Property technology: facing the future
31 October 2017
Property technology can help building surveyors add value and face the future, maintains Anthony Walker
In 1975, Steven Sasson – a young engineer at Eastman Kodak – invented the first digital camera. Weighing 3.6kg, it produced 0.01-megapixel, black-and-white images that were recorded on to a cassette tape and took 23 seconds to process. The potential of this invention was not grasped by Kodak, which at the time sold 90% of the photographic film and 85% of the cameras in the USA.
Today, photography has been transformed by this positive ‘disruption’. In recognition of his contribution to this development, Sasson was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2009, and in 2012 received the Royal Photographic Society’s Progress Medal and Honorary Fellowship. Kodak meanwhile did make money from the digital camera patent until it ran out in 2007 – but it had embraced digital technology too late, and in 2012 it filed for bankruptcy.
This demonstrates that no matter how successful a company is, unless the services it offers continually improve and respond to clients’ needs in a timely manner, there will come a point where its client base will go elsewhere. Customer loyalty only exists where you continue to give them what they want at a price they are willing to pay.
Although building surveying is not directly comparable to photography, the impact of what is sometimes known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is just as strong: no fewer than 88% of the core tasks of surveying are ripe for automation, according to a recent RICS insight paper on the impact of emerging technologies (see the RICS insight paper: The impact of emerging technologies on the surveying profession and page 4 of the RICS Building surveying journal (October/November 2017).
Although building surveying is a profession that has seen increased use of property technology – proptech – over recent years, the speed of adoption has been slow.
Proptech is a powerful way of adding value to the services we provide, and there is similar potential in the wider surveying profession. Nonetheless, there will always be demand for building surveyors who have specialist knowledge, experience and the ability to think reflectively to inform the advice they give. In fact, the building surveyor of tomorrow will need additional skills to respond to the changing landscape: the Fourth Industrial Revolution will drive the pace of change to unprecedented rates, having an impact on almost every part of our lives.
We will only be ready for this if we can recruit and retain talented employees, and we will lose them if we cannot offer the level of connectivity that they expect. Embracing proptech can broaden the appeal of the profession to those who in the past may have had a narrow image of the profession based on hard hats, high-vis jackets and muddy boots.
Data is the currency
The building surveying services we offer can also gain substantial advantages from a data-driven approach in gathering asset management information.
Acquisition, schedules of condition, planned preventative maintenance, building reinstatement cost assessments, energy auditing, access audits and dilapidations are all benefitting from the use of proptech, for instance.
Data-driven conversations give clients the evidence to plan investment in assets as needed
Data is the currency of the digital economy. In procurement, for example, data-driven conversations enable clients to take a long-term but also very specific view, rather than receiving short-term, ad hoc advice that can prove more time-consuming and expensive.
The ability to generate robust, consistent and accurate data in turn enables strategic procurement, reduces risk and can generate efficiencies greater than the cost of the initial survey alone.
Knowledge is power. Data provided by advanced technologies enables real-estate owners to understand their assets better; maintain their condition; meet lease and statutory obligations; process transactions quickly; and access instantaneous asset management information. All of this makes transactions more efficient and creates commercial benefits. New processes and the use of technology are not simply desirable: they are adding value across the industry.
In the UK, it is estimated that £50bn is spent each year on property asset repair and maintenance. Data-driven conversations give clients the evidence they need to plan for investment in assets as needed, rather than awarding budgets simply according to their gut feelings or to those who shout the loudest.
Technology is also showing where clients can afford not to spend money, releasing cash for alternative investment purposes as well as allowing the disposal of assets to be targeted.
Proptech benefits include:
- a customer-focused service, pre-empting and responding to need real-time sharing of information to ensure transparency and collaboration
- data consistency
- more streamlined and effective quality and assurance processes
- increased accuracy of data and better quality control
- evidence that can be used to inform investment decisions
- procurement efficiencies
- better and more reliable outcomes.
The issues raised by proptech prompted a debate at the Building Surveying Professional Group Board (BSPGB), for which I am the proptech lead. Consequently, we explored the issues and identified what we could do to help demystify proptech for building surveyors – from sole practitioners to those working for large organisations.
We decided to focus initially on a single service area – a planned preventative maintenance (PPM) survey – to highlight the added value of proptech to both the building surveyor and the client.
In February, a PPM survey was carried out of the RICS HQ in Parliament Square, London led by Trident Building Consultancy, which carried out the fabric survey and programme management.
Troup Bywaters + Anders gathered information on the mechanisms and this was recorded on iPads using Kykloud asset management software. A detailed report and a maintenance schedule were generated with Kykloud, using existing report templates.
The survey outputs provided to the RICS Facilities Management team enabled a clear understanding of the issues and helped to plan future works. Proptech was employed to record, assure the quality of the data and produce a comprehensive, detailed and accurate report and data set that RICS was immediately able to use in order to prioritise investment.
The outcome of the process was presented at the RICS Building Surveying Conference in April and live-streamed across the world. Proptech has also been added as a standard agenda item on all the future BSPGB meetings.
In September, a drone survey of RICS’ HQ is being used to record high-resolution and thermal images and create a 3D model that will be linked to the existing building model.
This autumn and next spring BSPGB will be undertaking a series of university visits to inform students and staff of the project, raising awareness of the increasing role of proptech and the opportunities it presents.
In the coming months, the BSPGB will work closely with the rest of RICS to explore how various separate sets of data can be connected to add greater value for the profession. The survey of RICS’ HQ, the process, workflows and outputs, will be used to help broaden the understanding of proptech among building surveyors, and the BSPGB will respond to their feedback.
It is difficult to predict accurately which of the technologies that currently surround us will have the greatest impact on our profession over the next few years, given the speed of change.
It is easier to predict that the role of the building surveyor will continue to change as new opportunities present themselves. Our ability to respond with agility will determine how the role of surveyors is perceived in the future.
Anthony Walker is a director at Trident Building Consultancy