Lorri Rowlandson, Senior Vice President, BGIS | How technology drives data insights | 33:00

Transcript

DA: Hi, I’m David Abrams. And I want to welcome you to this edition of the Tenant Experience Network Podcast. I want to welcome today’s guest Lorri Rowlandson, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Innovation at BGIS. In this episode, we will learn about Lorri’s journey to her current position at BGIS, where she builds on the intersection of real estate operations and innovation through strategic thought leadership. We will tap into our thinking around technology as an enabler, helping to drive insights from data, hear her views on becoming an expert through lifelong learning, and begin to explore our mutual struggles with communication in a virtual world. We’re excited to be sharing this Podcast with you. So make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. Now I’d like to welcome Lorri to the show. Hey Lorri, it’s really great that you could be with us today. How are you? 

LR: I’m wonderful. Thank you so much for having me as a guest today.

DA: It is our pleasure. I’m looking forward to the conversation. Let’s start with your journey to your current role as Senior Vice President, Strategy and Innovation at BGIS. How did you get started? Walk me through that.

LR: Well, it’s kind of an interesting story. I don’t know too many people in our profession that have had a straight line in their career path that many of us are accidental real estate professionals, and I’m actually one of them. I was a crossover from large outsourcing arrangements around various topics. And around 15 years ago, I did a large outsourcing for real estate, and then I crossed over to manage it, and I continued into that ilk. So, and then around innovation, it’s interesting that I’ve just evolved into that role in the last couple of years, I’ve always had a fairly operational role. And because of my passion and interest for innovation, our CEO, Gord Hicks, they asked me to take on this responsibility where I sponsor innovation for our company within the different countries. I’m like a coach and help reinvigorate our industry as well as ourselves, so we’re continuing on an innovation journey.

DA: Really interesting, so obviously you and I are well aware of the language that has emerged around PropTech. But for you, from your perspective, when do you think PropTech such as it is today really emerged, really came on the scene. So given that you took on this role of innovation emerged for you, what’s your sense of the timing of when it really started to take off?

LR: Well, it’s an interesting question, David because I think we’ve actually had PropTech for quite some time now, and people that are involved with building automation systems would say that we’ve had it for 30 years. We’re probably just not leveraging the data to its maximum potential. And I think really within the last five years we’ve become so focused on data-driven decisions and the availability of data and different types of data have really unleashed different potential for decisions and getting those breakthrough moments. So I think it’s actually, technology is really an enabler but I think business analytics and intelligence has really come into its own over the last five years, which has created a bit of a fallacy that it’s about technology. I think really the technology is a means to an end, which is really around data-driven insights.

DA: Right, that’s really interesting. I’ve been involved in Commercial Real Estate as well for many years. And, when I first wrote the strategy document, for HILO, what has now become HILO in 2013. Certainly the notion of using a digital communication engagement platform to connect landlords, owners, building operators with their tenants certainly was not openly received at that time. But to your point, it’s interesting that you talk about, well, technology has really existed in Commercial Real Estate for some time, and I’ve had the opportunity to be in the bowels of these buildings to see the amount of technology that actually exists, to make them run each and every day. But I think you’re right. I think it’s the data and the analytics. That is now maybe the driver of perhaps more public facing technology, such as HILO or other examples.

LR: Yeah, you got it. And I think that I love using a data-driven approach. First of all, I work with engineers so I couldn’t get away with doing it any other way. But I think that, when you get to the next frontier of opportunity, you have to use a data-led approach to get past paradigms, to really inform those decisions so that they’re not anecdotal or you’re getting past perception. You’re really making those decisions on fact. And some of the decisions that we’re having to make as part of the next wave of efficiency and benefit, has to do with going into some difficult territory. So anytime you can use data to ground everybody, data doesn’t have paradigms, data doesn’t have bias, data doesn’t have preferences, data is data. And so to get at that next frontier having a data-led approach really creates a lot of breakthrough. And it also supports the CFOs and the business case approvals as well.

