Data management and digitalisation are two sides of a coveted coin. They can be used to unearth a treasure trove of data on real estate and take full advantage of it. Union Investment Real Estate recognised this challenge early on and has had a head data manager since July 2017. He has a doctorate in industrial engineering, giving him a clear understanding of both real estate data and digital set screws. “Digitalisation is a concern for the entire organisation,” says Lars Scheidecker, head of the new Data Management, Reporting Services and Systems department. His fellow employees use diverse digital processes, digital products and digital technologies.
“Without digitalisation, data management is simply unthinkable these days,” says Scheidecker. His task is to develop a smart system to organise and refine information about real estate. There’s a good reason for that: “The data relating to our real estate segment is invaluable for us.” As “lord of the data”, Scheidecker cooperates closely with Thomas Müller, Head of Digitalisation. The intensive exchange between the two of them is a sensitive interface because “standardising data is the foundation of digitalisation.”
Scheidecker likes to describe cooperation by the two units this way: “Those of us in the data management unit are on a huge steamship and we are the boiler room, so to speak. We make sure the engine runs properly.” Digitalisation is a speedboat that can swiftly and nimbly rush ahead and test new digital initiatives, he explains. “We then check to see which concepts can be integrated into existing processes or new processes that will be created, to ensure that the engine always runs smoothly.”
Lars Scheidecker studied industrial engineering at TU Darmstadt, earning his doctorate while working; he has a degree in real estate economics from IREBS International Real Estate Business School at the University of Regensburg. He began his career as a senior consultant at Ernst & Young Real Estate in Eschborn and then worked in the area of strategic, organisational and process consulting at Deka Immobilien in Frankfurt am Main, after which he returned to Ernst & Young to head its strategy and digitalisation unit. In July 2017 Scheidecker moved to Union Investment Real Estate GmbH in Hamburg as a department head; he has been responsible for data management, reporting services and systems since October 2018.
Providing a broad perspective
Parallel or stand-alone solutions tend to be a hindrance to data management, according to Scheidecker. This is also symbolised by the reorganisation of his department. “We want to move past the individual interests of the various divisions and transform them into a common perspective,” says Scheidecker, the proverbial man with a mission. “Anyone who wants to access relevant information and data for the real estate segment with a single click must necessarily have a broad view of data management.”
Union Investment has recognised that it is extremely important to make the data management running in the background completely professional so it can optimally support all operational units by providing the relevant information, says Scheidecker. With his Union Investment colleagues Patrick Hanssmann, in charge of fund support, and digitalisation specialist Thomas Müller, Scheidecker has carried out the necessary analyses and preparations for greater interlinking of substantive information and data in the future.
The transformation process is now well underway and is projected to be mostly completed by the end of this year. “There will have to be a lot of discussion with units that previously worked independently, but everything is proceeding in a spirit of partnership,” says Scheidecker, describing the process. The 42-year-old benefits from being an eloquent man of conviction: “We can’t work in an ivory tower and we have to make sure everyone is on the same page.”
Strategic data management
Scheidecker has divided his department, which has 32 full-time and 16 part-time employees, into four teams with four team leaders. The networking of in-house and outside partners is intensive, because the teams are oriented to acting as service providers for all operational divisions. Real Estate Data Management is responsible for entry of all real estate data for all properties worldwide, as well as for data quality management. Data Management Costs and Budgets controls among other things a central invoice processing platform that uses artificial intelligence to make constant improvements to the efficiency of digital invoice handling. And the Reporting Services group performs all tasks relevant to real estate reporting.
Scheidecker has given the specialists in “Strategic Data Management” technical responsibility for systems. Individual employees act as business system owners to support certain applications or systems, developing them in close cooperation with users and the people responsible for IT applications. “Each employee develops a vision for his system along with specific possibilities for future development. That lets us anticipate the needs of data users and respond very flexibly,” says Scheidecker. One example of this is the Architrave platform. It launched a new era of digital data and document management for Union Investment in spring 2018, declares Scheidecker. The reason was the successful migration of an estimated million documents relating to all 365 properties in the actively managed global real estate portfolio and of the other property companies.
