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News & opinion

22 MRZ 2019

How is technology impacting what it means to be a professional?

If we fail to anticipate and respond to changes in the market brought about by technology, are we in danger of threatening the values of professionalism we seek to uphold – honesty, integrity and the ability to provide the best advice to our clients?

Advances in technology are changing the roles of professionals across all industries and geographies. Today, it is being used to increase efficiencies in existing ways of working.

Doctors can consult with patients remotely using video-conferencing tools, enabling higher degrees of responsiveness to those in need of advice. Accountants can manage documents, emails and reporting more efficiently, freeing up time to focus on more revenue-generating tasks.

In the built environment sector, real-time reporting on building performance and automated residential valuations are just two examples of increased efficiencies enabled by technology.

Over time, however, technology will call into question the very nature of what it means to be a professional, as clients become increasingly comfortable with relying on rapidly advancing technologies to fulfil their needs.

For our profession to survive, we’ll need to work alongside these technologies to ensure our continued ability to provide sound, ethical advice.

Technology is changing client demands

Establishing long-term relationships has always required demonstrating a commitment to ethics, but the nature of what it means to be ethical is changing. In part, this is because technology is providing us with greater access to information about ethical issues, such as the impact of non-sustainable development on climate change and communities around the world.  

Satellite rocket launch
Satellite monitoring technology is enabling us to identify early warning signs of structural changes taking place within existing infrastructure

As a result, ‘ethics’ is no longer just something that’s nice to talk about. Taking responsibility for our carbon footprint and understanding the role of property in contributing to social values, is now a major factor in whether clients want to do business with us and has become part and parcel of what it means to be a professional.

Technology is providing tools to meet these demands

Understanding the impact of creating and maintaining built assets on people, society and the environment requires us to utilise technology. For example, digital twins can predict the impact of developments on air quality, climate and natural resource before work begins.

Similarly, satellite monitoring technology is enabling us to identify early warning signs of structural changes taking place within existing infrastructure. Take Sille, for example. Launched by AS Datel, a geographical information systems developer, Sille allows users to constantly monitor the physical condition of infrastructure including buildings, bridges, railways, roads, harbours and mines.

In the US, 339,000 people die from wildfire smoke each year, in part because climate change caused by the burning of fossil-fuels has extended forest-fire season by 78 days since 1970.

This type of software can help inform decisions about what measures should be taken to mitigate risks to people and the environment. This could include upgrading facades that have become dangerous as a result of material degradation, for example.

As clients increasingly want to see evidence for decisions based in data rather than narrative reports, utilising these tools is not only our professional responsibility, but essential for business success. 

“Real estate developers are increasingly interested in showing positive social impact when seeking approval. King’s Cross has a physical boundary line, but its impact has rippled much further.” – RICS Ethics in the Built Environment roundtable, MIPIM

How can we respond to changes?

Identify priorities on a case-by-case basis

Different countries, different cities and different projects have different priorities. In the US, 339,000 people die from wildfire smoke each year, in part because climate change caused by the burning of fossil-fuels has extended forest-fire season by 78 days since 1970.

Our professionals, supported by technology, can play a huge role in finding ways of reducing the amount of emissions released into the Earth’s atmosphere. For example, technology can support decisions to invest more heavily in the performance-related aspects of buildings such as heating, ventilation or air-conditioning systems by providing data-based evidence about the positive impact this could have on the environment.

Glasses and computer
Technology will call into question the very nature of what it means to be a professional

In China, on the other hand, air quality is the biggest risk to life. In 2013, smog was the cause of a third of all deaths in the country. We know this because of advances in technology that allow us to measure air quality. We also know that using building materials such as hemp could lock up 30-35kg of CO2 per square metre. This kind of solution could be one small but significant way of upholding our values as professionals and making a real difference to the clients we serve.

Upgrade skillsets

Understanding how to effectively respond to changes in the market brought about by technology will require upgrading skillsets. How can we understand which technologies and solutions to adopt when making key decisions about a project?

Answering this question requires a joined learning approach, across markets and built environment sectors.

“We can no longer work in silos, it is time to work collectively,” RICS Responsible Business Practices, MIPIM.

We shouldn’t be waiting for government to impose measures on businesses to be socially and environmentally responsible before changing our practices.

“The climate will soon force us to incorporate sustainability measures into real estate value, particularly in high risk areas,” RICS Performance for Value roundtable, MIPIM.

Let’s act now.

Professionalism, ethics and technology

Technology is providing us with real opportunities to create better built environments. It is part of what it means to be a professional to make use of the tools available to ensure we’re providing the best possible advice to our clients. Only then can we uphold the values of professionalism and ensure a sustainable future for the people and societies we serve.

“We aren’t simply trying to mimic existing processes to create the same buildings we’ve always created. With technology, we can make existing processes better to create better built environments,” RICS Accelerating Investment in Green Finance roundtable, MIPIM.