Updated: Jan 27, 2022
Interviewed on September 23, 2021
Interviewed by Yingying Zhu
Darlene Pope is President of Planon, North America, the global leader in integrated workplace management software. With more than 30 years of experience in commercial real estate, technology, and smart building consulting, she is a globally recognized subject matter expert and visionary in the smart building industry. Prior to Planon, Pope served as Global Lead for Smart Buildings and Digital Workplace at WeWork, and as EVP/Managing Director and Global Practice Lead for JLL's Smart Building Practice. She was also the founder and CEO of CoR Advisors®, a woman-owned small business, specializing in technology consulting for commercial and corporate real estate, which was acquired by JLL in 2015. Pope is a passionate advocate for the application of leading-edge technology in buildings and is an inspirational author and speaker on digital transformation and the future of work.
Congratulations on joining Planon. Can you tell us about what you do at Planon? Planon is a leading IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management Solutions) provider. The company was founded 35 years ago in The Netherlands and has been offering solutions in North America for more than ten years. As the President of North America, my role is to drive business growth and lead our operations in the U.S. and Canada.
Over the years, you have spoken publicly about the “3-30-300 principle” to explain and demonstrate the return on investment for technology in buildings. Can you share more about this with our audience? Actually, the 3-30-300 principle is a concept that was conceived and trademarked by JLL to highlight the various costs of office space. “3” represents the average amount of money building owners/occupiers spend on energy per square foot per year. “30” represents the amount of money they spend on the space itself. “300” represents how much they spend on people. When I was at JLL, I used this concept to better demonstrate and measure the value proposition of investing in technology solutions buildings -- and it still holds true today. If we focus on the people -- i.e. productivity, efficiency, health and wellness, employee satisfaction -- the impact can be 100 times more valuable to the organization than simply focusing on energy. Historically, there have been a lot of attention and solutions for energy management. Now we’re seeing an added focus on space management and space optimization, especially around return-to-work strategies.
How do you measure the improvement on factors such as worker productivity or employee satisfaction? I think every company has to determine their own KPIs for measuring and valuing productivity. You could use total number of hours in the office (which is easily measured), or work product output (number of proposals or contracts completed), or even calculate time not wasted (such as time trying to find a conference room or waiting for an elevator). There are many ways to measure improvements on employee satisfaction. The easiest is through regular surveys of the workforce, or through employee retention metrics. Integrating wayfinding, room reservations, location based services and a workplace mobile app to literally book a room by walking into it contributes to both productivity and satisfaction. Find a room near me now, find a coffee station, or find a colleague are other features that contribute to worker satisfaction and productivity.
Are there any smart building projects you can share that show successful results? I did want to mention one smart building project in Chicago I worked on a few years ago which resulted in a reduced office footprint of 50%, improved employee satisfaction of 76%, and reduction of hot and cold calls by more than 90%! Through fully integrated systems and a smart workplace mobile app, we delivered indoor wayfinding and location-based services, as well as room booking, service tickets, temperature control, and other smart workplace solutions. The most popular feature was the ability to instantly adjust the temperature in any conference room, private office, or open work area via mobile app, which was enabled by a unique HVAC zoning design and advanced controls. Over time, the smart building system started to “learn” that in certain time of the day, certain areas of the building tended to get hot or cold complaints often, so the system began to anticipate and even proactively respond to the situation. Eventually the hot/cold complaints in the building were almost non-existent, which improved employee satisfaction significantly.
What are some of the smart building solutions for an existing building retrofit? Even without an indoor positioning system, you can use QR codes on rooms and desks to register or “check in.” Existing buildings may have some limitations based on the legacy systems and infrastructure, but there are still lots of ways to integrate solutions, automate operations, collect and aggregate operational data, and make better business decisions on how to manage and operate the facility. Over time, the legacy systems can be upgraded or replaced with smarter, more efficient solutions that contribute to a longer term, data-driven technology strategy.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity in smart building solutions? I think the common denominator in terms of what makes a building smart in the first place is integration. Most companies address their technology needs by purchasing and installing multiple point solutions with no over-arching technology strategy or plan for the future -- it’s all piece meal. They may have one system for room booking and another for visitor management and another for space management. Data ends up being collected and stored in many different platforms. So the biggest opportunity is in bringing all those functions and data together for countless benefits. 1) there is obviously cost saving in buying one software platform than paying for 5-10 point solutions… and then paying even more to try to integrate them; 2) it becomes almost impossible to effectively maintain manual integrations between different point solutions as software keeps upgrading and evolving and data keeps changing; 3) much more data and actionable insights can be drawn and shared between multiple departments and stakeholders.
You led the smart building and workplace solutions for JLL and WeWork and had owned your own consulting business in the same field. How does this experience help you today? With CoR Advisors and JLL, we advised large enterprise clients on their technology vision and long-term roadmaps, so I gained a lot of experience in understanding market needs and business drivers for technology. The experience of working with many clients all over the world gave us exposure to the different business drivers behind different organizations and demonstrates that there is no one solution that fits all clients. When I moved over to WeWork in 2019, I became the client, to envision and execute smart building strategies for our own global portfolio. Having sat on both sides of the table as a consultant and as an enterprise client, I have a greater ability to understand the business drivers for Planon’s clients and to position us to not only meet but also anticipate industry needs. So I guess you could say I’ve come full circle! One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still take a very consultative approach to communicating with and serving our customers -- because it is never about just selling a product, it’s always about helping companies reach their goals.
“It is a very complex process to deliver a simple and user-friendly solution, given all technical solutions on the back end collecting, processing, integrating, and reporting massive amounts of data. But that’s the beauty of Planon’s software -- it’s a complicated solution designed to simplify your business.”
How do you help your clients navigate the fast-changing technology scene? In terms of developing a strategy and approach, the first thing to consider is the business goals or building experience goals, not the technology itself… because the technology is going to evolve over time. And the solutions need to be flexible, scalable, and configurable to the changing business needs as well. We have a tremendous amount of experienced and knowledgeable subject matter experts who advise our clients on a regular basis to keep them not only up to speed on current technologies and solutions, but also (and more importantly) future trends. It is a very complex process to deliver a simple and user-friendly solution, given all technical solutions on the back end collecting, processing, integrating, and reporting massive amounts of data. But that’s the beauty of Planon’s software -- it’s a complicated solution designed to simplify your business.
I know you are a huge proponent of encouraging and supporting women in the industry and are on the Advisory Committee for Women in PropTech. Is there one female professional you can name who inspires you the most? There are many so talented women in the proptech industry, but I’d have to say that one on the top of the list is Jennifer Morgan. Jen is a good personal friend of mine and a professional mentor and role model. I have watched Jen’s career over the past 15 years as she broke through glass ceiling after glass ceiling, moving from president of North America for SAP to becoming the first female CEO of SAP. Now she is a global head of portfolio operations for Blackstone. People like Jen not only pave the way for other women in the industry but also inspire other women to pursue their career ambitions.
“If you are a talented woman, you have got to set your sights on the position you want and be driven enough and work hard enough to get there. Don’t wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder to promote you … step up and take your future into your own hands.”
What is your advice to younger women to advance their career? If you are a talented woman, you have got to set your sights on the position you want and be driven enough and work hard enough to get there. Don’t wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder to promote you or to put you in the spotlight – step up and take your future into your own hands. Also, you have to be willing to learn, grow, and evolve with every company and every new role. Challenge yourself… and if you can’t move up internally, move up externally. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box, and don’t let anyone put you in a box. Define your own growth path and timeline. And don’t forget to help other women along the way who may be challenged with some of the same obstacles you’ve had to overcome.
Edited and condensed for clarity.