DA: Right, really interesting. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity, both from a Commercial Real Estate perspective, but also as you took on this innovation role. Are there any unique skills that helped you to become successful?

LR: Yeah, there’s probably two or three things. I’ve always been really a curious person, I’m a super nerd, I love science fiction. Like I’ve always been really interested in science and technology. So that’s part of it. I joke that, if Alice in Wonderland grew up, that would be me. That’s kind of my mindset. But I think one of the indirect benefits I have, I’m also a Gen X. And Gen X were notorious for being latchkey kids. I grew up with both parents working, and I had to figure everything out myself. So it really turned our generation into excellent problem solvers, and you just had to figure it out. So I didn’t get a lot of direction or guidance. We just had to figure it out. And that’s actually a life skill that has always stuck with me. So as we go through an incredible amount of change, in the next 10 years, by 2030, 80% of the technology we’ll be using, hasn’t been invented yet. So we need to be curious about trying things and figuring things out, and just being fearless. And I think another interpersonal by-product of that is grit. Whether you call it being fearless or… But you just figure it out, you have to be a problem solver to really survive. And it’s not that dramatic obviously in a work setting, but it builds up this interpersonal ability. So that combined with my personal passions and my love of technology and science, and my dad was an engineer. So I got exposed to a lot of that. I think that all combined with my love of learning, just sort of work together in this amazing soup, because of opportunity, because I never really planned to go in this direction, I always enjoyed operations, I was good at it. And then just in the last couple of years, I’ve taken a different direction because of the need of the company. And I have a forte for it, I seem to be doing well at it. So I’ve just continued to accelerate in that direction, and my boss made a place for me in the company, in that particular role.

DA: Well, that’s amazing. Isn’t that great that not only did you find a profession that took into consideration all those different characteristics that you bring to the table, but also has given you an opportunity to continue to grow and evolve, right? And I too, I agree. I think the industry just has so many different possibilities and different directions that one can pursue. For me, the number one ingredient of any moment in my career has always been, the ability to always do something different. And always be creative and never be bored. And I can say that has certainly been the case for me. Any advice for someone wanting to follow a similar path? Everyone’s path is a little bit different, but any guidance you can offer?

LR: Yeah, this is such an exciting time because there are no experts on a lot of the things that are emerging. And so this is a time to hang up your shingle and be an expert. All you need to do is develop a love of learning, and be a continuous learner. So if you find something that you really love, let’s say it’s the Metaverse or artificial intelligence, or whatever that area of interest is, just read about as much as you can about it, find who you admire in that particular sector, understand how they got to where they are in their position, and then do the heck out of whatever they did to get there, would be my advice. But the foundation is starting with continuous learning. You must be a lover of learning. Now, that paired with a work environment, one of my earliest mentors had a wonderful expression that I never forgot. He said, what is, forgive me, I won’t get the quote quite right but here’s the intent, it was “Whatever is of passing interest to my manager should be fascinating to me.” So if you couple your interest in learning towards targeted, towards problem solving, something that your manager needs, you are proactively bringing fresh thinking to them. And from that, I’ve had managers, I don’t think I’ve applied for a job. I can’t even remember the last time. And within the last several jobs I’ve had, they’ve had to write a new role for me.

DA: Right.

LR: And so what I would do is go to my manager and say, hey, we have this challenge or this opportunity, another way of saying problem, and here’s my ideas and I’m really passionate about this and I want to own that, and I want to be involved. And think about that. You’ve managed people, I’m sure David. Imagine having a young talented person come to you with that creative thinking, with that passion and engagement. And that’s how you have roles created for you instead of applying for them. And now more than ever, there’s that opportunity. We’re going to have more change in the next 10 years than we have had in the last 50. So being agile in the way you’re managing upward, I think is also very important as well as fulfilling your inner nerd with continuous learning.

