Sandy Jacolow has seen many transformations in his job as chief information officer for Silverstein Properties. Consider what’s happened in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan since 9/11 and how communications technologies and social media are changing the real estate industry. To master transformative events, Jacolow had a prescient sense of what communications technologies can accomplish.
Yet how Jacolow relates to his now-adult daughters might be the best summary of the phenomenon. “We are constantly sharing ideas about social media,” he says. “It’s like I’m Peter Pan.” To explain this, Jacolow references the book Corner Office by Adam Bryant (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012), which examines “passionate curiosity” in leading business executives.
Communication technologies have been essential in Jacolow’s climb from being a finance and accounting major at Baruch College through various components of the real estate industry: due diligence, leasing, finance, etc. His early interest in DEC computers migrated to the Apple II, which in the 1980s positioned him as a go-to guy
Jacolow always envisioned how tech could make things work better and be more fun, and the role of technology in business is what has changed the most over the last three decades or so, according to the chief information officer. “It used to be that computers and technology supported the business,” he says. “It was a helper, but now technology is the fabric of what we do.”
Silverstein Properties is a well-recognized, privately held, full-service real estate development, investment, and management firm in New York City. It includes eight premier commercial structures, including World Trade Centers 2, 3, 4, and 7, as well as four residential towers plus two hotels in New York City and a third in Orlando, Florida. The ways in which technologies help manage, lease, and even design those buildings is extensive and impressive.
In some of the newest structures, a visitor will receive a smart-card pass from the security desk that admits him or her through a turnstile and on to a specific elevator. Once on that elevator, there is no need to find and push a button—the elevator knows where that person is going.
Taking that a step further in the near future, advertising or news programming on an elevator screen will be tailored to the interests of the passenger. It might be based on what interests the guest based on data passively supplied from his or her smartphone via a Wi-Fi system. (This pull of information from cell phones is a common practice in retail settings since at least 2013.)
“It’s the convergence of social media, mobility, big data, and the cloud,” Jacolow explains. “We’re bringing these four things together in all kinds of ways in real estate.”
The physical management of buildings offers another example. “Mobile devices like iPads have replaced screwdrivers as standard equipment,” Jacolow says. “We are in the era of the Internet of things. Every light, every thermostat, every thing sends information back to building systems.”
Jacolow is effusive about what information technologies has done to fundamentally change how the company’s properties are marketed in both the commercial and residential segments. He works with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to deliver messages about what each property has, where it is, and what it can mean for prospective tenants. Existing tenants are given smartphone apps to aid them in accessing building services.
Each of these digital tools helps build the company or property brand. “It’s all about lead generation to ultimately drive occupancy and revenues,” Jacolow says. “We’ve really become two degrees of separation from everybody. Current tenants, clients, partners, vendors, and employees are all connected. You never know where your next lead will come from. They’ll say, ‘I saw you on YouTube six months ago.’ Every post defines our brand and reputation.”
Leasing agents additionally benefit from communications technologies when it shortcuts their administrative work and time in the office—enabling those agents to spend more time in direct interaction with people. Jacolow explains that they can meet with prospective tenants at a property, but field more information face to face that then enables them to preview other properties via a tablet, all in one appointment.
In follow-ups, Jacolow adds that the agent can send e-mails and even contracts back to the prospect, as well as feed customer information into a Salesforce program that tracks individuals as well as patterns and trends while mobile. Some of this information becomes useful to designers of future properties.
Building and managing best-in-class structures is almost a calling to Jacolow, who is a native New Yorker. He readily discusses the Silverstein Properties’ work on rebuilding the World Trade Center properties. The firm acquired the master lease on the WTC Twin Towers less than two months before the 9/11 attacks, and it has since achieved rights to rebuild several of the surrounding buildings (the New York-New Jersey Port Authority holds ownership of the new World Trade Center 1).
“When you talk about the World Trade Center and hear the stories about how it changed people, you begin to understand how this is a labor of love,” Jacolow says. “We’re on a world stage. My office overlooks ground zero. There’s no place like it in the world. The rebuilding of lower Manhattan is a synonymous with the rebirth of New York City.”
Those newer structures are green, several of which have achieved LEED-Gold certification with features such using fuel-cell power generation, harvesting rainwater off buildings for use in air conditioning system chillers, and cladding in heat-reflective glass. But again, Jacolow notes that it is the building information systems that do a lot of the heavy lifting.
“Building monitoring systems are much smarter, with every device networked to provide continual feedback,” Jacolow says. “When building managers get information in real time they can immediately tweak whatever needs to be fixed.”
The chief information officer references a telephone company tagline from about thirty years ago, “We’re all connected.” Yet, from his perspective at Silverstein Properties he sees how those same words apply to the twenty-first century. Connectedness is often embodied in the physical world such as in Silverstein Properties’ buildings and digital tools. Jacolow knows that such technology will continue to transform, but he’ll be right there to implement each evolution to its best advantage.