WASHINGTON -- The Army will soon pilot an online real estate tool, akin to commercial marketplaces like Zillow or Redfin, to help installations match the supply of available facilities with the demand from units and organizations around the globe, an installation expert said earlier this month.
The Army recently received congressional approval to test an online Real Property Space Availability application, or RPSA, later this year, said Andy Napoli, the assistant for base realignment and closure.
Six installations are slated to participate in the proof of concept evaluation, to include: Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois; Redstone Arsenal, Alabama; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Devens Reserve Training Area, Massachusetts.
If the pilot proves successful, the RPSA could evolve into a centralized real estate inventory “clearing house” and provide oversight of the service’s available property portfolio, he said. The Army currently owns more than 143,000 facilities totaling over 1 billion square feet of distributed space.
“Our installations must modernize and streamline all base operations functions, processes, and services, and incentivize innovation and fiscal responsibility,” said Jack Surash, the senior official performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and environment.
Suppose that an Army unit is looking for a stationing solution that includes a headquarters space, small motor pool, barracks, and access to a local dining facility, Napoli explained. Leaders have also requested all facilities be close to one another to avoid additional transportation costs for personal vehicles.
He added that the unit is willing to expend a portion of its operations and maintenance funding to renovate existing space for mission use.
“When an Army unit or outside organization is looking for available space, there is no single access point for them to search and find a location. They end up having to hunt for real estate through word of mouth, by generating a list of requirements and reaching out to points of contact at other installations,” Napoli said, commenting on the Army’s stationing package process.
Once a stationing package is submitted, all the requested requirements are considered fixed, Napoli added. As a result, many installations cannot accommodate a unit’s request fully, resulting in a backlog of unfinanced military construction requirements each year.
Under the RPSA, organizations will have access to a list of available properties, along with a range of search functions to match a unit’s requirements against a listing of available resources, Napoli said. If an initial search result returns zero suitable locations, the organization can refine the tool’s search parameters or “trade-off” some of the unit’s requirements to find an optimal solution.
The application will also feature a range of electronically scanned or mapped floor plans created by the enterprise Proactive Real Property Interactive Space Management System, or ePRISMS, a geospatial building space management tool.
“Having a visual floorplan is a key part of [RPSA]. It is similar to searching on a commercial real estate listing site and getting to see pictures from inside a house,” he said.
With access to a floor plan, an organization can now search for an alternative facility with an intention to renovate or convert an existing space to meet their needs, which will theoretically take less time to finish than a complete military construction project, Napoli said.
Proof of concept
To prove the RPSA application’s capabilities, program leaders incorporated a “balanced mix of installations,” to include one Reserve participant and three respective posts focused on readiness, training, and sustainment missions, Napoli said.
Of the many other requirements, two selected installations had known available property assets, while two other locations were dealing with some form of overcrowded conditions and needing to divest some lower-priority missions, he said.
Participating locations also needed to request senior commander approval before joining the evaluation. Property inventory listings would also be voluntary at each location, he added.
Napoli mentioned that the Army’s property inventory is similar to a giant haystack while the mission-suitable spaces are the needles. In turn, the RPSA tool is not designed to capture the service’s complete real estate catalog.
“We decided to incentivize the pilot sites by requiring them to list needles … to create a supply and demand,” he added. “Users can then determine the right kind of needle they need.”
Through RPSA, Army installations will now have the ability to liberate resources and return them to work to meet new or evolving mission requirements at lower costs.
“This could significantly improve the Army’s stationing process,” Napoli said, commenting on RPSA’s use to support the Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model, or ReARMM.
“It would be similar to defragging a hard drive,” he added. “[RPSA] could significantly help the ordering process by allowing the highest-priority missions get the space they need, where and when it is needed.”