a flying car, but some of the ideas on the show have actually come to life. Robots are proliferating in our society and iPhones are super -powerful and omnipresent.

20/20 Vision – Jetson and CRE

At the recent CoreNet Global Summit in San Diego, the association began to reveal the results of a nearly year long study entitled Corporate Real Estate 2020. CoreNet said it had 280 top corporate real estate professionals on the committee who participated in 150 interviews in 6 languages. The study “balances the forces of tradition and transformation” in a way that would make our overworked George Jetson proud.

Here are seven of the nearly fifty “Bold Statements” from the report:

  • (Location Strategy) There will be a re-emergence of manufacturing in developed countries and regions such as the U.S. and Western Europe with smaller regional facilities, and South America and Africa will be the new hotspots for business process outsourcing (BPO) and manufacturing activity.
  • (Sustainability) Buildings, sometimes connected by micro grids, will be both consumers and producers of energy. Evolution in energy storage will impact building operations, transportation and planning.
  • (Partnering with Key Support Functions) Formation of a “Super Nucleus,” the combination of a corporate entity including components such as CRE, IT, Finance, Purchasing, Legal, etc., in a company-specific context. High- performance companies will know how to bring these functions together on a day-to-day and strategic basis. This function will not be “one-size-fits-all” and will vary depending on a company’s organizational structure, culture and industry sector.
  • (Workplace) CRE executives will evolve to “Experience Managers,” or plan administrators, offering employees an à-la-carte workplace experience with a menu of services, location and support.
  • (Technology Tools) Intuitive environmental sensing provides emotional intelligence cues leading to reduced stress and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of space use and communication in the workforce (using technology to sense temperature, lighting, sound and other measurables in a room or facility – and to gauge the emotional state of its occupants).
  • (Enterprise Leadership) Senior corporate real estate leaders will be able to measure the impact of workplace infrastructure on business units and the enterprise – a capability often referred to as the “Holy Grail” of the industry.
  • (Portfolio Optimization) Organizations will recognize the potential detrimental impact of cost cutting on productivity, changing the conversation from cost containment to value creation.

Tim Venable, Vice President of Knowledge and Research at CoreNet Global said the Bold Statements “present a vision that is both realistic and achievable by 2020.” “But even if some of the predictions aren’t fully realized by then,” he continued, “Corporate Real Estate 2020 will help prepare our industry and profession for the challenges that lie ahead.”

In many ways the industry is at a crossroads as we deal with an improving, but still uncertain global outlook, and property markets that are in recovery mode. What role will the workplace play in corporate America over the next 8 years? One thing is for certain, real estate can’t count on large cost reductions in the next several years – just the opposite.

Today, a corporate real estate executive needs to be a generalist in many areas but an expert in many core functions. In many respects, they need to be a mile wide and a mile deep. The coming war for talent is forcing corporate real estate

Oil change every 50 million miles whether you need it or not

executives to focus on supporting wide spread work forces with rapidly changing technology. Oh, and make that a green foot print while your at it.

In this space, we’ll keep an eye on those Bold Statements and report in more detail on some of the biggest of the bold assertions.

In the meantime, someone really needs to get cracking on those flying cars.


By Ken Ashley

March 12th, 2012 (ATLANTA)

In an incredible announcement over the weekend, Apple has gone public with its plans to create a $304 million dollar campus for more than 3,600 people in Austin, Texas. This is on the heels of their $500 million dollar Cupertino, CA campus that is now under construction. Wow, hope they sell a gazillion iPad 3s.

The Cupertino building famously looks like a space ship. It will be interesting to see if Austin gets in on the “space” program as well. (Has the Eagle landed in Austin?).

Dan Whisenhunt, Apple’s Director of Real Estate and Facilities, must be the busiest real estate professional in America.  I imagine Dan in his weekly meeting telling his staff, “Ok, we’re going to keep the existing global portfolio growing, build this building in

Austin, We Have A Problem - Too Many People!

