Retransform founder Q&A: Driving digital transformation in real estate

Technology has important role to play for real estate companies looking to improve their operations to drive bottom line benefits.

Exploring how technology innovation is disrupting traditional sectors, such as real estate, Information Age spoke to the founder of Retransform — the global real estate service provider offering management, technology, proptech solutions and software to commercial, retail and residential real estate — Rohan Bulchandani, about the company and its ambitions, the impact of the pandemic and the major technology trends set to drive transformation in the real estate industry.

Can you introduce the Information Age audience to Retransform?

Retransform is a multinational firm that helps real estate companies improve their operations to drive bottom line benefits. We do this using a three-pronged approach.

1. Technology

The first focuses on technology — here, we provide a host of technology solutions, ranging from our own products and platforms, as well as to implementing and supporting systems provided by our partners. The technology solutions can range from property management to facility management, data analytics, RPA, digital twins and a lot more.

2. Business process management

The second approach is what we call our processes or business process management. Here, we optimise processes around the back office tasks and functions that real estate companies need to run their day-to-day operations; these are largely around Help Desk functions, lease administration, financial data modelling and even accounting functions.

To facilitate this business process management we incorporate Six Sigma — a set of techniques to provide close to ~100% accuracy. As we access data remotely our solutions are also ISO 27001 certified for data security. These enable our real estate partners to trust the accuracy of our work and rely on the speed and security of our solutions.

3. People

The third area of focus centres around people. Once we are engaged by a client, our team members become deeply embedded within the client’s organisation and essentially function as member of their own teams. This is where skilled manpower becomes very important. We run robust training initiatives for all our team members, which is done via the Real Estate Management Institute (REMI), a sister concern of Retransform.

Today, we actively support in excess of 300 customers across four continents, with a team of roughly 600 individuals. Before 2020, I might have said that we do this via eight offices. However, our offices are slowly becoming redundant with 99% of our workforce presently operating remotely.

As for my role, I am the founder of the company. I spend time with customers and team members alike, during this pandemic given travel restrictions I have been spending more time with our innovation group, focusing on the product and platform innovation, as well as the development of new technologies. I enjoy this very much!

How did Retransform react to the disruption caused by the pandemic?

First, because our own employees formed a vital and essential part of our client organisations, we wanted to secure them and ensure our people were safe.

Once news of the pandemic broke, and there were rumors of lockdowns, we immediately triggered our business continuity plans, which required people to work from home and we very rapidly established these virtual workspaces. To ensure the health and wellbeing of the staff, we provided a doctor on call facility. More recently in India, we have made oxygen concentrators available to our teams and everyone has access to a counsellor. Our HR team also runs proactive outreach programs to track everyone’s health and wellbeing.

This was done to ensure that the work being done for our clients wasn’t hamstrung in any way.

The next thing we anticipated was the need to deploy cross functional training in the event that someone fell ill, so that someone else could immediately backfill the role for any particular client. For the most part, all this remained completely insulated from our clients who simply saw things as running as business as usual, which is the underlying theme for any business continuity plan.

While doing all this, we also upgraded our infrastructure. We were already set up to enable remote working, but we provided increased access of data to users and applied an additional layer of cyber intelligence and cyber security. This was then coupled by alterations to our standard operating procedures, specifically around communication; we established procedures around video conferencing etiquette and undertook outreach programs to ensure our employees, customers and suppliers were all comfortable with this new way of working.

How have you helped your real estate customers limit the disruption caused by the pandemic?

We have helped our real estate customers limit the disruption caused by the pandemic in a number of ways. Of course, there was no one size fits all approach for each client and we had to deploy slightly different solutions for each of them. However, there were recurring themes.

We started by looking at our own company’s strategy, and while it’s focused on real estate, it was broken down into three areas; the customers, team members and suppliers.

For some customers as it pertains to technology, we migrated critical applications that were on premise to a cloud infrastructure, adding adequate redundancy. For their teams we assisted with the setup of a virtual desktop infrastructure or VDI, thereafter solutions were implemented for collaboration such as the creation of virtual, private networks within the cloud.

Another focus area was backup and recovery. Here, we set up systems based on what clients would determine as their recovery time objectives and their recovery point objectives. We backed up and provided redundancy to all the data in the cloud and then applied advanced threat level protection to the cloud infrastructure — managing web app firewalls, data leakage prevention, intrusion prevention and threat intelligence services — to protect our client’s data.

An example of what we did on the business process management side of things – some corporate (tenant side) clients wanted us to look through all the leases and pull out any information pertaining to rent relief provisions. We used our business process management tools to go through several hundred, if not thousands, of leases and their language to understand the grounds for rent abatement due to Covid-19.

Another example from the landlord (owner / property manager) side, were cases where tenants were either deferring their rent due to the pandemic, not occupying the space and exercising rights of force majeure, and so landlords, and the asset managers, wanted to understand what sort of impact this would have on their business and portfolios. Here, what we had to was look at leases from the landlord side, in order to understand how these differed rents would impact the property management and portfolio returns. The deferred rent data was setup within their property management system, reports where then done and analysed to ascertain the ultimate business and financial impact more specifically.

What are the main tech trends driving the transformation of the real estate industry?

In advance of this discussion, I spoke to our sales teams in multiple geographies to understand what the major tech trends they are discussing with our clients.

Very broadly, one of the most common tech trends was the increased use of data and analytics. Real estate companies are sitting on a lot of data and this information often sits within silos of disparate systems. There’s been an increased demand in making sense of this data to drive decision making, as well as provide insights and predictions on the future. Solutions in these areas are harnessing the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to help interpret and make sense of the data, which may be structured or more often than not, unstructured. One of our solutions for this is called 4see analytics, which helps in the analysis of this data.

The second major tech trend we’re seeing is the rise of the digital twin and the Internet of Things (IoT). We believe that there will be significant adoption of IoT-based sensors feeding data into digital twins, and the visual interface for these digital twins will leverage both virtual reality and augmented reality. The rise of 5G networks will also enable the potential to have virtual interactions within a digital twin. As an example of this, employees will be able to virtually navigate through a 3D workspace on their computer and see colleagues sitting at their desk, interact with them and collaborate.

The push towards sustainability and net zero is also driving Digital Twin demand, because a lot of the IoT sensors are sensing information about the carbon footprint building operations. Through the digital twin one gets visibility into this data to then trigger interventions to reduce emissions.

A third tech trend in the real estate industry is robotic process automation (RPA).

RPA in real estate enables a faster and more efficient electronic workforce, one that greatly reduces the possibility of human error in certain areas. Using machine learning, these ‘robots’ can execute a structured sequence of steps without human intervention. As an example, we’ve taken invoice automation that would typically take a human three to four days to get done, whereas our Rebot, the RPA for real estate, does it in 30 minutes. The time savings are quite remarkable and on an aggregate level, are quite staggering.

This article was written as part of a paid content partnership with Retransform

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...