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Designing a Workplace Solution for the Real Estate Personas

modern workspace Workspace data and technology

In the first and second articles of this series, Understanding the Impact of Workplace Data and Technologies, we have seen how difficult it is to deploy the large-scale workplace management solution needed to achieve significant cost efficiencies. Different goals between IT and Real Estate, along with the cost and complexity of the currently available solution architectures, make a large deployment financially unviable.

What are the attributes of a viable workplace management solution? What are the key aspects technology companies should consider when designing it? What are the most important characteristics Real Estate stakeholders should consider when selecting the right architecture?

In this article, we focus on answering the above questions by outlining the traits of a viable, sustainable workplace management solution.

Relevant Personas

First, a few words on the main beneficiaries of a workplace management solution, the Real Estate (or Facility) stakeholders:

  • Real Estate Planner

Focused on execution, the planner works with and sometimes reports to the Real Estate Manager. The hands-on aspect of this role requires the planner to often wander throughout the office spaces. An effective workplace management solution heavily improves this persona’s daily activities in terms of reduced time spent on manually determining the desk occupancy status. The time saved may be used to renegotiate facility-related contracts and gain further efficiencies.

  • Real Estate Manager

Responsible and accountable for one or more buildings, the Facility Manager collaborates with the planners on strategy and execution. This persona is the primary consumer of the occupancy insights generated by the workplace solution. The value of workplace technologies for the Real Estate Manager may be quantified in terms of reduced time-to-decision and fewer days of headaches when coordinating manual workplace data collection.

  • Real Estate Decision Maker

Typically, a Senior Director or Vice President of Global Facilities. The decision-maker is the ultimate buyer of the workplace management solution; this persona is accountable for the result of the entire operation. Success for him/her means linking his/her name to a significant efficiency increase, which may take the form of opex reduction or increased productivity.

Please, be aware that the personas have been simplified for the purpose of this article; the relevant set of stakeholders, their titles, and duties may vary based on various factors such as company size, industry, type of business, etc.

When designing a workplace solution targeting the above personas, the most important trait to consider is their lack of IT skills. Sometimes, even basic configurations may require a steep learning curve and cognitive cost for them.

Job #1 is to allow non-technology-savvy professionals to try, buy, deploy, and operate the workplace management solution.

Here are a few simple rules that will help you reach the goal.

Minimize the IT involvement

IT stakeholders understand the remarkable potential impact of workplace technologies; however, unlike Real Estate, they are not the beneficiaries of such an impact; therefore, every aspect requiring IT involvement will be seen as a costly distraction.

Ideally, the IT role should be reduced to:

  1. Providing access to the network
  2. Vetting the technology from the security perspective and approve it

All the other tasks should be carried out by the Real Estate stakeholders autonomously.

The design approach should be centered around autonomy:

  • Self-service installation and provisioning

A Real Estate planner should be able to unbox and install a workplace-related device as if it were a consumer Smart Home product. Planners will be happy to carry a cart with devices throughout the floor plan and install each of them, knowing they won’t have to capture occupancy manually anymore.

  • Out-of-the-box all-in-all integration

Even if provided by different vendors, all the components of the workplace solution should be integrated out-of-the-box. If not, the solution will require either IT intervention or, worse, the need for system integration. In both cases, the much higher cost would likely prevent any deployment at scale.

  • Avoid batteries

The key to scale is to avoid device management overhead, both for IT and Real Estate. The approach should be getting as close as possible to “install and forget”. Even if the latest sensor batteries last 3 or more years, replacing them, for a large enterprise deployment with tens of thousands of connected spaces, would result in a significant level of effort.

  • Avoid network upgrades

Any installation of new HW or SW would require IT to step in and do the work. To unleash most of the Real Estate value, it is enough to provide a few accurate data points, not necessarily in near real-time.

  • Avoid complex architectures with points of failure

Remember, to make the right optimization calls, Real Estate Managers need complete, accurate data. The architecture should minimize the points of failure, hence, the likelihood to interrupt the data collection from the spaces. Sometimes, a simple topology that uses wired connectivity may be more reliable than a classic IoT wireless approach with multiple components such as battery-operated wireless sensors, IoT gateways, etc. Keeping the architecture simple will help with minimizing IT involvement.

Blend it in the environment

Real Estate Managers require continuity and accuracy and the solution should be invisible to the end user, so that it would not be seen and tampered with.

Low profile may be achieved by designing collaboration devices with sensing capabilities, or purpose-built devices that may be installed out of sight, for instance under the desk. In order to maximize the continuity of detection, the sensors should be placed where the risk of obstruction is minimized.

Simplify the backend experience through a separate application

Do not fall into the temptation of blending workplace metrics into the IT backend tools. These tools are far more complex than what a Real Estate Manager expects or can handle. Furthermore, IT will be very unhappy with the overhead generated by managing the Facility’s access to their systems. If the IT access management policies do not allow external roles to access the relevant sections of their tools, they would have to generate workplace reports upon request, incurring a cost and delay in the Real Estate decision-making process. 

Most of the time, the best approach is to design from scratch or to spin off a new compartmentalized application with its own simple access management system, administered by a Facility persona, for instance a Real Estate planner appointed by the manager.

The backend application experience should be designed around prioritized Facility use cases, with simplicity in mind, which means leaving out or hiding advanced features.

Affordable at scale

Make sure your solution is affordable enough to scale and cover as many spaces as possible:

  • Leverage existing devices that are already managed by IT

The idea is to piggyback on several types of devices IT has already installed and operates. Great candidates are collaboration devices (from desk phones to room telepresence units), networking equipment (routers, access points), and more. The capabilities of these devices may be extended through SW, HW extension modules, or both. Integrated industry leaders like Cisco are able to provide the entire technology stack to be deployed on/through a very large installed base: a clear advantage over bespoke solutions involving multiple parties, both in terms of cost and security.

  • Make sure the solution is extensible at the right price point

See the VP of Global Facilities as a rational decision-maker (it’s true!) and make the numbers work by understanding the ROI model (factor-in all the customer costs).  Don’t charge more than 10% of the monetary value your solution will be able to generate, and you’ll make the deal a no-brainer.

Stay tuned! In the next article, we will shift our point of view towards the end-user and discuss the value of office wayfinding solutions.

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