Exclusive: Data Scientist Drought in CRE

It’s not just the software companies, gaming developers or search engine giants of the world that rely on high-tech talent.

By Barbra Murray, Contributing Editor

It’s not just the software companies, gaming developers or search engine giants of the world that rely on high-tech talent. There’s a less obvious business that requires such specialists–the commercial real estate business. And in CRE, according to new research by commercial real estate services firm JLL, the demand for these experts is on the rise and the competition to reel them in is a growing challenge.

Richard Brown JLL
Richard Brown, JLL

While the dire need for tech talent in CRE may not be obvious to those on the outside, it’s no less real. “Technology is moving faster today than at any point in history—and this is particularly true for CRE, which used to lag, and now is leading. Particularly in our use of data science, corporate real estate is becoming one of the most sophisticated corporate functions,” Richard Brown, global head of business intelligence at JLL, told Commercial Property Executive.

For CRE executives at the highest levels, it’s become evident that data and analytics are of increasingly vital importance to improving decision making in areas ranging from financial and operational activities to employee recruiting and retention efforts. But the information is only as good as those interpreting it; it’s of best use when the most skilled people are in place to translate and incorporate it for various practices.

CRE’s C-suite leaders are well aware that tech minds are crucial to their industry’s progress. In producing its research, JLL contracted Forrester Consulting to frame the issue in numbers. Forrester surveyed 392 CRE executives across 11 countries and found that 54 percent of participants anticipate that their companies will bolster their tech talent in the next 12 months, and an additional 13 percent plan to do so within the next three years. Calling all techies.

“Actually finding data scientists is not that hard; the Universities are churning out a lot of data scientists but the shortage is in data scientists who understand the real estate industry and those don’t grow on trees,” Brown said. “The few data scientists out there with this specialized set of skills have a choice of places to work.” However, CRE has something that the traditional tech firm does not offer these highly coveted whizzes. “Working with a commercial real estate company is ideal for those who love the technology, but also want to be part of the mainstream business world,” Brown added. “What we do have is an abundance of people who understand real estate data and by building small teams that combine these skills we are able to accelerate our analytical development. For the data scientists this can be a great learning opportunity and a good use of their talents, giving the data scientist opportunities to help develop and use groundbreaking proprietary technologies that advance the real estate industry.”

As it stands, CRE executives are struggling to fill the void in their tech staffing. The Forrester study queried participants on the issue, asking for a response to the following statement: “We do a good job attracting, hiring, training, growing, and retaining our data and analytics talent.” A notable 12 percent of the respondents disagreed, and a telling 58 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

As the hunt for data scientists heats up, some CRE firms are addressing the matter internally with the creation of in-house departments or teams. These are multidisciplinary teams of individuals who, together, provide the expertise that a data scientist would bring to the table. Alternatively, many CRE companies are turning to outsourcing, and JLL is helping to answer that call. The firm recently launched RED, its real estate data and analytics platform. Buttressed by cutting-edge technologies, RED unites master data governance, knowledge management, business intelligence and advanced analytics.

“Corporate real estate teams are facing intense C-suite pressure to contribute measurable value to their organizations, and to provide more relevant data to the C-Suite that speaks in the language of the CEO. With RED, corporate real estate executives can use predictive analytics to make the case for real estate strategies that improve workplace productivity, enhance speed-to-market, reduce costs, attract and retain talent or achieve other business goals,” Brown said. Already, JLL’s corporate real estate clients have responded favorably to the new platform.

It’s good to have options. However, while outsourcing and creating internal teams will certainly continue to deliver the tech expertise that is growing evermore necessary in CRE; it will not deafen of the cry for more data scientists. After all, as noted in a JLL report released in January, 28 percent of CRE leaders consider themselves data-centric, relying on data and analysis in their work across the board, and within the next three years, that figure is expected to increase twofold to 56 percent.


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