13 themes from FUTURE: PropTech

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Nicola Byrne + Paul Unger

What was hot and what was not on the conference stages and exhibition floor at the biggest ever pure proptech gathering in the UK.

1. Developer briefs to technical teams have changed, according to Michael Beaven, building services director at Arup, presenting from the commercial stage. Briefs have gone from ‘we want a data centre please’ to ‘if we are doing a data centre, we want it to be the greenest data centre in the world’, using Arup client Citigroup’s approach to their Citibank Data Centre project as an example.

2. Autonomous vehicles. Full-scale commercial adoption of self-driving cars is predicted to be a decade away and many are preparing for the inevitable driverless world. The effect on property will be significant and the driving (sorry) notion of ‘location, location, location’ may have to be reconsidered. Areas with long commutes will be more accessible, parking structures will be freed up and moved outside of city centres creating space, and budget hotels may be affected as breaks won’t be needed when travelling to rest.

3. Techies attempting to scale up and grab the opportunity as property begins buying face an investment dilemma: develop the product or build a sales and marketing team. Some young startups don’t want to spend on sales until the product potential is reached but know that property may end buying the most visible, best-marketed products, even if they are not the best solution, just the loudest. Brendan Wallace, founder of specialist VC fund Fifth Wall, said his concern was smaller companies’ ideas will be stolen: it is about strength of execution rather than strength of idea now.

Future Proptech 2018 Panoramic Cropped

4. Using tech for people. The White Collar Factory was among those cited as well-designed with engineering that engages occupiers rather than distances them, often with seemingly old-fashioned ideas such as the option of manual opening windows or air conditioning – everyone chose to open the windows. Apps for engaging people in communities are rising such as District Technologies, where you can find local yoga classes and earn credits on coffee if you attend so many classes.

5. Building responsive cities. Proptech innovators are striving to transform city environments and engage people with solutions that enhance their lives as they journey through public spaces. Intersection is leading the way with its product Link which provides free Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging and an interactive tablet – there are currently 2,000 Link points in New York and 50 in London.

6. Space as a service. Consumers are now wanting experiences and flexibility rather than ownership e.g. Uber instead of a car, and real estate is no exception. The ‘space as a service’ phenomenon is building as leases running to years are not suitable for new companies who grow rapidly. Paying only for what you need on a monthly easy-in, easy-out basis is on the rise.

7. The S-word. Does everything have to have ‘smart’ in front of it now? Ubiquity has become numbing. The eyerolling backlash has started. Expect a fresh buzzword or phrase by the summer.

8. The other S-word: skills. The skills of a building manager, for instance, are broadening now to be able to work with real-time dashboards of connected, integrated, monitored systems of sensors producing lots of lovely data.

9. This is leading to a new procurement. A building management system is not just that, it is an always-on piece of IT running in the background: ‘calm technology’. This will need vision and clear leadership to master for large property companies.

10. Skills in real estate arose at the show in another way: you don’t have to have an estate management degree or know someone in the industry to get into property. Digital teams are hiring from other backgrounds including geology and geography (GIS training), science (data reading) and creatives (customer experience, brand, look-and-feel). The outcome is hopefully a more diverse property community and better for it.

11. Businesses are buying, maybe not at the inflection point of fundamental change of iPhone adoption a decade ago, says Realla co-founder Andrew Miles, but they are buying.

12. No one likes talking about blockchain other than to say how stupidly overhyped it is and sick of hearing about it they are.

13. Benchmarking. Fully-open shared data across the industry may be a long way off but it is starting among clients of the same service. Several software companies are canvassing clients to see if they want to opt-in to share anonymised data to rank their performance against the competition, and the majority are saying yes, according to one large US firm.

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