Building app with purpose | Why Portland House uses HqO
When developers Oliver Holland and James Keegan bought an old office building in Newcastle, UK, they challenged themselves to reimagine it as a grade-A space centred on effortless tenant experience.
Portland House, a 60,000 sq ft refurb opening in September has been in the works for 18 months, its design fundamentally moulded by the pandemic. Wellbeing, flexibility and sustainability had to be embedded in the space, and the developers needed a tech provider to tie these features together.
PlaceTech spoke to Holland and Samuel Warren, UK MD at HqO, about working together to deliver that vision for Portland House.
Holland says: “There’s a movement towards providing tenant apps, and they don’t necessarily always have a distinct raison d’être. Their purpose is perhaps more for them being there than it is to actually create a betterment for the occupier.”
In other words, whatever tech Portland House adopted had to be functional. Access control was a priority – doing away with thousands of non-recyclable key cards in favour of tapping your phone to get in – as was tenant communication.
“I think a lot of what’s done in an asset – sometimes – when the building is operating beautifully may not be understood or perceived by the users,” says Warren.
The tenant app would have to play a role in remedying that by amplifying what the building is designed to do. After all, having more bike storage than any other office in Newcastle, or putting in EV chargers and flexible workspace would be pointless if people either did not know they exist or struggled to access or use them.
On top of these priorities, the app would have to deliver some of the other usual features, such as visitor registration and room booking in the building’s coworking spaces.
Holland’s team considered five tenant experience brands, settling on Office App (which was soon acquired by HqO) for two main reasons. First, it offered scope and flexibility when it came to potential features and, second, was the overall user experience, which Holland says felt “completely effortless”.
After a demo of the product, Portland House worked with HqO to tailor what featured it did and didn’t need to achieve its goals. In some ways, price helped narrow down its priorities, because, as Holland says, HqO was not the cheapest option they considered.
Holland says: “We were able to work with them to deliver a product, because it is so bespoke, that fitted in on day one with our service charge budget. And it may be that over time, as the building grows, we can add extra features.”
In an operational building, HqO would normally launch a building app over the course of two weeks. But the benefit of picking a tech provider before a building opens is that onboarding can happen in advance and over a longer period of time.
Before tenants arrive, they will be able to download the app and see how it works. Even when it launches, the building will not be fully occupied, which allows the team to experiment with features and make tweaks in a way that would be far more disruptive in a fully operational office.
Benefits and support
One major benefit is that the building app takes pressure off the front-of-house team.
“It probably enables us to reduce the level of staffing requirement because it automates, or gives you the option to automate, so many processes,” Holland says. Onsite staff will receive training to be able to help tenants with the app, but technical know-how is less important because HqO will remain hands-on.
HqO will offer app support, do quarterly business reviews, carry out monthly “touch points” to understand how operations are going and work with the front-of-house to ensure they know how to use it properly.
More importantly, it will also take care of analytics. “As the building is starting to occupy and evolve and develop, Oliver will have access to all of the analytics to be able to show him what the people in the space are doing.”
The app will give Portland House a clearer understanding of how spaces are used, what areas and amenities are popular and what tenants want out of their building. That will help steer the building’s design and operation in years to come.