Real estate techies talk turkey at PikeNet 98 You can always tell when a true New Yorker enters a room, and Jeff Hipschman is no exception. The chief information officer at Julien J. Studley Inc. is a big guy who does little to conceal his brusque manner. His thoughts and opinions matter and he wants you to know it. Arrogant? Probably. Smart? Definitely.
Hipschman is the kind of guy commercial real estate desperately needs.
After years spent dealing with Masters of the Universe types at Salomon Brothers, he joined Studley determined to drag brokers kicking and screaming into the Internet age.
Hipschman made his presence felt immediately at PikeNet 98, the first real estate technology conference organized by PikeNet founder Peter Pike and held in early September in San Francisco.
During the first panel discussion, after listening to companies like COMPS Infosystems and Trade Dimensions talk proudly about delivering valuable real estate data over the Internet, Hipschman rose to his feet and told them they were basically wasting his time.
Hipschman's point: Real estate data providers should spend less time building fancy proprietary websites and instead concentrate on developing "data feeds" so that companies like Studley could integrate the information directly into their own computer networks.
The idea is really simple. Brokers turn on their computers in the morning and log onto the company's intranet, allowing them to communicate internally with a colleague down the hall or across the country. From the same browser window, the broker can also access property listing information from an outside provider like Realty Information Group, or call up a report on sales comps in his market from COMPS Infosystems. And if he's preparing a report for a client, he can drop the information into a secure extranet, allowing the client who is likely sitting across town to access the information on his own web browser.
"Brokers are too busy to learn the ins and outs of every real estate website out there. We want to control the user interface to make it as easy as possible for brokers to access the information they need," added Scott Williams, the chief information officer at Grubb & Ellis.
PikeNet 98 attracted roughly 100 real estate service and information providers to hash out the inevitable marriage of real estate and technology. This was not a conference for the technologically feeble. Tiny laptops armed with Powerpoint presentations and Palm Pilots were the tools of the trade, here. The subtitle of PikeNet 98 was "Commercial Real Estate Internet Strategies," but it could have just as easily been "Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated" (to borrow a phrase from the evil Borg menace on Star Trek: The Next Generation).
The Internet is changing the way brokers, acquisition officers, pension fund managers ' the entire commercial real estate industry ' conduct business. And for the participants at PikeNet 98, the change can't come fast enough. Some of the best discussions at the two-day gathering centered around the use of intranets and extranets to provide electronic linkages within and between companies, data providers and clients.
John Shields, vice president of client relations at RREEF, one of the nation's largest investment advisers, demonstrated a fairly basic extranet application that allows RREEF investors to obtain a snapshot of their portfolio's financial performance.
Craig Severance, managing director of AMB Property Corp., showed off an extranet still under development but far more advanced. The application enables AMB to use e-mail to communicate with partners while continuously updating a web-based database accessible by all involved parties. For example, an AMB asset manager inspects a property in his portfolio and finds the roof leaking. An e-mail is sent out to Trammell Crow Co., the property manager, to fix the problem. At the same time, that e-mail becomes part of an online maintenance log for the property. When Trammell Crow contracts with a roofing company to fix the leak, the invoice is entered into the maintenance log, allowing AMB to keep tabs on when and how the problem was fixed. Saving time and reducing cost is driving this march toward the Net.
Extranet ' Intranet ' Internet: What's in a name? Intranets and extranets were hot topics at PikeNet 98, but for the technologically impaired who are having a hard enough time learning to surf the Net, here's how the next waves stack up in internet evolution.
extranet: A website for existing customers rather than the general public. It can provide access to paid research, current inventories and internal databases, virtually any information that is not published for everyone. An extranet uses the public Internet as its transmission system but requires passwords to gain access.
intranet: An inhouse website that serves the employees of the enterprise. Although intranet pages may link to the Internet, an intranet is not a site accessed by the general public.
internet: A large network made up of a number of smaller networks. "The" Internet is made up of more than 100,000 interconnected networks in over 100 countries.
Studley was able to shorten the deal cycle on tenant rep work for Microsoft Corp. from four months to 45 days because Studley brokers, Microsoft's real estate department and all the lawyers and other professionals involved in the lease transactions were kept up to speed via the Web.
Grubb & Ellis has more than 1,800 employees using its corporate intranet, with another 200 to 300 people being added per month. When you add in all the clients that have access, the number of active users jumps to 3,000, according to Williams. Real estate information providers made up a large part of the PikeNet audience, all of whom were enthusiastically weaning themselves from the "dead tree" strategy of information distribution.
Garry Van Siclen, an executive with Trade Dimensions, a Connecticut-based retail real estate information provider, recalls buying the rights to a national shopping center directory that was 4,000 pages long and weighed eight pounds. The directory was almost useless because most retail brokers were only interested in information on their local markets, so they balked at paying for the entire product.
Today, Trade Dimensions is in the process of digitizing the shopping center directory, allowing customers to pay for only the data they want and have the information delivered to them over the Internet. The company is doing the same thing with its retail tenant database that contains detailed information about more than 260,000 retail stores.
For more information ...
... about PikeNet, see: www.pikenet.comm
... about the Internet, intranets and extranets, see::
San Diego-based COMPS Infosystems is the largest provider of sales comparable information in the country, operating in 42 markets and expanding to 82. In 1997, the company embarked on an electronic delivery strategy aimed at eliminated virtually all paper publishing. Today, there are more than 2,000 registered users of the E-COMPS product, one-third of which are new customers, according to Wally Papciak, COMPSO vice president of sales, marketing and product development.
Realty Information Group CEO Andy Florance also made an appearance at PikeNet 98. Fresh from raising $23 million in its initial public offering, RIG is set to enter Phoenix and San Diego. The company already tracks data on 125,000 properties in eight of the top 10 U.S. real estate markets. Commercial real estate gets a bum rap, partly deserved, for being technologically paranoid. The Internet is an enabling technology that allows information to flow freely, a philosophy that repulses many real estate professionals who cling to the belief that restricting access to information enhances their value.
The overriding lesson coming out of the first PikeNet conference is that there is a devoted cadreof real estate insiders who are eagerly adapting technology to suit their needs. The quality turnout and the sophisticated discussion certainly supports Peter Pike's transition from real estate broker to real estate technologist, and proves that he's established a growing base for his Internet real estate directory and information service. PikeNet 98 will not be the last. Pike is already planning two conferences for 1999, one to be held in New York and the other back in San Francisco.