JLL China pushes for radical change through commercial data sharing

Company’s new data sharing website is a critical catalyst to shaking up how the 234-year old company does its business, says Julien Zhang, its managing director in north China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 8:01pm

JLL, the global commercial real estate service provider, is pushing ahead with what it’s calling the recalibration of its China region service, by radically opening up the company’s “office information pool” to a wider audience.

The multinational’s China branch says it is embracing so-called “disruptive technology” – types of technologies that replace established methods and shake up the industry with a ground-breaking products that create completely new industries – by launching a website that allows clients to search more than 1,000 of its traditional office, co-working and serviced office stock in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen – and then immediately connecting users with the JLL brokers involved.

The new website, Dichandadang.com, is much more than a new gadget to show off the company’s technological advances, claims Julien Zhang, managing director of North China, but a critical catalyst to shaking up how the 234-year old company does its business.

“Until now, commercial property agents generate their profit from information: prospective tenants, devoid of information, turn to professional agents to navigate the market place.

“But we see this model as becoming increasingly obsolete in the age of online information, and we’d like to take the lead for change,” Zhang said.

He explained that much of the information – such as which buildings are available for rent – is available to the public. But in practice, renters cannot collect all the information they need, even if they spot several potential sites.

“Unlike individuals seeking rental homes, the process of finding a commercial space is so complicated they can’t do it alone, without an agents’ help.

Prospective tenants, devoid of information, turn to professional agents to navigate the market place. But we see this model as becoming increasingly obsolete in the age of online information, and we’d like to take the lead for change
Julien Zhang, JLL’s managing director for north China

“But agents can still comfortably earn money through ‘information asymmetry’ – when one party to a transaction possesses greater material knowledge than another – that’s the real value-added part often ignored.”

Making as much office information as possible available to the public through a “search-handy portal” is not new in mature markets such as Europe and the US, Zhang said. But real estate service companies in China have generally offering customised individual services.

Some agents are already gaining strength from using wider “property data pools” – information-matching platforms – but only in the residential market.

In commercial real estate, only a few such ventures provide information on areas such as the office market, or properties owned by small-time landlords, and then only in periphery areas of cities, far from city centres.

Zhang said the sharing of premium office information in large quantities doesn’t happen within the industry, but claims JLL is already ahead of the game in making sure if does.

The company is even prepared to make short-term losses to help progress the change, as it could become easier for tenants to go directly to the landlords, which is why he describes his initiative as “self-destructive”.

It is designed for “long-term payback”, with JLL’s brokers likely to be forced to improve their service quality, he added.

In Beijing, for which Zhang is responsible, information on about 80 per cent of all JLL Beijing’s office stock, nearly 1,000 buildings, will be put on the website.

Zhang said a look back in the history of the commercial property industry shows that it is only companies that remain alive to new ideas that continue to grow – those which continually come up with new concepts, not those simply aimed at short-term gain.

“A lot of people tend to stay in their comfort zones. But to sustain your business you have got to push yourself to the limit. This is why we launched our new slogan ‘achieve ambitions’,”he said.

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