DA: Yeah, I love that. That’s music to my ears, and I think you’re right. I think the opportunity that each individual has, to sort of put a stake in the ground and carve out that niche for themselves or that opportunity for themselves. I think that’s great advice, Because often, it’s been said, there’s been a generation that sort of have expectations of what ought to happen to them. And I think you’ve sort of flipped that on its head and said, if there’s something that you want, go after it, make it happen-

LR: Yeah, no, one’s going to hand it to you. You have to go and get it. So if you wait, if you have career aspirations, I say this too, when I’m mentoring people all the time, is that you can’t expect that your manager, or your manager’s manager are mind readers. You have to take responsibility of your career and be in the driver’s seat, help them understand what you’re interested in, what you need, and have those career coaching discussions. But if they haven’t come to you with that, you need to initiate that.

DA: Right, and I think an opportunity for you to show them where you can add value.

LR: That’s right.

DA: Where you can move the needle, where you can push things in a new direction. So that’s fabulous advice. What’s the biggest challenge you’re experiencing right now, and how do you think you’ll overcome it?

LR: Well, the biggest challenge, it’s interesting. Oh, gosh, to pick one.

DA: Yeah, try to pick one.

LR: It’s probably communication. And part of that is perhaps reflective of COVID. And we tend to be fairly utilitarian with our communications right now, and we’re missing those casual interactions, and hey, by the way standing, lining up for a coffee, what are you working on now? Oh, my gosh, I can help you. So I would say that communication is a bit of a challenge in a virtual environment, and so I’m researching a lot about virtual culture and virtual technologies that really enhance those communications without email. One of my pet peeves is email, oh my God, I just wish we could get rid of it. I am really happy with some of the tools and technologies that we become more proficient at in the last eight months or in 2020 with things like Teams and Zooms. And we use Teams inside of BGIS. And I really love the plugins and all of the different amenities, the electronic amenities that you can use for communications and continue to build my expertise there. But communication is something quite honestly I’m struggling with a little bit right now.

DA: Yep, I’m with you a hundred percent. First of all, I hate email just as much. So I literally spent the entire weekend cleaning out my two different email inboxes. It takes far too much time. So I’m with you there. I think that the world we’re currently operating, where we all are relying on more of a virtual experience in relationship and yes, utilizing some amazing tools like Zoom and Teams, it is not making up for those casual encounters, those moments of creativity and collaboration and spontaneity. And as we continue to evolve, HILO has a way and one of our primary purposes is to facilitate communication. I’d love to maybe park that item between the two of us, and maybe circle back at a future date and talk about what does communication look like, as we move forward in ways that can’t be, where we can’t go necessarily go back to the way that it was, but the way that it is, is not really working.

LR: Yeah, you got it.

DA: So, I think there’s likely something there, but that’s probably a whole another discussion, but I’d love to continue that at a later date. So if you had an extra hundred thousand dollars of budget right now, how would you spend it and why?

