The road to ahead of what’s next

This article is written by Robbert Heekelaar – VP, Architecture & Emerging technologies at Prologis. Robbert gave a PowerTalk at Global PropTech Leaders #2 during MIPIM PropTech in Paris about this topic. Prologis is a founding partner of Global PropTech.

First of all, let me give you a little bit of context. We’re talking about a transformation, not the hurdles, but the enablers, and what companies should do differently if they want to ride the tide of tech hype. 

The background

We are not a startup – we’ve clearly been around for a while. We used to promote ourselves as the Global Partner to Local Trade, which still makes sense. But then… markets started to change and companies began to find themselves on the edge of disruption.

No alt text provided for this imageSimply said, the industry focus was changing and then, out of the blue one day, our CEO said on Bloomberg that we should be more than what we were then, that “shame on us if we couldn’t turn our organization into a big information company”. Wow…, I thought… that is different! Everything changed from that point and the emphasis became how to be Ahead of What’s Next.

Now there’s PropTech

Shifting gears to keep up can be tricky, how do you really make sure that you’re ready? What does an organization need? How do you support new idea flow? I come from IT, and, oh wait…, I’m still in IT (sort of) and I’ve learnt that… buying new software, or the latest applications does not instantly solve your problems. Factors to consider- adoption…, culture…, processes…. and more. Are you thinking of any of these things while running with the PropTech hype?

We’re on a personal journey ourselves and here’s what I know so far – the journey towards “ahead of what’s next” and how to become ‘PropTech ready’ starts with a few simple steps.

STEP 1 – Change it (IT)

To my ears, our CEO message was crystal clear. First we needed to determine what it would take. If you want to change- start from within, so we did. We developed a whole new IT strategy and transformed from being traditional order-takers, to being an engaged, pro-active team. We would show that we had the right in-house capabilities to be ready for change. For this we needed people willing to push, challenge and shake everything up… to ask ‘why’, over and over. The bottom line is that you can make all the changes you want, however the organization needs to be on board. Redefined thinking starts by earning trust.

STEP 2 – Prove it

Proving that you can do something builds trust. We had a bold plan to change our back end data environment. We moved from an old, quite demanding and inflexible vendor to a new, scalable and innovative solution that made our digital environment faster, more scalable and cheaper. The integral part was winning the backing of our CFO and a small group of decision makers, to set up the environment and present it to the right people, at the right time. This opened a path at the higher end of our organization.

STEP 3 – Make it

We had created the right momentum, the right ears were listening and the organization was aware of the need to change. If we could build a data environment from scratch, what more could happen with dedicated time? Queue Prologis Labs – our own physical environment in the startup way. We can create, collaborate, test but most importantly – break stuff. It’s intentionally not a showroom. There are no shiny flying robots or beautifully designed meeting rooms to show how innovative we are. Just a warehouse, a decent budget and a pocket full of experiments that we can run with or without customer involvement

STEP 4 – Run it

Finally, and do not underestimate this. As a team of 5, with a lot of housekeeping and infrastructure stuff, internal promotion, starting up experiments, managing politics and with Eric Ries’ “the startup way” under our pillows, we slowly began to create the physical environment where we could embrace new technologies, test them safely and have the right people adopt them. In doing, you learn what needs to happen in your organization, what to listen for and how to brainstorm successfully in order to bring fresh ideas and deliver results

Skip to the present

Today, it’s about creating a positive vibe around changing our company’s culture. The digital and physical environments are a reality. We discuss many potential experiments with our customers and are looking to expand Prologis Labs into Europe, through a “pop-up lab” concept. We’ve learned from wrong turns, stood back up, refined and improved. Our golden rule – prioritize, don’t get stuck in a swamp. Better to push a few things a mile than many an inch… and that’s what we do.

We created 4 buckets: Location Services, Networking Solutions, Digital Twin, Digital Infrastructure – all interrelated, intentionally broad and equally promising. We deliver a quarterly MVP for each bucket and assess whether to pivot or persevere with it. Meaning that we always have a reflection moment to change our direction or even stop the experiment. Our wheels are turning though and the results just keep moving the needle for us and our customers. Is this PropTech? Maybe. Call it unicorn soup for all I care, what matters is if it works. As long as we try, test, fail and learn… then I am happy.

No matter what unique challenges you are facing while driving through innovation, take home this – move away from the standard and slowly disrupt the organization, change it from within. Not by adopting snazzy PropTechy stuff, or buying tech companies- but by changing the culture- by engaging with your inhouse experts- by collaborating with your customers. Be aware of how change will impact your organization and make sure that innovation can be embraced. That’s when you’ll be PropTech ready, can move fast and be ahead of what’s next.


All the speakers during Global PropTech Leaders #02 2nd July MIPIM PropTech Paris.

From left to right: Wouter Truffino, Herman Knevel (TNWx), Willem van der Ven (Schiphol Real Estate), Roelof Opperman (Fifth Wall), Robbert Heekelaar (Prologis), Giovanni Di Filippo (Spaceti) and not on the photo Dan Gildoni (placense).

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