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Is data changing the way we use our office buildings?

Paul Newman Archive

Companies everywhere are already harnessing the power of big data to improve the way they reach out to customers. The use of analytics has affected everything from customer service to e-commerce, and more areas of improvement are cropping up every day.

Recently, businesses have begun to discover another arena for using big data. Analytics aren't useful just for improving corporate connections with customers - they can also be put to work internally. According to Area Development Online, a new trend sees companies making data-driven decisions about their office buildings.

For people who manage offices daily, there are a number of important questions to answer. Where should employees and their departments be located? How should their workspaces be arranged? Where should there be offices? Cubicles? Desks configured in more open, collaborative workspaces? Finding solutions to these puzzles can be difficult, especially for larger companies with a lot of logistics to juggle, but luckily, data can hold the answer.

Tracy Brower, director of performance environments at Herman Miller, argues that companies can ensure the optimal use of their office buildings if they use the correct balance of quantitative and qualitative knowledge. Data is powerful, she says, but only if it's balanced with a healthy amount of subjective human opinion.

"Data-driven decision-making affords a measure of control and the opportunity to evaluate the process. It also demonstrates return on investment and informs improvements," Brower wrote. "It provides a means to establish understanding of where we are and what we need to get to where we want or need to be. But before you uncork the champagne, start with the essentials: gathering, analyzing, and interpreting the data."

Herman Miller recently conducted a study on the rise of big data in facilities management. According to the firm's research, 62 percent of real estate and facility leaders now prefer to make important decisions based on quantitative data. A decade ago, this faction was nonexistent, but with the rise of technology and the growth of more sophisticated methods of making business decisions, data-driven office spaces have become the norm.

Data quality is of course a must in this endeavor. In order to make intelligent decisions about their office buildings, companies must be well-informed about who's located where and how productive each employee is for his or her company. Without this knowledge, it's impossible for businesses to make optimal decisions.

Brower notes that perception doesn't always match reality in this area. Sometimes, an office manager has a certain interpretation of an office's productivity, but the facts don't necessarily support it. In these situations, there's no better solution than gathering quality data.

Changing the real estate game
Data isn't just transforming the way people arrange their offices - it's also revolutionizing the way they choose their office buildings in the first place. According to a report from New York City real estate news source The Real Deal, startups are using big data analytics to make decisions about their real estate investments. Zillow is one example of a small business that works to provide companies with more information about potential property purchases. Stan Humphries, the company's chief economist, says brokers are no longer the gatekeepers of information.

"The ubiquity of what we've introduced does mean that consumers are coming to agents with a lot," Humphries said.

For many businesses, real estate is the most significant investment they ever make. One poor decision can be a death knell. Fortunately, the 21st century has ushered in a series of technological innovations to ensure that the business decisions of tomorrow are safer and more prudent long-term.