How Data Visualization Can Improve Your Workspace

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JLL, a professional services and investment management company specializing in real estate, is turning to data visualization to help improve the way its clients work. The company’s CIO for corporate solutions tells us the story behind the firm’s new analytics platform.

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There’s no greater battle among office workers than that over the temperature in the building, leading some workers to wear their coats in the middle of summer while others equip their desks with mini fans in January. This war is why so many office thermostats sport clear plastic covers secured with locks.

The temperature of office buildings and other commercial real estate is one of the many data points collected and managed by real estate giant JLL, a Fortune 500 company. JLL may not be a familiar name to those outside commercial real estate circles, but the company is big and influential. If you work in an office building, you may be a client.

JLL stands for Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago-based firm that describes itself as a professional services and investment management company specializing in real estate. It ranked 436 on the 2016 Fortune 500 list, with 2015 revenues of $6 billion and a workforce of more than 60,000 operating in 80 countries.

[Get an insider look at what makes data-driven companies so successful. Read 9 Secrets of Data Driven Companies.]

In an interview with InformationWeek, Edward Wagoner, JLL’s CIO for corporate solutions, said that while the greats in real estate have been responsible for iconic buildings from the Great Pyramid to the Empire State Building, they did all that work without the benefit of computers. They didn’t need them to create those structures.

Yet there’s a great deal of opportunity to apply technology, particularly in data analysis and business intelligence, to the business of real estate today Wagoner said. Giving the firm’s corporate clients the tools needed to gain insights from data is what led to JLL’s latest project.

JLL provides all kinds of real estate-related services to its clients. Its services include:

  • Operating buildings
  • Providing support for facilities-related employee requests
  • Offering predictions and advice on the best times to pursue lease renewals
  • Providing inspection services and certifications for hospital equipment

JLL’s clients include manufacturers, hospitals, and big banks, among other verticals.

JLL introduced the RED platform to help clients get a better feel for the opportunities represented in their data. It incorporates data analytics and visualization technology from Microsoft and Tableau, and gives customers a way to actually see the data related to their physical facilities. The approach works, even for people who aren’t necessarily comfortable with technology, Wagoner said.

“When you go in [to see] somebody who has 30 years of experience in their industry and you say, ‘I’m going to turn your world upside down and make you use data and BI,’ it can be distressing,” he said. “But a picture is worth a thousand words. They can look at it and immediately see, well, ‘Why is my rent so high in that location?’ or ‘Why is my workspace utilization not correct there?’ It’s almost like the story pops right out. They go right to the opportunity.”

That’s the power of data visualization — actually painting a picture with the data instead of delivering a bunch of numbers to people who aren’t inspired by them or don’t understand them.

The RED platform at JLL is capable of working with multiple different data types, including structured data, data stored in Hadoop, and data coming in from buildings equipped with sensors and other internet of things (IoT) technology.

Sometimes the data comes from proprietary systems operated by JLL’s clients. Wagoner said RED is often required to deal with customer databases, data structures, and security rules. Informatica is among the data platform tools used by JLL to integrate data from multiple sources.

IoT’s Emerging Role in Real Estate

IoT is an emerging area for real estate management, and for Wagoner’s group and its data visualization efforts.

IoT enables JLL to manage some buildings remotely and perform tasks such as turning air conditioning on or off and monitoring elevators.

It can also enable more sophisticated data visualizations. For instance, clients may be hearing complaints from employees about conference rooms never being available and think it’s time to expand. But data visualization can illuminate alternative solutions.

“If you have a visualization chart that shows the peaks and valleys of utilization, you almost don’t need to tell the story. They’ll look and see that nobody is using these rooms on Mondays or Fridays. Or all the clusters are happening late in the morning, before lunch, and then in the early afternoon.”

(Image: goir/iStockphoto)

(Image: goir/iStockphoto)

A couple of client studies revealed a different sort of picture when they looked at this problem, he said.

“People congregated on one side of the building, and there was a conference room on the other side of the building that never got used. That kind of visualization pops right out. You don’t have to sift through the data. You see it immediately. That’s what I get excited about and think is so powerful.”

Conference rooms can be equipped with sensors to detect the heat generated by bodies in the room, and that information can be analyzed to determine utilization rates. Of course, not all buildings are modern and equipped with built-in IoT. So, clients need to decide if they want to retrofit older buildings with IoT devices.

“Organizations need to decide what they want to measure,” said Wagoner. “Do they want to implement IoT over their entire portfolio, or just in high-rent areas?”

He said JLL works with clients to help them understand the right places to focus first.

Finding focus can get surprisingly complicated. Wagoner said that right now there are more generations of workers in the workplace than in any point in history, including the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, GenX, and Millennials.

“Work styles are very different. You’ve got people who grew up with their own private offices and were able to put their heads down on a project and work for hours. That’s compared to Millennials, who go from a coffee shop to walking down the street, to clustered in an open environment,” he said.

“How do we build the new future spaces to make all of those people productive? Because the Baby Boomers still offer a lot of value. And the Millennials are bringing new ways of thinking and new approaches, and our client companies need them as employees.”

Innovating to create such spaces is among the challenges ahead for JLL, and provides a way for the company to expand beyond real estate to providing workforce support services — coming ever closer to human resource functions.

Perhaps one day JLL will even succeed in brokering an armistice in the ongoing office temperature vs. thermostat war.