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Beyond the Back Office: The Internet of Things in Corporate Real Estate


July, 2018

At FinancialForce’s recent user conference in Las Vegas, we caught up with one customer with an interesting application of the Internet of Things (IoT) in corporate real estate. This case study illustrates how IT is increasingly delivering business value by moving beyond the back office.  

Marshall King (pictured) is senior vice president of JLL Global Real Estate Services. JLL is a Fortune 500 company with 80,000 employees worldwide. The company, with worldwide headquarters in Chicago and 300 hundred offices in 80 countries, conducts a wide range of real estate services, including agency leasing, tenant representation, real estate investment banking, merchant banking, project development and management, hotel advisory, and more.

King, 49, oversees software selection, implementation, and support for JLL's Technology Solutions division, with business systems from Salesforce, Pardot, FinancialForce, SAVO, and other tools on the Force platform. FinancialForce is a cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) provider on the Salesforce platform.

Leveraging Internet of Things in Corporate Real Estate
King maintains and implements FinancialForce and other systems in many JLL business units. But in a corporate real estate environment, the real value is not in back-office systems. It is in managing and increasing the utilization of real estate assets. To do that, King and his team have implemented an IoT program to monitor in real time the actual utilization of offices and conference rooms in its clients’ buildings.

“One of the challenges for these large corporations is they have a building, it has 5,000 offices and 200 conference rooms, but are they really getting used? How often is somebody sitting in that conference room doing something? How often does somebody show up to the office?”

“So we've developed some IoT sensor technology so that we can actually track in real time when an office is being used. We use those metrics and those trends to go back to the customer and recommend, ‘Maybe you don't need all this space,’ or, ‘Maybe you should reconfigure it,’ or, ‘Maybe you should virtualize your team, so they can make better decisions.’”

The sensors are on the chairs. King said that is just one type of sensor his team considered.

“We looked at a bunch. One of them is a CO2 sensor. So if somebody's come into an office and sat down, started working, then the CO2 levels go up because they're exhaling. The sensor is sensitive enough to pick that up. So we looked at a lot of different options and we went with just the chair option.”

King admits that that the use of sensors in this way may sound “creepy … I tell people [about the chairs], and they say, ‘Oh my gosh, you're monitoring everything.’” But the purpose is not to monitor people, he said. The focus is not in tracking people, but in monitoring the utilization of the real estate.

For the time being, King and his team are integrating the chair-sensor data with a system than he and his team developed internally. “I would like to consider Salesforce IoT cloud down the road, but that is a future consideration,” he said. Although we encountered this case study at the FinancialForce conference, the Internet of Things is not a focus for FinancialForce, which is putting most of its energy on expanding its solutions for financial management and professional services automation.

Innovate Way to Optimize Assets
King’s use of IoT sensors on chairs is an innovative way to optimize the utilization of real estate assets. It tracks with what Computer Economics’ survey respondents are saying: IoT is a promising way to reduce costs through elimination of waste by using smart devices and sensors. Companies and customers alike will benefit from all the data generated by IoT sensors.  

Although currently managed outside of FinancialForce, it will be interesting to see whether King’s chair-sensor data can eventually be managed within the Salesforce IoT cloud. If FinancialForce shows an interest in supporting this effort, it could bring FinancialForce out of just serving the back office into an area where there is much greater business value. If so, the experience at JLL could be an important use case for other IT organizations in the commercial real estate sector.


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