Surveying technology

Change is an opportunity

18 February 2016

Conor Moran explains the benefits of modern technology for surveyors

It was late 2010 and I was on site completing a survey in Belfast in the pouring rain. My notepad was getting soaked, leaving my notes illegible.

I thought about going back to spend hours in the office, transferring hundreds of photos from my camera to my computer, then having to identify and tag them before I sorted them into the right sections of the report. Then there was the drudgery of transcribing all my notes in order to draft and format the final report, essentially duplicating the process. I was exasperated: surely there must be a more efficient way.

Time is the most precious commodity for surveyors, who are not risk-takers by nature. I had to develop a solution that could quickly prove a help with reporting, as well as saving time and mitigating risk. With this in mind, I partnered with industry groups and set about creating a product for the surveyor’s armoury that would add value by offering real, tangible benefits while being intuitive.

GoReport was born, and its first customers, which included one of the world’s leading consultancies, were secured in 2011. I then started work in earnest on building a relationship with RICS.

We engaged with academic institutions and were able to produce digital versions of the RICS suite of HomeBuyer reports. Working with professional groups, we also digitalised templates for a range of types of surveys.

Time is the most precious commodity for surveyors, who are not risk-takers by nature

However, our immediate experience was that although there was an appetite for change, there was also resistance to adoption. Because the majority of residential surveyors are sole traders or small businesses, we knew that we had to create a product that would allow for a seamless transition from traditional to digital. The intention was not just to make their lives easier when it came to reporting, but to make surveyors more productive and efficient, allowing them to take on more jobs: time equals money.

Proven methods or technology?

Pen and paper has sufficed for a long time. It has generally been reliable and trustworthy, and as with processes in many businesses, there just had not been a better solution. But there are many problems that come with pen and paper reporting, especially when trying to maintain the quality and reliability of a comprehensive audit trail.

The advantage of using one device for all data capture (including photos, notes, video, audio/dictation and sketches) is that it vastly enriches the audit trail of a report from start to finish. That gives a sense of security, considering the levels of accountability associated with the job. There are few business processes where a level of efficiency cannot be added by using technology, as has been proved repeatedly in other industries.

Resistance to change

I am fully aware that surveyors do not normally take risks. This is an understandable trait, given the huge responsibility and liability placed on the professional’s shoulders, including creating precise reports that drive decisions that can have significant financial implications.

But there comes a point when you have to be willing to take a risk. While your organisation is standing still, you invariably see your competitors whizz past as they adopt and adapt to new ways of working.

A surveyor friend summed it up well when he said: “Two to three years ago, it was a case of 'If my company would move to mobile technology ...'. Now it’s a case of 'when'.” At the moment, many companies are undertaking this anticipatory change. They are looking ahead and know that the change from old-style pen and paper methods to cloud-based software is inevitable.

Most companies know that the change from old-style pen and paper methods to cloud-based software is inevitable

But this is not as simple as it sounds, because with a new way of thinking comes fear of the unknown. It is difficult for company executives to judge future threats, opportunities and, most importantly, the return on investment that come with any new business process. However, if implemented correctly the rewards can be far-reaching, while resistance to change can ultimately become a severe competitive hindrance to a company.

The world went through the industrial revolution at the beginning of the 19th century, when powered machinery changed the methods of working globally. So it is with technology: many industries have already welcomed advances in this area and streamlined their processes, which in turn has helped to boost productivity and profit generation.

Industry needs

In the past decade, firms have become increasingly stretched due to the demand for their services and the shortage of professionals on their books. The rising age of property professionals and the dearth of graduate entrants have been well documented. It seems that these problems are only going to be exacerbated. In 2014, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland published a report, Graduate employment trends in construction and property surveying after members had indicated their increasing frustrations in recruiting qualified graduate surveyors.

This report, which gave a quantified projection of the problems facing Ireland in the next four years, contained alarming comments such as: “Based on the conservative forecast, the shortage of surveying professionals will be in the region of 24%.”

According to RICS research, by 2020 54% of the surveying sector’s 10,000 businesses will be turning down some 27,000 projects between them each year due to the lack of resources.

The heightened pressure of an increased workload on these professionals could lead to more instances of surveyors being found negligent by court and fined or disciplined for not demonstrating best practice following a RICS Regulatory Review visit. There is a realistic assumption that claims could rise as companies push their workforce to complete more jobs in less time.

Apart from enabling a surveyor to carry out more jobs, adoption of mobile technology can have a positive, long-term impact on risk management. This ranges from allowing the surveyor to dedicate more time to reflective thinking, through to ensuring that a comprehensive audit trail, supported by file notes, is available in the event of a claim.

Going forward

Working with RICS has enabled my organisation to meet the specific needs of the industry by reaching out to existing and potential customers.

RICS, which has always been very supportive of GoReport’s strategy, recognises the benefits of its software for surveyors in their daily working schedule; it is also very aware of the help that modern technology could provide the industry in dealing with some of the challenges.

In December 2014, GoReport held a SurveyTech roundtable discussion at RICS London headquarters. It was a valuable exercise and the feeling was one of significantly less resistance than my organisation had experienced in its early years. RICS and GoReport both believe that technology is the way forward and are excited and passionate about the positive effect it will have on chartered surveyors, both now and in the future.

A mobile solution

GoReport is designed to minimise risk and save precious time for the surveying industry. The software simplifies data capture in the field and significantly reduces the time taken to generate reports ready for review. It drives down administration costs and facilitates report delivery to clients up to 70% faster than pen and paper.

Conor Moran is Founder and Chief Operating Officer of GoReport

Further information 

This feature is taken from the RICS Property Journal December 2015/January 2016