Cupertino on time and on budget. Oh, by the way, we’re also going to build another campus in Austin at the same time.”  “Hey, let’s FOCUS people.” “Pass me another protein bar and a Mountain Dew, please.”

The combined $800 million in construction projects makes Apple the most active company in the world in the construction of new real estate facilities. Dan is indeed the man in corporate real estate these days. At least he can look at the plans in amazing clarity on his new iPad.

It’s Not Just Apple

Our team is currently representing two clients in the creation of three ground up construction opportunities.  The insurer Primerica is building a 345,000 square foot campus just outside of

Term Headquarters

Atlanta. They were able to create huge efficiencies by going from 10 separate buildings to one campus.  This facility will deliver in the Spring of 2013 and among other fabulous features, will have a state of the art facility for Primerica sales people to learn about the culture of the company and its products.

Porsche Cars North America is creating an approximately 175,000 s.f. corporate headquarters, training facility, and customer experience center adjacent to the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta. Customers will be able to come from all over the world and experience a little “every day magic” on the Porsche handling

Come to work and ZOOM!

circuit. This project will deliver at the end of 2013 and be a huge boost for Atlanta’s international reputation.

In addition to the Atlanta facility, Porsche announced at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show that it will break ground in the spring of 2012 on a second US Porsche Experience Center in Carson, California. The centerpiece track  (like Atlanta) will include encounters with rain and man-made snow, as well as an off-road course.

If tooling around a winding track in Southern California in a seventh-generation Porsche 911 isn’t your idea of ecstasy, there will also be a “Porsche Human Performance

Paging Jerry Seinfeld

Center,” with a sports-science laboratory to “maximize personal fitness, wellness and athletic performance.” As my Southern Grandmother would say, “oh my, that’s better than a blueberry pie.”

But There is so Much Vacancy….

Why would anyone build now? How can senior leadership justify spending capital on creating new product when the national office vacancy rate is at nearly 17%?  Ahhh, no matter the real estate cycle, projects like these can and will happen.

Here are 8 reasons why major user might consider “campus consumption” as a way to solve their real estate challenges in 2012.

1)            Talent Cost and Availability

Yes, I know that the headlines still consistently discuss the masses of unemployed Americans. The reality is many companies are struggling with retaining talent in top executive positions and highly technical positions. Apple is creating talent diversity in its expansion to Austin. The labor market for techies is tough in Austin, but nothing compared to Cupertino and the Silicon Valley.

2)            Cash or Credit

With the spring thaw in real estate finance in motion, more corporations can get funds, if needed, to build campuses. Both lenders and equity investors have a growing appetite to do deals again (finally!). The reality is that many companies have huge troves of cash and some of them will invest this cash in dirt and buildings. Besides, you can always get the cash back out vis-a-vis a sales leaseback, should that become necessary.

3)            Space Efficiencies

In the recent great recession, companies would do anything to cut cost. Real estate is usually the second largest item in the budget after payroll, so “densification” of employees became a major initiative for many real estate departments. What many large users are finding now is that expansion is difficult to accommodate. In addition, rethinking the architectural program can yield significant space efficiencies. Also, like Primerica, some users find themselves in multiple buildings with the requisite inefficiencies.

4)             Point of Friction

Sometimes companies simply get too big to fit into existing product. While many major metro areas still have large holes and lots of space, mega requirement of 250,000 square feet and greater have a difficult time making existing buildings work. The “friction” that results can hatch a new campus.

5)            Incentives

Communities in the Southeast and Southwest United States are getting increasingly aggressive with inducements. The electorate is telling politicians with one voice – we want jobs! The politicians are tossing around cash, free land, tax breaks and all manner of incentives to land the next big one. Economic development organizations in many communities are becoming very sophisticated in their marketing efforts, and as a result, they are scoring some big wins for constituents.

6)            Building Cost

Commodity prices seem to be fluctuating all over the place, but the cost of construction is still a bargain principally because of labor cost. General contractors are reporting increased activity, but the sub trades are still willing to make great deals to get work. So are architects, environments experts and many other consultants.

