WASHINGTON – The Army will soon be testing an online real estate tool similar to commercial marketplaces like Zillow or Redfin to help installations match the supply of affordable properties with demand from divisions and organizations around the world, an installation expert said earlier this month. …
The Army recently received congressional approval to test an online application for real estate availability, or RPSA, later this year, said Andy Napoli, base redevelopment and closure assistant.
Six sites are slated to participate in the POC, including: Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois; Redstone Arsenal, Alabama; Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Washington; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Devens Conservation Area, Massachusetts.
If the pilot is successful, he said, the RPSA could evolve into a centralized “clearinghouse” for real estate inventory and oversee the service’s available real estate portfolio. The Army currently owns more than 143,000 facilities totaling over 1 billion square feet.
“Our facilities must modernize and optimize all basic operating functions, processes and services, and stimulate innovation and financial accountability,” said Jack Surash, a senior official serving as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.
Let’s say an army unit is looking for a placement solution that includes a headquarters room, a small vehicle fleet, barracks and access to a local cafeteria, Napoli explained. The executives also requested that all facilities be close to each other to avoid additional costs of transporting personal vehicles.
He added that the unit is willing to spend some of its operating and maintenance funds to renovate existing facilities for mission use.
“When an army unit or an outside organization is looking for an empty seat, they don’t have a single point of access to search and find the location. Ultimately, they have to hunt for real estate by word of mouth, drawing up a list of requirements and contacting points of contact at other sites, ”Napoli said, commenting on the process of placing army packages.
Once the hosting package has been sent, all requested requirements are considered fixed, Napoli added. As a result, many facilities cannot fully meet the unit’s demands, which leads to an accumulation of unfulfilled military construction requirements every year.
Under the RPSA, organizations will have access to a list of available properties as well as a range of search functions to match the division’s requirements and a list of available resources, Napoli said. If the initial search result returns zero suitable locations, the organization can refine the search for the tool or “compromise” some of the department’s requirements to find the best solution.
The app will also contain a series of electronically scanned or mapped floor plans generated by the corporate real estate interactive space management system or ePRISMS, a geospatial building space management tool.
“The visual floor plan is a key part of [RPSA]… It’s like searching a commercial property website and looking at pictures from the inside of a home, ”he said.
With access to the floor plan, the organization can now search for an alternative facility with the intention of refurbishing or converting the existing space to suit its needs, theoretically taking less time than completing a full military construction project, Napoli said.
Proof of concept
To prove the RPSA application’s capabilities, Napoli said program managers included a “balanced mix of attitudes,” including one contributor from the reserve and three related positions dedicated to preparedness, training and support missions.
Of the many other requirements, he said, two of the selected sites were aware of the assets available, while the other two were dealing with some form of overcrowding and needed to abandon some lower priority missions.
Location participants also needed to seek approval from the senior commander before joining the assessment. He added that inventory of property will also be voluntary at each location.
Napoli mentioned that the army’s inventory is like a giant haystack, while the places suitable for the mission are needles. In turn, the RPSA tool is not intended to collect a complete catalog of real estate services.
“We decided to stimulate the pilot sites by requiring them to compile a list of needles … to create supply and demand,” he added. “Users can then determine which needle they need.”
Thanks to RPSA, army facilities will now be able to free up resources and bring them back to work to meet new or evolving mission requirements at a lower cost.
“This could significantly improve the army deployment process,” Napoli said, commenting on the use of RPSA to support the regionally agreed readiness and modernization model, or ReARMM.
“It would be like defragmenting a hard drive,” he added. “[RPSA] can greatly ease the ordering process by allowing high-priority missions to get the space they need, where and when they need it. ”