Building managers often lack the simple tools they need to effectively respond to broken elevators, leaky pipes and the other day-to-day operational challenges they need to address to keep their tenants happy and overhead costs low.

Enter Waltham, Mass.-based Building Engines Inc. The technology firm develops, markets and hosts real-time building-management systems for commercial real estate and health care facility managers. Their mission? Help building operators monitor service calls, security activities and tenant-response times via instantaneous staff communication through PCs, pagers and cell-phones.

Clients such as CB Richard Ellis, Jones Lang LaSalle and Beverly Living Centers use Building Engines products to manage such functions – often portfolio-wide, says company founder and CEO David S. Osborn, 47. A former CFO of Milestone Systems Inc., Osborn designed desktop shipping systems at Milestone and helped forge partnerships with shipping giants Airborne Express and DHL International before leaving to launch Building Engines in 2000.

NREI: Who are Building Engines’ customers?

David OsbornOsborn: Typically, we cater to commercial office managers with three to 10 million sq. ft. of space, but we have some with less than a million sq. ft. We also target health care facility managers. In fact, our products can apply to any number of real estate segments. We fit well into health care because of our distribution-management structure. There’s a crucial need there for keeping such things as HVAC systems, water heaters and nurse-call buttons operating.

NREI: How do your products save money for building owners?

Osborn: The hard-dollar savings are in increased earnings. The soft-dollar savings are increases in efficiency that allow [owners] to bill more accurately for services and, in some cases, avoid litigation. With our incident-tracking program, for example, an elevator-entrapment report would go immediately to the owner, the property manager, the risk-management consultant and the security director, so they can all take immediate action and ensure the proper public relations response occurs. One client in Boston had a measles outbreak at a building. Our system allowed them to quickly post a letter in PDF form from the Boston Public Health Commission on the tenant-facing pages of our BEI System – accessible to all authorized tenants. The information was also put out on [network] POD casts. That helped address any immediate concerns. The building remained in operation.

NREI:You note that your products are “intuitive.” How so?

Osborn: An office manager and tenant coordinator, for example, will receive a message about a broken light on their at-a-glance screens. But over time, our intuitive system will realize that all light-bulb changes go to the same person, so it automatically routes those requests to that person. We go out of our way to spoon-feed them that function.

NREI:What are some of the less tangible ways that your products and services aid clients?

Osborn: The owner is going to know what’s happening in his buildings on a real-time basis. He becomes less a fireman and more a manager. Also, a building engineer will know exactly what his schedule is week-in and week-out so he can separate critical tasks from non-critical.

NREI: What gives you an edge in the industry?

Osborn: We use a very flexible architecture that engenders high use. While we’re software developers, we’re also operations-management specialists. Our systems are easy to employ and they’re pliable. We can train everybody in the real estate space just by using email.

When I founded the company, our work was based on hundreds of interviews with companies about what kind of systems they’d need and use. We built our system from the ground up – an organic structure that’s really paid off in usability. Most other systems were designed from the top down. We have a number of experienced real estate professionals on our team and we’re constantly asking questions of our customers and prospects. We also tell our salespeople to ask clients lots of questions about their business and they come up with more ideas than we can implement. We were on a sales conference call recently when [a client] interrupted and said, ‘Wow, you guys really understand real estate.’

– Steve McLinden