7)            Taxes

It’s not new news that taxes are high in the gateway cities of San Francisco, LA and New York. These areas are simply very expensive places to do business. When companies layer in the significantly reduced tax burden in other places, the campus concept can get a major boost.

8)            Branding

As we experienced ourselves with Porsche and Primerica, iconic brands sometimes need iconic campus environments in order to market themselves both internally and externally. I’m sure Apple is creating great excitement internally for their employees. The Apple marketing guys are going to have a field day when Cupertino and Austin deliver. They will get millions of dollars in “free” PR for their company through the announcement and completion of these facilities. Sometimes the real estate math is just one small part of the evaluation model.

Build it and they will Brand

Campuses don’t work for many. Heck, they don’t work for most. I once had a senior telecom executive tell me that their industry changes too fast to even consider the campus option. He pointed out that there are many former telecom campuses around the United States. He’s certainly correct that the ultimate “exit” out of a campus can be difficult. Long after the ribbon cutting, selling or repositioning campus facilities can be a tremendous challenge.

However, as the economy improves, you will see more announcements of big, shiny new campus projects. Apple may be the biggest in this game, but they are certainly not the only player. As the economy two-steps into a recovery – Austin and elsewhere, more and more companies will evaluate campus solutions. If you check the right boxes and carefully analyze the alternatives, you might be surprised what a brand statement wrapped in real estate can do for your company.

Automatic For The People

By Ken Ashley

(ATLANTA) February 29th, 2012

Early in the spring of 1991, I was in college, and I was hungry. The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia is the home to a number of fine establishments catering to the college masses, of course, but I ventured off the beaten path

Five Stars!

towards the Pottery Town neighborhood for some good “Q.” I had heard about a great establishment with a unique feel. The restaurant, which is still there today, is known as Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods. It’s a down-home cafe at 1016 East Broad Street in Athens.

The restaurant occupies a 1950s commercial building with a false front parapet. The neighborhood around the building originally served as the mill village for the workers of a local pottery factory.

I walked down the long hill to get to the restaurant. What I didn’t know is that I’d get a lot more than a great meal that beautiful day. I got an unexpected life lesson from proprietor Dexter Weaver (AKA “Weaver D.”).

You see, Weaver has a large signboard outside of his cafe that reads “Delicious Fine Foods – Automatic for the People.” As I ordered my food from the now famous Weaver D, I asked him what “Automatic For The People” meant. He

And Now World Famous!

smiled a really big smile and crossed his arms thoughtfully. With a very serious, but friendly tone he said “Young man, that’s how I deliver my customer service. It’s fast and right; heck it’s just about automatic.”

“And it’s always for my customers,” he continued, “the people who spend their hard earned money for my food. I listen hard and we make them happy – quick.”

I thought a lot about Weaver’s seemingly simple comments. I was, and am impressed that a then small time purveyor of pork could think about his business in

The Wise Man Himself

this way. He’s not focused on his food, he’s focused on his customer and taking care of their needs as best he can.

His approach has made him world famous (thanks to REM, as described below). Weaver has spent his life in the service of others, but I think he’s making a fair

return. All these years later he has a book deal, and he’s become quite a celebrity in Athens, GA with his own Facebook Fan Page. Oh, and the food is terrific as well.

REM is Automatic for the People

It is this very same slogan that a little Athens act named REM chose for their 1992 album. The album went four times platinum (16 million copies sold worldwide)

One Of The Great Albums of the '90s

and was one of their most successful releases ever. It is still one of my favorites, and I am in fact listening to the music as I write this.

Automatic For Your People

Weaver D would have been a fine landlord. He understands the focus on customer through delivery of both a great product and service. Do your landlords across the portfolio have the same understanding?

Whether you are signing a lease for 5,000 feet for the sales office in Des Moines (nice town, by the way) or 1 million square feet for your jumbo new headquarters, how the asset will be managed is important. I have seen even tenured real estate executives forget to ask about property management. Many simply assume that landlords will take care of things. Besides, it’s in the lease, correct?