LR: Oh, gosh, this is such a good question, oh, my gosh. I would say there’s probably two areas. One is, I’m really interested in the Metaverse right now. I’m writing that chapter in a book I’m publishing next year on the 21 technologies that are going to change the way that we work. And I think the Metaverse is going to be bigger than the internet, David, like I’m really stoked about it. Augmented reality and virtual reality, and creating another universe that is virtual and only limited by our imagination. I’m so excited about the future of retail and how we will interact. And by the way, it sounds a little cookie, and I know people think that this sounds like ready player one or one of those movies that sounds really out there, but it’s really two years away. I think before it becomes really mainstream and it’s already catching fire. So I’m doing a lot of development work on… I’m also a big gamer, but how could we apply the same principles towards creating a more dynamic and interesting work environment, for meeting, engaging a virtual community for that extended employee community. So I’m really interested in that, but also in augmented reality. So when we’ve got a big workforce retiring, this is an example from two years ago but continuing to build on it. We had a technician that was 74. He was beyond retirement and he knew everything there was to know about this one building. And his wife finally said, listen, I want to retire. So he had to retire, but he was so valuable and he loved what he did. It was hard to, his successor had a hard time. So what we did was equipped him with Google Glass so he could see the building systems with augmented reality and give direction, but also a standard operating procedures and things like that could come up with information and alerts that add a layer of insight over top of what you’re looking at, as well as allow somebody else into looking at the work environment. So as we’re that demographic of experts retires, it’s going to give a really nice set of training wheels to that next generation of technicians that need to know about it, but don’t have 35, 40 and this guy has almost 45 years of experience in working. And how do you get that, when you’re standing in front of a big piece of equipment and how do you do that? So I’m really excited about the Metaverse and augmented reality and virtual reality. And I don’t even think we’ve begun. And a lot of people think they have the paradigm that it’s a gaming thing, and it’s not theirs. Facebook is doubling down in this area, Microsoft is doubling down in this area. And I think within two years, you’re going to see something quite mainstream. And I think COVID has actually accelerated their development in this area.

DA: Right, well, I think in general, they’re saying that the first four or five months of COVID accelerated the rate of adoption of technology by at least one year per month. And now as we enter another lockdown, the question is what will they continue to impact? So certainly from the perspective of real estates, connection association with technology we’re definitely seeing that, but you’re right. I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not sure how long that a hundred thousand dollars will last for all that you want to do, but hey, there’s a start, right? So you talked a little bit about this earlier, but are there any resources, mentors, colleagues, books that have really helped you along the journey that you could share with our listeners?

LR: Yeah, I am a huge book nerd. And before I started writing my own books, I would devour a book a week. I use audio books because I’m busy. And so in my commute, I would listen to or read a book a week that way. And I swear it’s been the secret to my success, what I would do. And I encourage anybody to do this. Pick a topic that you’re struggling on. It could be personal or professional, buy three well-rated books on the topic and read them all. And by that, after you finish them, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable and the ability to go forward. So honestly, and just rinse and repeat, keep doing that approach. So that would be what I would recommend. Make sure that you have a mentor or a board of directors, like an informal group of people that help guide you or let you use up your lifelines on them, when you need those moments. I’m so grateful that I had some really incredible mentors. Most of them were men, earlier in my career and I’ve really paid it forward to doing a lot for women in real estate and in our industry. So, and I love it because I learned from the people that I coach as well. I get them to teach me something as well as obviously teaching them something as well, give it back. But it really should be reciprocal, and it’s so rewarding when you do that. So those are a few tips that I would say around how to manage mentors and learning.

DA: Absolutely, it does go both ways. I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker or lecturer at a university college program on entrepreneurship in Commercial Real Estate. And after two hours with me in front of about 25 students, again, virtually on Zoom, I’ll tell you it was one of the most amazing experiences, and the opportunity to connect and dialogue, share my story, hear their stories and be asked questions and just to provide some of the learning that I’ve had over years and share that with them. It was very gratifying. So I’m in agreement. Is there any details about anything new that you’re working on, that you might think our listeners might find interesting? It could be along the lines of some of the innovation that you’ve talked about, but anything you’re really knee-deep in now that would be super relevant.

