Lorri Rowlandson, Senior Vice President at BGIS, shares her engineering-based approach to innovation strategy in the Proptech industry.
Avenue Code: Tell us about your personal career path and how you got to where you are today.
Lorri Rowlandson: My career path was not a straight line. I wanted to be a teacher, and I lasted all of one day. Instead, I ended up working as a summer student at IBM; I quickly realized how much I love business, so I stayed. Since then, I’ve worked with large, complex outsourcing arrangements, leveraging respective abilities and ensuring win-win collaborations. I have a strong background in operational expertise, and I also have a very curious mind. Together, these skills translate well to leading strategy and innovation.
AC: Tell us about your role and your team - what does your day-to-day look like as the SVP of Innovation and Strategy at BGIS?
LR: I have the best job in the world - it’s so much fun! I’m a self-confessed tech and real-estate nerd, and I love our profession. I’m BGIS’s global sponsor for innovation, which means solving problems and adding value in multiple geographies and contexts, from the US to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.
BGIS is an unapologetically operational company built for recurring business and facilities management. My team specializes in value-add offerings integrated into our core business. We’re guided by practical innovation. I notice that when many companies talk about innovation, they’re talking about far-out ideas that sound like the futuristic inventions of SciFi. At BGIS, we look at what can be implemented in one to three years and move the needle quickly. Targeting real business cases helps us gain quick approval for our solutions.
AC: How would you describe your innovation strategy? What is your method for identifying opportunities and evaluating ROI?
LR: Our innovation program is very closed-loop. It isn’t innovation theater for marketing purposes; it’s a highly accountable and evidence-based system. We start by helping our accounts understand the art of the possible. The first thing we do is ensure understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve and how we’ll measure success. This can be a challenge since many organizations get caught up in the Shiny Object Syndrome and jump to the solution without fully understanding the problem.
With our problem and success metrics clearly defined, we run pilots, measure results, debrief, and continuously improve. Each quarter, I report to our CEO on the progress of our implementations. Together, we ensure our solutions are fully managed at every chevron of the process and that they’re outcome-based.
AC: What are common pitfalls you see around innovation, and how can they be avoided?
LR: A lot of organizations struggle to approve innovation solutions. Why? This goes back to my earlier comment: if you don’t anchor the solution in a real problem, it’s hard to get approval. Foundational work is key.
Another pitfall is confusion. There are too many solutions, and they’re oriented the wrong way. Stakeholders don’t want to sign into 50 different dashboards to read their choices. Be selective about the solutions you propose.
Finally, a lot of technology for the built environment has an asset view, meaning it’s building centric rather than occupant-centric, but ironically, a lot of buildings themselves are now focused on enabling occupant productivity. This can generate confusion for the occupant in making buying decisions.
AC: What are your current digital projects at BGIS?
LR: Right now, we’re very busy with features and innovations that pertain to health, safety, wellness, and wellbeing, especially as organizations are looking at returning to the office. We’re also well known for our sustainability efforts; our CEO is personally passionate about sustainability, and he’s won several awards in this space. Finally, we’re focused on efficiency. A lot of organizations were heavily impacted by COVID-19, and now that they’re returning to office spaces, we’re here to help them determine how to use their spaces in the most cost effective way possible.
AC: What trends are you seeing in the wider real estate industry as a whole?
LR: As of March 2021, one big trend is back-to-office strategies. Organizations are deciding who should come back and how, which means determining how much office space they need and how they’ll use it.
Another related hot topic is building standards and certifications that promote wellness, wellbeing, health, and safety. A lot of organizations are investing in this area to evince their commitment to the health of their employees and to prepare for the future.
Finally, I see a trend toward boutique coworking spaces that enable people to work outside the home environment in a flexible manner, whether that’s a coworking space sponsored by a hotel, a restaurant, or something else.
AC: We saw that BGIS recently acquired Cormant. What role does data play in your upcoming offerings?
LR: If you’ve ever worked with engineers, you know that they like to measure everything. Because we’re a very engineering-led culture, our decisions are data-driven. Data is significant not only in gaining insights but also in automating activities that typically require human intervention.
AC: In your opinion, what is the key to a successful strategic partnership?
LR: Rapport and communication. Internally, we hire for culture fit, high performance, and trust, and this culture is a big part of the reason we continue to be successful as we grow. BGIS has doubled in size four times over the last eight and a half years, and we’ve continued to retain an entrepreneurial spirit because of our culture. For our partnerships, we look for the same traits.
The other key to success is looking at what you want to achieve. The old school, zero-sum principle is long gone. Now, creating a win-win relationship is key. Personally, I’m a big proponent of the vested model.
AC: Where do you see BGIS in five years?
LR: Our sweet spot is in complex technical environments. As more and more tech gets layered into building, every building is going to become a type of data center or critical environment, so our skillset of enabling complex technical ecosystems is highly strategic. As long as we continue to drive innovation efficiencies in this sector, we are confident that we’ll fill this niche need.
AC: What are you personally passionate about in your career?
LR: I love learning, and I feel that learning is an important part of the future. 85% of the tech we’ll be using in 2030 hasn't been invented yet. Therefore, a lot of the jobs that will exist are based on tech that hasn’t been invented yet. Building a love for learning and problem solving is what keeps people relevant in the future.
Personally, I listen to a lot of audiobooks and am always thinking about how to apply what I’m learning to solve work problems. For me, this is so fun. Actually, I have a web page dedicated to my book recommendations, including titles like “The Compound Effect” by Darren Hardy and “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg. So my advice is: stay curious and be a continuous learner, because that’s what will keep you relevant and ahead of whatever profession you’re in.
AC: Thank you for your time today, Lorri. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you and to hear your insights around innovation and strategy for the Proptech industry.
Nareeman is an Account Manager at Avenue Code. She's passionate about working with executives and advancing women in business. She’s inspired by traveling, meeting new people, and getting exposed to new cultures. Other than traveling, she enjoys reading, crossfit, and spending time with family.