Weaver D would shake a finger at us for making that assumption. If you are performing the real estate function for your company, many are counting on you to deliver the right office space. Part of that equation is the service after the sale, also known as property management.

So what can you do to make the new pad Automatic For Your People?

1)           Determine who will be managing the property on a day-to-day basis. Taking them to lunch is usually a great investment of time.

2)           Is the manager on site or at another location? If they are at another building, how are day-to-day issues handled?

3)           What is the tenure on property of the manager? How many buildings do they handle?

4)           How many engineers are assigned? What is their experience and are they union or not?

5)           Is the management company in-house with building ownership or is the function outsourced to a third party provider? Both can be great resources, but it’s good to understand where the paycheck comes from.

6)           How does your user group interact with management? When problems occur how are they reported and managed? Most firms today will have a technology solution (webpages that feed engineers with smart phones), but ask lots of questions about how the process really works.

7)           Ask to see the capital improvement plan for the property. If you get a blank stare, beware.

8)           Does the interaction seem to be reactive (we’ll respond when the light bulb burns out) or proactive (let’s meet quarterly to make sure your needs are being met)?

9)           Ask if you can conduct tenant interviews with other major users in the building. You will learn a lot about the asset and have someone in your database if you have issues.

10)        Tour the physical plant. Can you “eat off the floor” or is it a mess? It should look as clean as a navy submarine, if you ask me.

11)        Inquire about “life safety.”  A manager must have a well documented and prepared emergency response plan for fire, storm, wind, etc.  Ask the manager to share his or her plan.  If no such plan exists, then this is a clear red flag.

12)        On the same subject, how does property management handle building security? What are the staffing levels? What technology does the property use? Have their been incidents, and if so, how is this information shared with tenants?

If you take the time to do some basic due diligence and note your findings to the file, you will have something to lean on when problems arise. Weaver D would be proud that you thought about your customers and went the extra mile. Automatic.

Thanks to “Automatic” Mike Mire, Regional Lead of Property Management at C&W, for his sage advice on this blog post.

Steve Jobs and….Workplace Design

By Ken Ashley

January 3rd, 2012 (ATLANTA)

As 2012 begins, I finally got a chance to read the biography of one of 2011’s most high profile leaders; Steve Jobs. The 600 page best seller is a very good read and chock full of interesting anecdotes about Jobs. The fact that it took so many words to tell his life story is striking and certainly indicates that he lived a full, fast-paced and amazingly successful business life. The cover art shows Jobs famous “stare” the captivated investors and partners and terrified lesser beings in meetings.

That Famous Stare - You'll Blink First

As it turns out, the denizen of all things computing, the visionary that created digital worldwide communications was a big fan of… in person meetings.  In the authorized biography, author Walter Isaascon describes Jobs innovation and genius as the principle architect of the Pixar headquarters. In this interesting vignette Isaacson tells the story of Steve Jobs and his take on workplace design. The original Pixar build-to-suit delivered in 2000 (a new $64 million, 150,000 square foot Pixar building is under construction nearby).

Given that Jobs used many of the same principles in the creation of the new Apple “Space Ship” Headquarters (profiled here by my friend Coy Davidson) still under construction in Cupertino, Jobs liked the results at Pixar. As you might know, and as is recounted in the book, Jobs had very strong ideas was not to be trifled with in terms of design and function.

The new Apple iteration will be a four-story, three million-square foot building set to hold 3,000 employees. This design philosophy will impact many at the worlds most valuable company. However, many of the formative design ideas come from the original Pixar office building.

“Interaction = Innovation”

Jobs knew that innovation and creativity don’t happen in cubes or though email.