LR: Yeah, I just published my first book which I released in August, that talks about the way that work will change forever. What we learned from COVID, and it’s full of case studies. I had been working before COVID so rudely interrupted my writing process, and I just parked them was two books. One of them was around, helping organizations get their head around, how to create a data-driven approach and measuring productivity. And that I think has just accelerated in interest, because I think we need to… Like all the reasons I mentioned earlier around having a data-driven approach, but I see organizations struggling with how to actually develop that. Where do you begin? So more of like a DIY, where to begin on how to create a data-driven approach and what to measure, so it’ll contain lots of metrics. And specifically around the area of measuring employee productivity is an area I’ve gone into a lot of depth in the book. The second book is, I mentioned earlier, “Leading Innovation at Work” Which is the name of my podcast too, is identifying the 21 disruptive technologies that are going to change the way that we work forever. So we talked about everything from virtual and augmented reality to Bitcoin, to gamification. All of those different trends that we are faced with. There’s 21 of them, 3D printing, et cetera. So we talk about what the potential impact will be, because again, I work with engineers, we like evidence for everything. So it’s full of case studies and examples, and I felt that was important because a lot of people think these topics are like some, it sounds so far out, it sounds so like ‘future’, it sounds like some Keanu Reeves or Tom Cruise movie, it just sounds so far out there. But we’re actually doing these things today. And the future is happening all around us right now, with driverless car experimentations and things like that. It’s not like a date in 2030 when everything is going to arrive, it’s happening right now. So there’s lots of case studies that I wanted to share and kind of blow past the paradigms that this stuff is so far away because it really isn’t. So they’re kind of fun, but I think that they’ll be constructive for our industry as well, David.

DA: Right, if you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

LR: I’m a huge X-Men fan, So this is a great question, but I think if I had to pick one, it would probably be Shapeshifting. But I think you could get to reinvent yourself and you could see the world from different perspectives. And I think that would be fascinating.

DA: Okay, now we talked a little bit about this throughout. You let us right out of the gate with this curiosity that you have, and you’ve shared with us some of your thinking around what’s still to come, but anything else that you’re really curious about right now, that has you thinking differently now in particular, due to the circumstances that we all confront in the world that we are in today?

LR: Yeah, I mentioned the Metaverse, which is the unlimited world of augmented and virtual reality, which I really believe is very close and not that far away. The other one that I think is really interesting is 3D printing. We saw some really cool examples of how that accelerated during COVID. And one of the case studies I talk about in my book is related to things… Remember there was a supply chain catastrophe and people couldn’t get supplies and things like that. Well, it was interesting that the 3D printing community instead of printing what a lot of people thought was frivolous things like printing a ball or something like that, we can buy a ball so what. We started to see people printing unique parts that were not available or couldn’t be shipped, or we saw one of the case studies I talk about how they were printing mask accessories and things like that. So I think that the last year has given us a big focus on supply chain and some of the critical fail points. And it’s really accelerated the 3D printing community and its potential. So I’m really quite excited to see what 3D printing will do to supply chain, and again, I don’t think it’s that far away.

DA: Right, it’s very interesting that you talked about so many different technological sorts of areas in and around innovation, that certainly the majority of our listeners perhaps wouldn’t necessarily associate with Commercial Real Estate, and sort of wanting to pick up on that. And yet you’re thinking about these areas and thinking about not only their application in the world, but I assume in particular, our industry. So, I think that’s pretty fascinating. And I wonder if you have any other comments about that?

LR: Well, I think that we have to bust out of our traditional thinking. That would be the one thing I hope to impart on your audience. These disruptions, I think that if I had to be very honest and I’m in the industry too, I think our industry has been quite slow to evolve and change and adopt technology and progress. And I think that if we think that a number of these disruptive influences, if our industry is going to be an exception, I think we’re in denial, we’re ostriching on this topic. I think what we have to do, is find ways that we could make it work, whether it be 3D printed furniture or parts or there is some application that we can use in the building context and to make our buildings a destination of where people want to work, or enable work in a very, very different way. So everything from amenities, and we just have to think about how it is going to impact because it will. And if we don’t think of it first, some startup, there’s going to be a Bill. They’ll come in to play today, and there’ll be a billion, trillion dollar company 10 years from now. That’s the other thing I should mention to you, David; in any times of adversity, like what we’re going through now, it has been proven to be the inception of those unicorn, trillion dollar companies that bust out of the gate, and within five years, they’re worth billions and trillions of dollars. We are creating the perfect Petri dish for those kinds of companies to create now. If we don’t get our head out of the sand in our industry, and embrace and understand those, we are going to be left on the platform while the train pulls away.