Setting digital market standards
The new platform, which may become the standard for the entire real estate industry, is a Web-based database that works in a similar way to Google. Architrave follows the principles of machine learning. Union Investment has been working with digital data rooms since 2007, says Scheidecker, but a satisfactory solution specifically for real estate had been lacking. “We currently have a 13 percent stake in Architrave,” says Scheidecker. “We believe that the use of artificial intelligence offers great potential for development.” He explains that displaying a property one-to-one on a platform is the idea of the digital asset and ideally contains all the documentation about a plot of land or a building that has ever been entered. This offers enormous potential: “If all the relevant information is available in machine-readable form, the effort of assembling a data room for real estate transactions can be minimised in the medium term,” promises Scheidecker. This is not to mention how much easier it will be to process the estimated 450,000 to 500,000 new documents related to real estate and the company which are produced each year and to make them available in a structured form.
“We want to open ourselves up to others and invite them to work with us to establish new standards,” emphasises the data manager, who actively advocates for cooperation and exchanges. In his view, the solution lies in knowledge shared with other people and complexity borne by many shoulders. Scheidecker is a member of the data management competence group at gif, the Society of Property Researchers, Germany. At the same time, he is working with Deka Immobilien and Architrave on the Delphi concept, a digital prototype of Architrave, which will give companies using any platform a structure for storing and retrieving property related dokuments. Scheidecker is convinced: “It’s our duty as companies in the real estate industry to promote standardisation. So much the better if that results in a new market standard.”
Completely rethinking solutions and approaches
Union Investment has taken a few cautious steps toward blockchain technology in the form of an initial pilot project. “You can’t have stars in your eyes,” says Scheidecker critically, “because when we talk about blockchain we have to completely rethink processes and business fields.” A first application for maintaining fire alarms was developed with cooperation partner SAP in July 2018. Scheidecker explains that these are assets that received a “digital twin” in the blockchain and stored valuable information as data records. He says that blockchain technology greatly improves quality assurance when maintaining fire alarms.
Scheidecker also has great hopes for sensor technology, which his colleague Bent Mühlena, Head of Real Estate Project Management, is currently pursuing. Smart meters are being tested as part of a project with Apleona involving ten German properties with a view to developing energy monitoring across portfolios. “I expect a lot of great data to come out of this,” says Scheidecker. He says he can imagine that one day energy purchasing will be completely transformed by the use of smart meters and energy monitoring, which will be managed using smart contracts, perhaps administered using blockchain. Whether this will open the door to smart building data is solely a strategic decision for the company, he points out. “We must define how close we as fund management providers want to get to properties,” says Scheidecker.
In Scheidecker’s view, data management is also highly influenced by the human factor. The important thing is to contribute many different talents, skills and abilities as part of a team. “We are trying to combine diverse disciplines and cultures – from mathematicians to industrial engineers and data specialists all the way to people with degrees in business administration or sociology – so we can deliver automated processes, new systems and smart data.”
Communication and teamplay
A single individual cannot know everything and solutions must be developed together, declares Scheidecker. He strives for excellence and is very happy to delegate responsibility. As a department head he hopes for courageous employees while also promoting a positive culture of error management. Scheidecker, an athlete and a father, seems to have this in his blood. An enthusiastic skier who has a license to teach skiing, he learned early on to instruct and successfully lead varied groups of people. But Scheidecker really owes his communication skills to Fasching, the German pre-Lenten carnival celebration, in his hometown of Wiesbaden. Although he lives in Hamburg, he is still acting president of the “Erbenheimer Brummer” guild of fools and as chair of the gala meeting has the honour of standing on the stage of the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden and bestowing the coveted Fasching award – a medal that, like a coin, has two sides.
By Elke Hildebrandt (author) and Kerstin Müller and Benne Ochs (photography)