Pixar designer and Academy Award-winning director (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) Brad Bird does a good job of describing the Pixar building that Jobs created:

“If you walk around downstairs in the animation area, you’ll see that it is unhinged. People are allowed to create whatever front to their office they want. One guy might build a front that’s like a Western town. Someone else might do something that looks like Hawaii…John [Lasseter – Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer] believes that if you have a loose, free kind of atmosphere, it helps creativity.”

“Then there’s our building. In the center, he created this big atrium area, which seems initially like a waste of space. The reason he did it was that everybody goes

Sketch of The Atrium Exterior

off and works in their individual areas. People who work on software code are here, people who animate are there, and people who do designs are over there. Steve put the mailboxes, the meetings rooms, the cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the center—which initially drove us crazy—so that you run into everybody during the course of a day. [Jobs] realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.”

The Master of Design Creates Office Buildings Too

It’s fascinating to follow the thoughts of one of the world’s great innovators.

In an interview with Jobs towards the end of his life, Isaacson quotes the Pixar leader: “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,” and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

Jobs and his team selected a site then tore down an old Del Monte fruit cannery in Emeryville, California, which is between Berkley and Oakland just across the Bay Bridge.  Typically into the smallest details  “Jobs obsessed over every aspect of the new building” says Isaacson. Not only did Jobs pick the steel for the beams, but instructed the steel workers on how to make the product to his specifications.

“The Right Kind Of Building Can Do Great Things For Culture”

Ed Catmull, who was then Pixar’s president, said “the Pixar building was Steve’s own movie.”  “ Steve had this belief that the right kind of building can do great things for a culture,” continued Catmull.

When planning for the new Pixar building, leadership originally wanted something similar to a standard Hollywood studio with a number of separate

iMeeting Nirvana

buildings. However, the Disney artists at Pixar said multiple buildings made them feel isolated. Not only did Jobs agree, but he ordered one building with a large atrium in the center that would encourage “random encounters.”

And so it was; the building was designed so that people could meet and talk in the central atrium. John Lasseter, Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer said “I kept running into people that I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.

The Love Lounge

Sometimes great architectural attributes are accidental. A Pixar animator found a small access door in the back of his new office and managed (of course) to explore the opening. He found that after a short crawl, he got to a mechanical room that provided access to the air conditioning. Isaacson recounts:

“He and his colleagues commandeered the secret room, festooned it with Christmas lights….and bar equipment. A video camera installed in the corridor

Accidental Coolness

allowed occupants to monitor who might be approaching. Pixar design lead Lasseter and Steve Jobs himself brought important visitor there and had them sign the wall. The signatures include Michael Eisner, Roy Disney, Tim Allen, and Randy Newman.”

Just because the architect didn’t design it doesn’t mean that cool features can’t happen organically in buildings.

CRE Lessons

Jobs was especially elegant when discussing his legacy toward the end of the book: “What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for …taking advantage… of work that has been done by others before us.” “I didn’t invent the language of mathematics I use.” “ Everything I do depends on other member of our species and the shoulders that we stand on.” “We use the talents that we have….to add something to that flow.” “That’s what has driven me.”

The master of innovation Steve Jobs created six industries (personal computers, animated movies, iTunes music, iPhones, tablet computing and digital publishing). Isaacson tells of Jobs many failures in the book, but Jobs was not afraid of risks including in the office environment. The fact that he designed three major office buildings merits close observation to see how his approach can work in the broader corporate America.

In commercial real estate some look at the standard build out as acceptable and safe. New design ideas can be dismissed quickly because we get outside of our comfort zone.  I’ve personally attended many design meetings where the team seems to be worried about “industry standards,” which translates to what is everyone else doing. It’s certainly OK to be aware of where the industry is headed, but I bet Jobs would tell us to not be constrained by it.

Then there is the budget issue, which is the great limiter of design. Of course we must count the beans, but not loose site of innovation that drives productivity, which is really the Holy Grail of office space creation.

Finally, focus on big game changing ideas and know that your instinct, combined with the guidance of a trusted architect is usually correct. Of course, few are as talented as Jobs at design, but you know your business best. When selecting an architect, find someone who can work with you to create an environment suitable to your culture instead of creating magazine cover shots with your new office.