DA: I couldn’t agree with you more, and as much as I want nothing more than for this industry to continue to evolve and meet these new emerging demands head on, I do, and I am sensing and finding that same conservative attitude at times. And I do hope that the Flood Gates start to open, and there’s a willingness to consider new possibilities and different directions and different ways of thinking. Yes, we all want there to be a return to the workplace, but if we think it’s going to be exactly the same, I think we’re certainly fooling ourselves. And I think there are companies that are going to emerge out of this. We hope that HILO will be one of them. They’re going to have some amazing solutions that are going to have some amazing impacts. And it’s certainly still going to take some bravery to go down that path and try some of these solutions and look at ways of being completely different. And, yeah.

LR: I’ll give you one example, David, just so that it doesn’t sound too theoretical. I think any company that is based on brokerage is going to go through a lot of growing pains. And for two reasons, I think the financial industry FIS and FinTech, if you just look at that one category, massive change and disruption coming to the financial industry, which of course real estate is very intertwined with. And then I think the traditional way that we’ve looked at brokerage and real estate, is just going to, like we could just have an app, some platform completely disrupt the future brokerage. And so things like the sharing economy and just even at the commissions that you look at, put a big target on the forehead of the brokerage industry. And I think any company that is founded on brokerage, or a main part of that in their economic model, really is going to have some growing pains over the next five years.

DA: Right. I suspect that’s one example of many, and certainly could be another book or another Podcast. So is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out?

LR: Is there anything I wish I would have known? It’s interesting. I live my life thinking forward, not backwards. And I think that I don’t ever have any regrets in my life, and I made some really amazing mistakes. But everything that you do right or wrong, is part of your learning experience, informs where you are today, both the good and the bad. I don’t ruminate on anything from the past, I only think forward. And even the bad things that happened and trust me, I’ve got my share of mistakes and T-shirts, and all of that, like all of us, David, but I only think forward, so I don’t have any regrets about my past, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be in this plane of reality. Something would be different. And so I’m happy with how things are.

DA: That’s awesome. Listen, Lorri, we use this as a platform to engage with professionals in our industry. And really as a conversation starter, this conversation doesn’t end today, but we really look forward to staying connected. We’re all trying to build an amazing industry and utilizing all that we have available and perhaps what has yet to be created to do that. I’d love to stay connected and have some follow-up conversation, certainly around the communication piece. And I’d love to over time learn more about what you’re doing or seeing or thinking about in and around virtual reality and augmented reality, and how that might impact our industry. So I hope this is just the start of a continued conversation and that we can re-engage certainly in 2021 and compare notes and see how the world is emerging.

LR: Oh, that would be a fun episode, do predictions and then come back in a year and see if they come true. But thank you so much for having me as a guest today, David, it’s really my pleasure. And thank you so much. Please feel free to continue the conversation on LinkedIn or happy to continue.

DA: Likewise. Thanks so much. Thanks for your time today, I really appreciate it. And be well. I want to thank Lorri Rowlandson for joining us on today’s Podcast. And for sharing her journey from early beginnings in Real Estate Operations, to leading Strategy and Innovation in her role at BGIS. Great learning for all our listeners, and an opportunity to gain insights into what it takes to build a successful career. Please be sure to tune in again for future discussions with leading professionals and industry experts, who all have something to say about experience in the built world, and the impact that technology is having on the largest asset class in the world, Commercial Real Estate. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you continued success in building community where you work or live. Thank you.

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Season Two | Trailer | 1:13

Season 2 | Episode 0
Join us for season 2 as we continue our conversations with leading CRE professionals who all have something to say about the impact of technology on tenant experience in the built world.

Season Two | Trailer | 1:13

Season 2 | Episode 0
Join us for season 2 as we continue our conversations with leading CRE professionals who all have something to say about the impact of technology on tenant experience in the built world.

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