The Changing Nature of Digital Information -- And a Thought Exercise

February 2019 | Insights From the CEO

The amount of digital information in the world has DOUBLED in the past two years. Over 90% of that information is NOT traditional 'computerized data' (that is, data in fields, records and tables).

Every seasoned real estate practitioner knows how information-rich real estate is. Each asset is it's own information universe. While assets do share some information with others in the same use, geography or type, each asset also has information unique to it that is vital to really understanding and valuing it.

So the explosion of information held digitally has to be good for real estate, right? Yes it is but we have a bunch of work to do -- both as an industry and as individual enterprises -- to figure out how. It is becoming increasingly clear that we don't really have even the vocabulary to get very far with that 'figuring'.

For example, start right away with the phrase 'information technology'. There's all sorts of baggage packed into that phrase that increasingly hurts rather than helps. For most of information technology's 50 or so year life (remember it started as 'data processing'! back in the '60s) the 'IT' industry and the professionals in it have been focused on developing and supporting:

(a) systems to PROCESS computerized data in fields, records and tables (accounting systems, work order systems, construction management systems, etc.) and

(b) develop and support TOOLS for others to use to produce an artifact (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, diagrams, etc.).

That is, 'IT' has mostly been asked to deal with processing data in tables (give me a 'system', give me a report on the data in that system, given me a warehouse of data from those systems) and ‘IT’ has NEVER REALLY DEALT WITH CONTENT (also called 'Information').

Info Pyramid.jpg

Now there's always been some confusion in the phrase because the 'IT' people think the I is just a modifier for the T, as in, 'we provide and support systems and tools for YOU to use to process and create information'. While many business people reasonably have thought “well, you have the I in your title so you must know something about 'information' right?”, this is often acute with the title 'CIO' which sure sounds like it should be the person who knows the most about the INFORMATION in the business but most often is actually the person who knows the most about the technologies that other people use to create/process/access information. Much ships passing in the night occurs because of these unstated but fundamentally mis-aligned assumptions.

Add to that that today MOST of the digital information (+90%!) isn't even in fields, records and tables! Most of that information wasn't even on 'computers' 10 years ago so the 'IT' profession consequently doesn't really have the skills to deal with it (yet).

So we have all of this information that's now available digitally. Yes, some of that is in tables but much of it -- stories, graphics, videos, headlines, methods, discussions -- is in other structures that traditional ‘IT’ is not yet comfortable with. Accessing ALL of that is vital to enabling a real estate enterprise to see patterns, discern trends, act more nimbly and make better decisions. Clearly, technology plays an increasing role in that and people with who know about technology (and have a knack for learning more) ought to be in the conversation about how to seize the opportunity. But too often the old words get in the way of the conversation really taking off.

So here's the thought exercise. Try this for a day, week, month. JUST DON'T SAY 'EYE-TEE'. Use 'information' OR 'technology' (or 'processing system' or 'digital tool' etc.) instead. I'm pretty sure you'll find that you can eliminate eye-tee from your vocabulary altogether and that the other words you'll be forced to use are clearer and more specific.

If on the business side we can be clear that we want to have a conversation about, say, 'information' (not just the technology that holds it) it will be a better conversation and we'll start to figure out how to seize this particular opportunity.

Authored by: Chris Shaida, Founder and Enterprise Managing Consultant, RealFoundations

About the Author Chris Shaida is an Enterprise Managing Consultant and founder of RealFoundations. Mr. Shaida founded RealFoundations to provide a place where like-minded professionals are able focus their deep industry and solution knowledge and passion to help improve the operations of our real estate industry and corporate real estate clients.

About RealFoundations RealFoundations is a professional services firm focused on the real estate industry. With offices on four continents, 400+ client-serving professionals and off-shore delivery capabilities in India, RealFoundations provides Management Consulting, Managed Services and Energy Solutions to developers, builders, owners/operators, service providers, institutional investors and corporate occupiers. From the building itself to the way it is used, operated and financed, no firm understands the inner workings of the entire real estate ecosystem as well as RealFoundations.

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