Perhaps we can infuse more passion into the corporate office creation process – and take a few risks. The results of a design that works can dramatically impact an organization and its productivity. Steve Jobs affected the lives of millions but even he would certainly have agreed: you have to lead as well as challenge conventional wisdom. Be resolute in your convictions however, because innovation is not for wimps. When you succeed, Walter Isaacson is looking for his next biography subject.

Let The Store Come to the People — iMilk?

By Ken Ashley

The following blog originally appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on November 28th, 2011.

CoreNet Global held its semi-annual summit in Atlanta recently.

Thousands of corporate real estate executives, service providers and economic developers traveled to our city to learn the latest trends in corporate real estate. While normally a confab to learn and discuss ideas in the office world, the event also featured an interesting retail story in one of the keynote talks.

Realcomm CEO Jim Young told an amazing story about a South Korean grocery store operator that significantly increased sales without adding one square foot of additional space (sorry, retail developers). UK based grocery giant Tesco – which later changed its name in the local market to HomePlus – now allows the store to truly come to the people in South Korea.

The marketing team created virtual stores that replicate their product on subway walls with sharp and lifelike pictures. The advertising team leased entire vertical spaces on the train platform. Now those spaces show pictures of food products that appear exactly as they would in the store. Busy, hardworking, and bored consumers can now shop by scanning the pictures with their smart phones. One can point the phone at a picture of milk, bread or hundreds of products. When you click, the product is added to the shoppers’ virtual basket. The the online purchase is completed and is delivered to consumers’ homes. Wouldn’t it be great if the staples showed up at your house in a similar fashion?

The shopping experience is sort of like on a public wall. By overcoming an apparent handicap of fewer stores than the leading competitor, HomePlus became the second best selling grocery store in the entire country. I’m impressed by their innovation and even more so by the results. The whole idea is profiled in a YouTube video the company cheerily produced to show off its success

What are the uses of this kind of technology for busy consumers in the United States? Where could you message your customers or employees when they have wait-time or downtime? I bet the walls at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and MARTA will look very different in the coming years.

Static advertising suddenly seems so 2010. Come to think of it we need more milk at the house. Rats.

BYOT PYT: Dance of the iPhones at Work

By Ken Ashley

November 28th, 2011 (ATLANTA)

At the recent CoreNet Global Summit in Atlanta, one of the issues that came to the fore is not traditionally something in the real estate domain: technology and

One Glove. Easier to Hold an iPhone

One Glove. Easier to Hold an iPhone

the pace of its change. More specifically, in several sessions, discussion revolved around the fact that employees are increasingly bringing their own personal tech tools to the workplace.  Bringing Your Own Technology – Pretty Young Thing – (with apologies to the Gloved One) is and will continue to happen whether corporate America wants it or not. There are a whole host of interesting challenges but also opportunities surrounding this phenomenon.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Back in ancient history, say a year ago, companies could still control access to the Internet via their networks. They provided merely adequate hardware tools that knowledge workers were required to use in order to complete their tasks. Now, thanks to Steve Jobs and many others, machines are getting more personal and far more powerful. I tell friends that my iPhone isn’t necessarily the best business handheld, but it is by far the best all around life machine. It goes with me most everywhere and I bet I’m not alone in this regard.

And oh my, the power is incredible. For comparison,  consider the Apollo Guidance Computer in the 1960’s had a 2048 word (!) erasable memory.  How that

Desktop Computing in 1965

machine took a man to the moon is still a miracle and a testament to the fortitude, smarts and courage of those early NASA engineers and astronauts.

Today’s generation of iPhones are incredibly advanced from even a few years ago. On memory alone, I carry 64 gigabits around in my pocket. What would have happened to Apollo 13 with a dual-core Apple processor on board (iApollo)? My iPhone is nearly 11 million times more powerful than that Apollo unit, and in the memory alone can hold between 3 and 6 million books. Simply amazing! It’s fun to think that, based on sheer computing power, you or I could fly a mission to outer space on the power of the smart phone on which you might be reading this very blog.

