10 themes from FUTURE: PropTech

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Nicola Byrne + Paul Unger

What was hot on the conference stages and exhibition floor at the biggest ever pure proptech gathering in the UK?

The one-day show was attended by nearly 2,000 people and held at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London. The theme for this year’s show was ‘open collaboration’.

Future Proptech 2019 Interior

Sustainability was on the lips of many people at the show. Rosanna Lawn of Yoo Living, speaking on one panel debate, said the new generation of customers were passionate about environmental issues and demanded to know if the buildings they live and work in were sustainable and used clean energy.

Modular housing adoption is set to accelerate. Conveniently, the announcement that Japan’s largest housebuilder was investing in Urban Splash’s modular business alongside Homes England, a UK government body, came on the morning of event. Mark Farmer, author of the well-quoted ‘Modernise or die’ report on construction methods, told the audience this was a big moment for the industry and it’s been a long time coming.

“Europe is two years behind the US when it comes to digital transformation,” according to Roelof Opperman, principal of VC fund Fifth Wall. He believes this is due to the more conservative market in the UK, rather than a reflection of the tech on offer.

“The Response is full on!” There were certainly no fears from Matthew Gahan of JLL that real estate would become the Blockbuster to other industries’ Netflix. There is huge interest in digital transformation in every property company he meets, Gahan told the ‘Future is Now’ stage.

The industry is still chatting about landlords having to change their mindset from tenants to customers, focusing on service. For this still to be so high on the agenda, does it show this cultural shift is happening too slowly?

The fintech guys wandering around the sea of proptech were not impressed by the innovations they had seen, one pointed around the room and exclaimed with exasperation “what’s new?!” Perhaps the stats about investment in proptech overtaking fintech – Michael Beckerman of CRETech said the pace of investment is extraordinary, from $50m in 2012 to $10bn this year – ruffled a few fintech feathers.

Hongqi Guo Future

China’s phenomenal urbanising project is about to embrace European proptech. Hongqi Guo from Yitong Design gave the London audience a rare insight into the Chinese city growth story, fuelled uniquely by land nationalisation and a strict personal identity system, he said. Large projects can take three months from the decision to build to completion. He is now helping the Chinese government source the best in European technology to implement in the next wave of construction.

The role of disruption in retail has been accelerated by tech, such as automating processes in logistics. The industry is the most volatile it’s been, said Mark Bourgeois of Hammerson, but retail isn’t dead. Those retailers focusing on their warehouse space, using data to make operations quicker and more efficient, and on experience are the ones surviving.

AI is hot. There was a lot of interest in Spacemaker, the Oslo computerised design tool that crunches through tens of thousands of apartment designs and factors such as light and layout to produce the best options for your development in a couple of hours.

Blockchain is no longer hot. Notable only by its absence yesterday. Bar a mention in passing in the Geovation and Land Registry presentation on their smart contract trial.

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