How can disruption positively impact your work?

Stephanie Bentley

Prop Tech Product Executive, Data and Information Products Group (RICS)

Innovative enhancements in technology and changing customer demands are impacting the way businesses operate. There are as many opportunities for real estate professionals as there are threats but as a traditionally slow moving industry, a degree of patience is needed as businesses move forward to meet new demands.

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This was one of the key messages that came out of our discussion with industry leaders from PiLabs, Great Portland Estates and Cushman & Wakefield at the UK Summit. Below is a summary of the discussion.

The most innovative technology our panellists have seen so far?

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI has enormous potential in the real estate industry, automating repetitive tasks to create spare time for people to redistribute their daily activities and produce higher value outcomes. It was suggested that in 10-15 years’ time, the big corporates will move away from being surveyors and will instead be advisory firms due to impacts of AI.

The panel emphasised that opportunities around AI are available for larger and smaller companies alike; in fact, smaller companies are arguably more agile and keener to collaborate and therefore have a huge opportunity to change quickly and respond to market demand.

Virtual reality (VR)

VR is already prevalent within the industry, giving professionals a window into future developments before they have begun. There is currently a lot of investment in London from the Far East for example:

VR is a medium to connect people who may be sitting in Hong Kong or Singapore, with the product.

The technology will only continue to improve as ‘virtual habitats’, which have the ability to make you feel like you’re in the office (right down to smells and sounds) develop; as these become more and more realistic, spaces where people work will become ever more flexible. This however, did not come without a cautionary word around the fact that although some people will find real benefit in being able to work from anywhere, others will feel isolated by it. There is no one size fits all. The key is for businesses to be adaptable in order to get the most out of employees.

Blockchain

Blockchain is streamlining the process of buying and selling property. A challenge identified by the panel is that blockchain is an ‘all or nothing game’; every piece of information is needed within the chain in order to see the real benefits of the technology. It was predicted that widespread adoption of blockchain will not happen overnight; instead we will likely see a steady growth period but when it is adopted, it will be completely transformative.

Blockchain was described to me the other day: When you type in ‘https://’ you don’t know what that means but you do it… blockchain will be like that. It’s been described many times as the next internet.

The biggest challenge for our industry?

Three areas were identified as ripe for improvement within the industry if it is to adapt to the changing landscape:

  1. An improved ability for rapid funding
  2. The ability to go to market quickly through social media
  3. A greater understanding of how technology can enable/enhance business

Cyber-crime

Another challenge area identified was cyber-crime; the panellist suggested that recent events involving the NHS is only the start of something much bigger. If attacks like this become more frequent, maintaining trust in everything that is online may become a real challenge.

While we’re on the topic of trust…

The decision to invest [in technology] is less about the money and more about trust in the platform to deliver what you want it to.

Until there is trust in the market that technology deployed within a building will work all of the time in all of the ways that occupiers want it to, there will be a reluctance to adopt it.

Supply chain logistics

Adidas has recently started using robots to make its trainers at a factory in Germany. The robots, which are made in China, produce the shoes in Germany which can then be delivered to customers all over the world. This was just one example used, but how to deal with differing supply chain logistics may prove challenging. 

Brexit

There was a general feel in the room that there is going to be some movement in the market because of Brexit, but that it’s not going to be as big as some of the headlines suggest and will depend on individual sectors. In the technology industry, it’s all about talent; wherever there is talent, technology companies will go.

Traditional attitudes

There are investors who are willing to fund the necessary disruption and there are some great people who are prepared to take risks. However, changing the attitudes of some existing people within businesses to make necessary changes is important. The panel argued that the industry is moving radically away from where its traditionally been; change managers who understand the psychology of people, how they buy property and how they want a service delivered to them, are needed.

The biggest opportunity?

Transport

We only use our car for 5% of its life; 27% of all office urban land mass is taken up by car parking in North America and 23% of their car driving life is spent looking for a car parking space.

It was agreed that the transport piece is a big challenge but it also carries with it incredible opportunities.

The sharing economy

We occupy a building for 8 hours a day yet it operates for 24 hours a day; the sharing economy can teach us invaluable things that our businesses and our industry needs to get to grips with.

Workspaces

Workspaces are changing; there is a growing need for space that is smart, connected and responsive. The ground floors of offices are becoming more open and expansive; we are increasingly seeing ground floors of office spaces as hubs for people to work together. Businesses that can achieve flexible, productive, happy work spaces are likely to thrive.

What should businesses do to capitalise on the opportunities?

  • Look after occupiers and provide them with a real service
  • Maximise the value of the people in your workforce which will become more competitive as a result
  • Talent is the Holy Grail, invest in it!

What’s next?

There will be new techniques to create a different way of looking at property; valuers are starting to look at real estate not only in terms of a single asset that can be bought and sold but also in terms of how a building is enabled by technology.

We may see a future whereby the value of the technology within a building is considered as a separate asset to that of the bricks and mortar; this hasn’t come yet but is something that people are beginning to talk about…

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