I Want My Network

But that’s kind of the point in corporate America. Gen Y  – and increasingly all generations  – are showing up to work with the latest and most powerful devices that slip into any pocket. Whether you use brand Apple, Droid, or any other personal machine, these devices continue to become far more important in the lives of Gen X but are required for life itself in Gen Y.

Now, with the advent of cheap portable Wi-Fi networks and hotspots, employees can download previously banned sites like ESPN, Facebook, and YouTube. The Berlin Wall IT tried to put up, for perfectly good reasons, has fallen. Put another way, knowledge workers have seen the light and will not turn back to technological darkness.

This access and power brings with it challenges, but also great opportunity.  On the challenge side, corporate IT departments are currently going crazy worried about the safety of company data and work product. They are issuing proclamations that suggest they are still in control and begging employees to keep data on the companies’ networks and in their cloud. IT claims to have the ability to inspect any machine that employees bring on campus. In many cases, legal agrees, but this is an emerging area of the law. Besides, many employees simply say “Good luck with inspecting my private device; you can pry my iPhone from my cold dead fingers.” Don’t forget that the best knowledge workers have job portability despite the economy.

On the opportunity side, we anticipate great new ideas and collaboration facilitated by amazing leaps forward in technology. The new platforms enable people to communicate, think, and work in ways that are constantly changing. Besides, the hardware is simply a vehicle for amazing software, including social media platforms, that are both changing rapidly. For example, in my own company, we are experimenting with the social networking platform Yammer to share best practices. Emerging technology in its best usage can affect the Holy Grail; increase employee productivity, and that’s something every executive should be interested in.

Hey Kid, Over Here

We certainly understand the angst that IT, Legal, HR and all the leadership have with technology “gone wild”. There are serious issues that companies need to think about in terms of protection of data from competitive snooping, lawsuits and the like.

But before we put up big chain link fences and tell employees what they absolutely positively can’t do, we should keep in mind iPhones, Droids, and other similar devices will keep coming, and our whole society is adopting them into both work and life. No matter how many memos we send, people will keep using these tools.  Our challenge is to figure out how to embrace this change and work through the security questions, instead of the other way around.

What About The Sticks and Bricks?

So, since this is a real estate space, we will ask what does the personal technology invasion mean for those charged with delivering the space – that envelope in which we conduct business? As Jim Young, CEO of Realcomm suggested at the recent CoreNet Summit, a closer alignment with IT, HR and Legal is in order. This issue will not go away, and all of us in corporate real estate must be prepared to address changing technology issues. Besides, you will certainly be appreciated internally if you are a leader in this area as opposed to a follower.

If you are the real estate executive, call your sister departments and host a lunch.

Don't Forget the Whiteboard!

Invite the CFO if it is appropriate as well. If you are CEO, CFO or in the C-suite, so much the better. Bet folks will accept your lunch invitation either way.

May we suggest that the first topic be how to improve productivity on both an individual and a corporate level with the use of these machines. Appoint an “apps czar” and schedule lunch and learns. Your own employees will likely be happy to lead these, but you have to ask. Ask internal innovators to tell you what they are doing with their machines and apps (see this article on Reverse Mentoring from today’s Wall Street Journal). Challenge the team to work with you, and you might be shocked at the outcome. The machines are, of course, only the on-ramp for this new collaboration.

As to the legal and IT issues, rules are made to help people. These rules can evolve as appropriate, but you should first figure out how to harness the phenomenon of personal technology to help the enterprise. The dance of the iPhones is already happening in your workplace, like it or not.

Besides, if you cant beat ‘em, join ‘em. You and all the PYT’s.

