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Is Your Company’s Historical Data In A Database Or Your Employees’ Head?

The feasibility analysis for real estate development projects is a slow, expensive, and inefficient process. We have developed a data analytics technology at Zebel that offers a faster, cheaper, and better feasibility analysis. The initial development of our technology was inspired by my new learning in the MBA program at The Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania. Wharton School is arguably the most quantitative business school in the world where I had the opportunity to learn how leading companies in different industries use data analytics technology to improve their processes and gain competitive advantage.

Our technology enables real estate developers to generate a construction cost estimate in a fraction of the typical time it takes in the traditional process (minutes vs. weeks) by leveraging the company’s historical project data. I used it for many real projects of large development firms such as Irvine Company, Western National Group, Lennar, Brookfield Residential, Caruso, The Wolff Company, and many other well-known firms. They loved our quick turnaround as it would give them more time to iterate through more cycles and evaluate more design scenarios. We have further developed our technology to not only create cost estimates but also run the entire feasibility analysis. Developers can run the whole process quickly in one platform, without having to hire an architect or need help from a contractor. They can do all of that by leveraging their own historical data.

The key point of the solution is using the company’s own historical project data. When I started this initiative at my previous work, the company did not have an organized database of past projects. That is not surprising because no one knew what to use it for or how to use it and so they had no reason to create it. I collected historical project data from scattered folders, excel files, and accounting reports, organized all of that into a big spreadsheet, and called it “Project Database”. Once I created the database, I started getting requests for looking up certain data points for specific projects and soon realized the need for a dashboard for easy data query. More and more use cases came up after that, all of them driven by my co-workers or our clients, aka “users” in the software world.

That experience made me realize the great but untapped potential of the institutional knowledge buried in real estate development companies. They learn many things from every new project, from design best practices to cost implications and constructability issues. A great amount of data and invaluable knowledge get developed during the course of the projects that development firms build over the years; however, they fail to capture and utilize it to benefit the future projects. Such knowledge is usually stored in individuals’ memories and lost forever when people change jobs and leave the company.

Our mission is to enable real estate developers to capture and leverage their institutional knowledge to make more informed decisions for future projects. We offer data analytics solutions that help our customers organize and use their own historical project data and extract valuable insights from it. I will write about how our software works in the next article.

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