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Q&A: Office App on the HqO deal and what tenants want

Last week, HqO announced its acquisition of Office App to create a global tenant experience platform valued at about $500m.

PlaceTech caught up with Thijs van der Burgt, CEO of Office App, to talk about the deal, the future of the combined company and the gap between what tenants want and what their workplaces actually deliver.

Combining workplace analytics with dozens of partners who deliver everything from room booking to security and visitor experience, Office App has become a big name in the European office management market over the last few years. Now, having been acquired by US-based HqO, its aspirations are global.

What are the biggest changes that HqO and Office App users can now expect from the combined product?

I think the product will be much more rich. All of the features are going to be integrated with one another, which means that all of our features can also be used in the HqO product and vice versa.

The biggest focus is that the Office App solution is going to be solely for corporate customers, where the HqO solution is going to be delivered solely for landlord customers. The data analytics will be combined and centralised, but the dashboards will be completely fitted specifically for corporates [for Office App users] and fitted specifically for landlords [for HqO users].

What made the acquisition by HqO attractive to Office App?

I started this business about six and a half years ago, and when I started, almost all of the partners that we now integrate with, from parking management systems to facility management to access control systems, none of them had any APIs for me to connect to.

Then gradually, the market started to open up and started to adopt technology, and at that point, I saw that we actually had product market fit, and that this would be a global solution.

We saw that the market was changing. We are [a team of] 55 people, which as a startup company is maybe a nice amount. But we were signing larger and larger corporates that demand international expansion – and that requires a lot of resources, but also resources in a lot of different areas.

For us personally [it was] the combination of having a larger team to execute on larger international organisations, the cultural fit, and the comfort that with this combined entity, we can scale much faster than we would have on our own.

What are the key trends that will affect demand for tenant experience apps in the next year or two?

There’s one underlying trend, and that’s adoption of technology in the real estate space. That is growing exponentially.

And I think then we have two large waves or trends: ESG and the return to work.

How do you think you’re going to approach those questions?

We are a marketplace and integration platform, and we centralise data from systems, whether it’s from integration partners from our own apps, or from additional sources of data. So with [that data], you can provide a lot of insights in how you can adapt to make sure that you can provide a more fitting return to work, or a flex solution.

There are a lot of different elements that we have developed over time to make sure that we can address the needs of the new post-COVID worker. We, for example, have a feature where you can book a desk, but you can also see who of your colleagues are already in the office – or which teams are in the office – to make sure that you can plan accordingly.

And on the ESG sides, I also believe that we can be very relevant. [Users] gain more insights in how much energy a building is actually using, making sure that people are more aware of what and how they are consuming energy in a building and how they can minimise that.

But it’s also [about] the harder elements, where we can connect to building maintenance systems or other systems to make sure that we provide more insights in how you can better structure energy consumption within a building.

What HqO features are you most excited to get your hands on?

They have a very rich data analytics platform and they can measure which needs and services they should implement to gain a better experience and a higher service level in these buildings. And I think they have a very strong content and community platform to make sure that there’s a very high engagement and adoption element.

Our main focus has been in developing our solutions to make sure that we can give control back to people. If we need to build a solution that you only need to use two times a year, you have the comfort that it’s there, [and that] can create a lot of value.

I think HqO has focused more on the: “How can we really engage all of those individuals to make sure that they use the platform at a very high level and very high pace?” That combination of the two can be very valuable.

What’s your pitch to landlords or occupiers that haven’t considered using tenant experience software?

Luckily, I’m not the only one who has to do the pitch anymore. There’s a lot of occupiers that demand this technology or demand more data insights in their buildings, so the market is also giving us a hand.

But, in general, technology for us, as consumers, has changed so drastically in the past 10 years, and office buildings have been standing still for those 10 years. The gap between the expectations and what’s [actually] there is getting bigger and bigger.

So I strongly believe that when our solution is there, people address it as something that should be there and not as a big “wow” – because it’s so comparable to what they experience in their daily lives.

The strongest element for landlords and occupiers is not only providing a really good experience where people have much more comfort in their daily work life, but actually understanding how these buildings are used or utilised. [That is] something that they haven’t experienced before, and which is something that completely opens up their view on how they can change those office buildings and, therefore, gain much more value in their real estate.

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