Work is a Verb Not a Noun

November 15th, 2011

By Ken Ashley (ATLANTA)

The 2011 CoreNet Global Summit came to Atlanta, y’all. In meetings that focused on big demographic shifts, amazing changes in technology and increasing connectivity,

Make That Sweet Tea

thousands of real estate executives, service providers and economic developers

came to the Capital of the South. As became clear, grits, sweet tea and commercial real estate really do go together.

Not in Kansas or Oz

At the opening session, a “futurist researcher” shared his view that our society – and by extension our business – is “in the midst of a great realignment…that marks the end of one global era and the beginning of another.” Andrew Zolli continued that we are in transition in terms of communication (much more of it), power (decentralized) and change itself (it will be constant).

Zolli said “we are not quite in Kansas, but not quite in Oz; we are in the whirlwind.”

There is a “normalization of volatility”, Zolli continued. “We’ve gotten used to the fact that the world is a volatile place” and that change is simply part of life.

Work and Grammar

Speaking of change, Ernst & Young’s global real estate head Trex Morris shared his view that “work is a verb not a noun – work is what you do where you are, not

Hard To Tell The Difference

where you are located.” This emerging view will have profound implications for the ever expanding envelope in which workforces perform their daily tasks.

Along the same lines, Mark Gorman, Cienna’s real estate head said, “It’s not about the space any longer…If you want to succeed in commercial real estate, forget the extra space and enable workers with technology.” Allowing connectivity and productivity no matter where employees are located is critical to future success of CRE specifically, and the enterprise more generally. The advent of “cloud computing” will facilitate this rapid change, but we have to be willing to enable our workforces to plug in and sign on from almost any device, anywhere.

Hey Kid, Over Here

Tim Venable and Melissa Securda of CoreNet Global led a session of senior real estate leaders with a free flowing conversation about the future of the corporate work place. Everyone sat up when this comment was made:

“We are building the workplace of the future for kids who are now in junior high school.”

Signing ten  or certainly fifteen year leases guarantees that those pimply faced young wonders will end up in your workforce sooner than you’d like to think. They are amazingly ADD, gaming experts and social media champions in every way. How will corporate real estate directors provide the tools to maximize their productivity and maintain focus? How do you give award plaques to a workforce that has no walls on which to hang them?

Will we hear “I’m bored” retorts from these young hot shots? Maybe by then we start IV’s of Five Hour Energy drinks to keep them going at the normal frenetic pace.

On top of the young guns issue, because Baby Boomers are working longer and longer, more generations will be in the workplace than at anytime in modern history. So we can’t just Tweet and Facebook everything for everyone. The challenge of leading a CRE organization with so many different constituents will grow increasingly difficult.

I Love My CFO, and HR/IT You’re Cool Too

Realcomm CEO Jim Young led a panel of senior real estate leaders in the second general session entitled “The New ReallTy” (look for an upcoming post drilling deeper into this session). The group talked about “smaller and smarter” organizations. They pointed out that we’ve been talking about the workplace of the future for 15 years but technology has finally caught up.

One panelist opined, “People will increasingly bring their own technology to work…Work will serve as a portal.” We are challenged to accommodate not only different work styles but also many varied technology needs. “One sized technology doesn’t actually fit anyone” said Ken Meyer of Deloitte.

Then there is the collaboration challenge. While we were focused on square footage per person and cost reduction, the need to increase productivity is the true Holy Grail.

Jim Young challenged greater partnership with HR and IT to enable workers to have everything they need when they need it. He wondered aloud if leaders from those two other organizations should be coming to our trade show.

Young’s prescription is to take the CFO to lunch as soon as possible and ask how CRE can better help the organization achieve its overall objectives. Better yet, bring HR and IT with you for some serious shoptalk. Shared objectives in this fast changing environment help all to get ahead in their careers.

That’s A Wrap

As our incoming Chairman Matt Fanoe said “Social networks and technologies will change…how business is done as we approach 2020. The role of the ‘connected culture’ continues to grow on a global level…and it is vital for us as an industry to keep pace.”

Couldn’t agree more with Mr. Fanoe. Life is moving fast and we need to our heads up to keep pace and stay relevant.