Construction is underway on a new Ritz Carlton Hotel and Residences in San Diego, with a Gelson’s food market on the ground floor. Suffolk Construction has established a “smart lab” in offices in San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Tampa, Dallas, and Los Angeles, a space where the firm ‘sconstruction managers get together with designers, contractors, and other associates to collaborate and plan projects. (Carrier Johnson)

Aside from equipment innovations, the building industry has remained largely unchanged for the last 100 years. Beginning about 10 years ago with building information modeling (BIM) software that began to change, said Daniel Reeves, president of the San Diego–based community and government affairs consultancy Juniper Strategic Advisory, who served as moderator of a ULI San Diego/Tijuana event in March.

Like other business sectors, innovative technology is having a disruptive impact on building construction, operations, and management, according to event presenters, who discussed new technology used to cut time for project due diligence; make cost estimates accurate and construction more precise; improve building operations and efficiency; and enhance tenant engagement, comfort, and satisfaction.


San Diego–based Scoutred offers software that simplifies and speeds up early-stage due diligence for real estate developers and their associates, reducing time for research from days to a few minutes, said founder Alexander Rolek. He explained that Scoutred organizes property information on millions of parcels in San Diego County and visualizes the data in a report designed to help parties make informed decisions.

Simply put in the parcel address and receive an immediate report that details property and zoning information, including subdivision name, parcel size, legal description, the owner’s name and address, tax assessment, map location, use type, building height limits, floor/area ratio (FAR), and setbacks. This information is exported to a PDF format, which also includes the following: a high-resolution aerial photo; zoning and other applicable overlays, such as parking and mass transit; a description of the community plan; details on the property’s attributes and any improvements; and all permits pulled on the property on record with the city.


Based in Sydney, Australia, Willow, a global software developer, is focused on creating easy-to-use systems that facilitate smart building construction, optimize building performance, enhance user experience, and open new streams of revenue by turning data into value.

The company has partnered with Microsoft to create Willow Twin, a scalable platform that leverages the power of the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence to create 2-D or 3-D digital, geometrically accurate replicas of real estate assets that contain all asset information and live operational data.

“Data is the new gold,” said Casey Mahon, digital coordinator, Willow North America, explaining that the program collects building data and uses them to transform a structure into a living, evolving asset that learns from experience. The program harnesses building data, tracking user behavior and building performance to improve the tenant experience and drive savings through actionable insights and predictive maintenance.

Five years ago, Willow partnered with Investa, one of Australia’s largest developers, owners, and managers of commercial real estate, to develop Willow Twin 2.0, an intelligent digital twin that integrates 3-D visualization with data to allow a building to learn to operate itself efficiently.

Over time, the system learns to effectively manage energy and other resources used by assets: using data analytics and intuitive reporting, it improves assets’ triple bottom line by increasing their cash value while reducing their impact on the environment.

Since then, Willow and Investa have used Willow Digital and Willow Twin to innovate multiple areas of building development and operations, ranging from complex digital design and construction management to use of intelligent digital twins to manage buildings efficiently and enhance the tenant experience.

Mahon noted that Willow Digital 2.0 identifies which assets to track long-term, and lessons learned can be applied across an entire portfolio using Willow Scan, an OR, code-driven solution designed to identify and manage all assets in a portfolio.

​It also provides a completion tracker and model auditor that validates subcontractor and data, including operations and manuals, asset registers, and warranty information and gathers and stores operational manuals for the building or infrastructure network, which Mahon stresses is especially important when handing off building management to a new contractor.

In addition, it provides a tenant and community platform that helps future-proof buildings; attract and retain tenants; and open new revenue streams, such as apps to book conference rooms and provide food and beverage services, a building information directory, and transportation alerts.

The system also opens, manages, and tracks tenant service requests, as well as tenant demographics and engagement, including space use, service or amenity preferences, and feedback. This information enables owners to cater to the experiences, needs, and desires of building occupants. Willow’s emergency management feature helps identify where occupants are located at any one time and notifies them on recommended emergency actions.

Suffolk Construction

Rob Cruden, vice president of operations at Boston-based Suffolk Construction, discussed how his firm is transforming the construction experience, with disruptive technology reinventing the building process. He noted that technology collects data that allow Suffolk Construction to build and plan smarter, manage projects better, provide clients with accurate cost estimations, and create a safe job environment.

A national commercial builder, Suffolk has established a “smart lab” in offices in San Francisco, New York, Miami, Tampa, Dallas, and Los Angeles, a space where firm construction managers get together with designers, contractors, and other associates to collaborate and plan projects. Projects are virtually planned using digital twins to model them, Cruden explained.

The project’s digital twin provides an understanding of how a project will look, work, and affect the environment, including the city’s skyline, he continued.  Cruden noted that it allows estimators to identify project components and provide accurate cost estimations, reducing or eliminating budget overruns.

The smart lab is also used for business development, providing data and space to update current clients and pitch prospects. They include a room called “the cave,” which receives live camera feeds from various job sites, enabling project associates and clients to use virtual reality to step inside three-dimensional models of a project.