Okay, so there’s no Kobayashi Maru, but apartment pros would be hard-pressed to find more realistic work-station training simulators then at the brand-new O.R.A.C.L.E. training center that opened today in Parsippany, N.J. The 2,000-square-foot training facility is the brainchild of The Planned Cos., a locally-based professional security, concierge, janitorial, and maintenance services firm. Prior to the grand opening soiree, Planned Cos. president and CEO Robert Francis sat down with Multifamily Executive senior editor Chris Wood for an exclusive peek into the bleeding-edge academy that boldly goes where no commercial real estate operations training center has gone before.

Credit: The Planned Companies

MFE: First off, what does O.R.A.C.L.E. stand for?

FRANCIS: O.R.A.C.L.E. stands for Owned (by the students), Responsible (to the environment), Actively seeking (a better way), Client-centered (in results), Limitless (in possibility), and Excelling (at being the best). We had a company-wide contest to come up with an inspiring and motivating acronym for the center, and I thought that one was pretty cool. It was during my Lost phase, but even without that, I still thought it was great.

MFE: How long has this training center been in planning for Planned Cos.?

FRANCIS: We thought this training center was going to take eight months to build two years ago. The first email where we were putting everything together is time-stamped November 4, 2008, and it looks like we’re talking then about getting all of the different stations mapped out.

Credit: The Planned Companies

MFE: And it looks like you have workstation simulations across all kinds of janitorial, maintenance, management, and security segments?

FRANCIS: We really broke it down into 15 stations that we think represent the core of our business. We have a front-desk simulation that is linked up to 77 Hudson in Jersey City, which is a K. Hovnanian building that is advertised quite a bit and gets a lot of traffic. That shows the latest technologies for concierge systems and package tracking and resident alerts. We have a security gate house simulation that shows what active adult and corporate communities are using now in terms of looking at license plate capture and handling ingress and egress at gate houses. We have a green cleaning and maintenance model, which is an OSHA-certified safety workstation. There’s an entire simulation dealing with energy conservation and the monitoring of utilities. There’s a station that simulates being on top of a roof showing mechanical and drainage systems. There’s a landscaping module. It's quite comprehensive.

MFE: It sounds like Starfleet Academy for commercial real estate operations.

FRANCIS: It’s pretty amazing. We’ve got a fire suppression station; there’s an elevator that we tricked out so it thinks it is going up and down when really the doors are opening and closing, and within the simulator, you can see the hydraulics. There’s a pool station, a concrete and asphalt station. It’s got everything.

Credit: The Planned Companies

MFE: Is it important now more than ever to really focus on operations platforms?

FRANCIS: Absolutely. We hope O.R.A.C.L.E. will be a great way of getting everyone comfortable with understanding really of all these very important building functions. We think it can be a differentiator for management companies and developers. You can’t be an expert in everything, but these are all huge line-item cost centers to any asset.

MFE: So you’ll continue to hammer home the need for training and education?

FRANCIS: Again, absolutely. We were privileged to have the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) conduct three of their five foundations courses here at O.R.A.C.L.E. prior to the grand opening. We want to have seminars and training and webinars and bring the best real estate organizations—the BOMAs, the IREMs, the National Apartment Associations—and their members in for training. We want to be an ongoing, active center where the lights are on, and there are always things going on.