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JLL is one of the world’s top real estate companies, managing crown jewel buildings across the globe and helping some of the elite technology giants find office space. But the firm is looking to make a splash in the tech world, putting it head to head with some of its potential clients.

Today JLL unveiled a smartphone-based voice assistant designed for office workers to book conference rooms and desks in their buildings, file maintenance requests and more. JLL is working with Google to build the voice assistant known as JiLL that the company will soon begin testing with a handful of customers. The project is part of a broader effort from JLL to create new technology offerings that take advantage of its real estate expertise.

Digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa have transformed people’s daily lives, making it easier to control their homes, play music and more. But there’s no catch-all solution for the office worker, argues Vinay Goel, chief digital product officer for JLL and a former Google executive.

“When we come to the office there is a different portal when you look at what’s for lunch, or when you need to file a service request or when you need to book a meeting,” Goel said. “All those types of things tend to be very siloed experiences.”

(JLL screenshot)

JLL isn’t the only company trying to solve these issues. Amazon in late 2017 expanded Alexa to the enterprise and Microsoft recently showed off its plans for enhanced conversational abilities focused on managing schedules for its assistant Cortana. Beyond consumer-facing digital assistants like Alexa and Cortana, a handful of big software companies are working on their own virtual brains to solve specific problems.

JiLL differs from Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant and others because it is strictly smartphone-based and focuses primarily on the office setting. The wealth of data that JLL has from managing buildings and working with companies as they plan and build out offices makes JiLL stand out from the pack, Goel says.

“We understand teams because we understand where you sit; we understand your cost center; and we understand your organization — who you report to, who works for you,” Goel said. “We know the floorplans, and we know where the printers are.”

Vinay Goel. (JLL Photo)

The digital assistant is still being tested internally, but later this summer JLL will begin testing it with a number of customers. JLL wants to roll out the digital assistant across the U.S. in the fourth quarter.

JLL wants the new digital assistant to have broader appeal beyond its existing customer base. The company is building a set of APIs and integrations to plug into companies’ calendar and work order systems. JiLL will be able to integrate with Microsoft 365 and Google’s G Suite, among others.

JiLL is the first product to come out of JLL Labs, the company’s in-house software development group. Goel, who has been with JLL for about a year and leads its technology divisions, brings 11 years of experience at Google, most recently as director of product management for Google Maps. Goel’s mission is to translate Google’s consumer-oriented mindset to JLL’s enterprise customers.

JLL worked closely with Google to develop the digital assistant, which runs on the Google Cloud Platform. Though JLL doesn’t plan to build JiLL smart speakers, Goel envisions a future where the company can become a center of gravity for business-oriented voice apps.

“Our vision is that over time we could create a third party marketplace of skills that you can add to JiLL,” Goel said.

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