• Lorne Burns, Author |
4 min read

This post was prepared in collaboration with Gavin Lubbe, the GTA Lead for Data and Analytics in Canada, and Alison Glober, a Consulting partner.

It all begins with defining what you aim to achieve with the transformation first. Then, you can work backward to determine the insights you'll need to reach those goals and the data sets that will bring them to light.

Remember, data is only an enabler. By answering the question "What do we need to know from our data?" upfront, real estate organizations can embed the skills, strategies, and technologies to ensure they're collecting the right data from the right sources and putting it to work effectively.

Many Canadian firms are already on this path. KPMG in the US's 2020 Real Estate Data Survey finds 42 per cent of domestic real estate players are making a coordinated effort to collect, manage, and analyse data throughout their organizations. They're doing the legwork upfront to determine the "why" behind becoming a data-driven organization before laying out the "how."

Their approaches may vary, but organizations making the best use of that data are those who are:

  • Sourcing accurate, relevant, and timely data from reliable and curated sources.
  • Using data to manage their properties more effectively (e.g., predictive maintenance, streamlining processes, tenant retention strategies, etc.).
  • Using data-collecting technologies (e.g., sensors, Internet of Things [IoT] systems, real-time monitoring) to inform smarter energy strategies.
  • Leveraging market/industry data to inform market investments and transactions.
  • Benchmarking their assets against similar portfolios and competition.
  • Exploring ways data can be used to enhance the tenant experience (where applicable).

These are all tell-tale signs that an organization is committed to becoming a data-driven organization for the long haul. The challenge is staying the course.

Sound sources
Effective data strategies rely on accurate and up-to-the-moment data sources, few of which are created equal. Each source has various requirements (e.g., governance, security, etc.) and may differ in terms of priority and accessibility.

To that end, organizations must do their due diligence when selecting their sources. This requires sifting through the massive volumes of data in their possession, pinpointing what will yield the most critical insights, and then building a data strategy and architecture with those data-harvesting outcomes in mind.

Canadian real estate organizations have access to numerous reliable data pools. They include public sector repositories (e.g., Statistics Canada, Ministry databases, census information, etc.), public repositories (e.g., Google Public Data Explorer), and a wealth of online private sector resources. Whichever data resources an organization chooses to harvest, it's important that they are well-curated and updated regularly, so that the decisions they inform are based on the most relevant information.

Organizational access
Data isn't meant to live in silos. It's not intended for IT departments alone. For data to serve its intended purpose, it needs to be shared and integrated throughout the organization to provide solid guidance for all facets of your business.

It's important for anybody making key decisions in a real estate organization to have access to organizational data (e.g., the "data lake") easily and securely, no matter its point of origin. And yet, with only 12 per cent of Canadian respondents saying all their teams have access to their organization's data pools, there is room for real estate companies to improve in this area.

The fact that 70 per cent of Canadian firms do not currently intend to share their data with tenants to improve the tenant experience signals missed opportunities. True, real estate organizations must be diligent in how (and with whom) they share their information, but it benefits them to explore ways in which sharing data can enhance tenant safety, satisfaction, and retention. After all, anything that can be done to make building owners, managers, and occupants more successful is worth considering.

More than machines
Becoming a data-driven organization is not simply about having smarter machines and systems. It's about having the people who can identify the right data tools and use them effectively within your business. Herein lies an opportunity to upskill real estate professionals to take full advantage of their organizations' data, particularly given that only a third (35 per cent) of Canadian organizations currently say their employees have the required knowledge to leverage the data lake. And with only 3 per cent of organizations employing data scientists to bridge the gaps, there is equal value in recruiting more data specialists who can keep your data strategy alive.

Remember, a data strategy is never static. It requires assessing and managing workforce capabilities on a continued basis to gain the insights you'll need to retrain, replace, or re-skill your people accordingly.

It starts with a stone
Launching a data strategy is an investment of time, talent, and resources. Here's where the adage "Don't move the entire mountain, start with a pebble first" applies. Begin by breaking down your plan into manageable pieces and working your way toward smaller milestones.

Actioning and enacting a broad end-to-end data strategy can take years; without seeing the fruits of your labour in the short-term, it's easy to veer off course. That's why it's important to use data to create incremental value for your business, motivating your people to be passionate about data, ensuring your leaders keep desired outcomes in full view, and consistently making the connection between insights and business results.

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