Technology Enabled Collaboration by Kevin Maggiacomo

The impact and the power associated with mobilizing people for a purpose are rooted in fundamental economics – they are nothing new. From electing a government official, to spreading word of and organizing an “Aquarian exhibition” of 500,000 people at Woodstock in 1969, ideating among a critical mass of people, sharing and sourcing information while leveraging the power of numbers and virality have always been present in society. Aligned crowds, we call them “smart mobs” today, are driving virtually every major trend in the global economy.

What’s new, and ever evolving, is the technology which is enabling crowds to be catalyzed, assimilated, and leveraged like never before. If we examine only the past five years, we see how rapidly the speed and power of group collaboration has increased to create value to stakeholders in ways that were previously thought unimaginable. “Technology enabled collaboration,” as its been dubbed, is in full force and effect in almost every industry on the planet. From Restaurants to Travel, and from Yelp to Orbitz, people and businesses are organizing, collaborating, sharing and peering for the purposes of lowering costs, improving quality, saving time, and even curing disease.

Another fundamental shift that has taken place over the last decade is the move from proprietary to transparent, from closed architecture to open source, from a world controlled by scarcity to one opened up by sharing. The power in business is no longer generated by those who control something, but by those who share it. I recall a friend of mine saying: “business has never been about addition or subtraction – it has always been about multiplication.” No greater multiplier exists than creating an impassioned, intentional movement based upon meeting a market driven need.

The following statement may seem counter-intuitive to many still clinging to their old-school ways, but businesses today need to understand they probably cannot control the marketplace by the uniqueness of a product or service, therefore their only choice is to empower the marketplace by adding value. Sage advice then, would be to not get sucked into the frivolity of attempting to control a market – be disruptive by opening it up.

Sustainability for businesses will be found in how quickly businesses can embrace sharing, not how long they can hold a market hostage. Few people will argue with the fact that business has, and will always be, about relationships. We can debate positional variances between qualitative, quantitative, and relational impact, but the market has ended one debate – you don’t control relationships you empower them.

Despite this movement, and hitting a bit closer to home, the commercial real estate industry seems to have been immune to the collaborative trend, and continues to operate much in the same way as it has for 20-30 years. When my firm (Sperry Van Ness) broke from the industry standard approach more than 25 years ago by adopting a set of core covenants, which gave birth to our ethos of compensated cooperation and participation with the entire brokerage community to market our inventory, we were looked at as heretics among our peers. I’m certain as time has evolved our “heretical” approach is now seen as having set the chinning bar for how the industry should operate.

The problem is that while the marketplace recognizes the benefit of the aforementioned model, the brokerage industry as a whole continues to operate with much of the same opacity, often times at the expense of the client and to the benefit of the brokerages. “Quietly” marketing properties, offering zero fee incentive for other brokers to help sell a listing, inserting eyeball roadblocks like overused registration and confidentiality requirements are still par for the course. Has any other industry been more immune to the advancements of technology enabled collaboration than commercial real estate?

When will our industry as a whole to come out of the shadows, cease with the ethereal and mercurial, embrace fundamental economic concepts like supply and demand and operate in the light of day? In the future, the market will simply not tolerate anything less than an authentic and transparent approach to business.

What say you?

Kevin Maggiacomo, CEO & President, Sperry Van Ness International Corporation


*All Sperry Van Ness® offices are independently owned and operated.



  1. Gary Gregory on September 6, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    The real estate market is intrinsically inefficient due to the non-homogenous nature of the asset. This creates opportunity for arbitrage. The volumes of information required to describe each unique asset poses challenges for even the most far-reaching marketing effort to be heard broadly and acted on effectively. As information has become standardized, collaboration has grown. The CRE market will be the last to adopt full collaboration simply due to it’s complexity. At Colliers l Oklahoma, we do our best to speed the process through cooperation for the benefit of our clients.

    • Kevin Maggiacomo on September 7, 2011 at 10:07 am

      Thanks for the reply, Gary. Well said. I agree that CRE assets are often part of complex offerings, but so are stocks and bonds, and they trade freely and efficiently in an open market each day. That said, you’ve appropriately captured one of the hurdles that we as a CRE industry face in behaving in more of a 2011 manner, which are information standards, something that the aforementioned equities markets have done well.

  2. Duke Long on September 7, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I’m in! Let’s go!

    • Kevin Maggiacomo on September 7, 2011 at 11:05 am

      Duke clearly bucking the CRE trend mentioned herein. He’s even formalizing part of the collaboration process with his DCRE2012 event concept.

  3. Chris on September 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I don’t believe this is all the industry’s fault. Owners often call the shots regarding confidentiality. Not saying there aren’t plenty of agents with pocket listings or who won’t show other broker’s properties because they don’t want to co-broke. But those aren’t problems that can be remedied with technology.

    As far as standards goes, OSCRE has those pretty much outlined – they’re just unnecessarily complicated. No one is going to provide all that data. Some of it is sloppiness/laziness but often it’s due to an abundance of caution in a very litigious environment. And I don’t think I’d like a model based on securities trading with all the regulation and oversight…though that’s what you would need to “change” behavior – the power of law to compel an agent to share certain information.

    • Kevin Maggiacomo on September 8, 2011 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks for the comments, Chris. I agree, change won’t come easy. That said, and to get past the “How” to affect change for a minute, let me state that the CRE industry is one of the most segmented, fragmented and dysfunctional industries in existence – there is no industry standard for uniting buyers and sellers and the marketing of properties. Confidentiality aside, why is it standard practice to not offer an incentive (fee) to the distribution channel (brokerage community) on investment sales listings? This practice discourages competition for assets, yet it happens every day, and in an era where sharing and peering are becoming norms. The change starts with an adjustment to this behavior, which is bad for the client but good for the broker. It just doesn’t fit with today’s, 2011 economy of collaborative consumption, the movement towards crowd sourcing, and other technology enabled collaboration tenets.