In an interview with Shelley Balanda, principal and founder of FOOTPRYNT, a Boston-based organizational and growth consultancy geared to help CRE organizations implement their strategic initiatives, the recently named 2023 CRE Woman of Influence opens up on the headwinds commercial owners and operators are experiencing and how organizations can navigate the challenging times.
How does FOOTPRYNT interact with companies as they weather significant industry shifts?
We launched in early 2020, and it was undeniably a daunting time to venture out on our own. Despite the circumstances, it was a chance to make a meaningful impact on our industry. We understand the challenges commercial real estate operators face, juggling the demands of their capital partners, tenants, and vendors while keeping up with technology and market conditions. Our goal is to step in and help executive teams leverage their resources so they can focus on what truly matters during their most critical times.
Our industry is accustomed to episodic change, but this current cycle presents compounding challenges that put significant pressure on operating margins, including high-interest rates and vacancies, the work-from-home culture, and rising insurance premiums. It is a unique opportunity for organizations to focus not only on asset and portfolio management but also on internal improvements during this pause.
How are groups currently navigating the complexities of today’s challenging transaction market?
Where we may have “pencils down” for new investment transactions, now is the perfect time for investment teams to reassess their goals and strategies. By refining their action plans and focusing on creating a transaction-ready platform, they can be well-positioned to seize new investment opportunities as they arise. Exploring new partnerships and finding innovative solutions will yield a competitive edge and credibility at the bidding table. While it may not always be easy to chart the way forward, taking time to reflect, adapt, and add value during times of change will bring greater clarity to a reimagined investment strategy.
There is a wide array of PropTech and CRETech on the market today. How are firms adapting to achieve their goals?
There is a considerable emphasis on the adoption of technology as we strive for greater efficiency in our operations, paired with an overwhelming catalog of solutions available. Implementing new systems requires a careful evaluation of internal processes and procedures from a broader perspective, taking into account more than just immediate requirements.
Our industry embraces the simplicity of spreadsheets and research as the foundation of our decision-making process. This entrenched approach has provided a secure framework for decades, making the integration of AI technology, algorithms, and machine learning unsettling, particularly considering the weight of fiduciary responsibilities.
Firms typically discover that a platform fulfills approximately 75% of their requirements during the implementation process before necessitating additional customizations. However, there is often a disconnect between the technology platform staff and the vision of the operating group due to the absence of real estate experience within the tech platform. This is the point where implementation fatigue often begins to appear. To ensure successful implementation, it is crucial to obtain buy-in and support from all departments, including technology and leadership teams. An in-depth education process and clearly defined procedures will facilitate a seamless transition and promote a higher adoption rate.
What is the most significant opportunity for operators in today’s market?
We all feel the pain in this current environment. With the ongoing shifts in market fundamentals and approaching debt maturities, significant discussion centers on the comprehensive assessment of assets and portfolios. This includes crafting a strategy for discussions and negotiations with lenders. With no immediate comeback in the office market in sight, it also delivers projects geared toward strategic initiatives and optimizing operations to help preserve operating cash.