Technology in the property sector is not a new thing, but recently it feels as though there is a significant shift in its use and adoption and it is starting to have a fundamental impact on our jobs and the buildings that we use, writes Dan Hughes in PlaceTech TRENDS Q1 2018.
In such a large and diverse sector, it is no surprise that different organisations, and indeed people within the same organisations are at different stages of engaging with technology.
Everyone adapts to and uses it in different ways and at different speeds, but I think there are six broad stages by which you can judge the technology maturity of a company.
There are a number of people in the property industry who remain confident that nothing is going to change. The property sector hasn’t dramatically evolved for many years, so perhaps this scepticism is understandable. However, there are now very real examples of things being done differently, so it is surprising that some people are still convinced that property is insulated from the change that is happening around the world. Google, Amazon and Facebook are all global tech companies that are now turning their attention to the built environment.
I have spoken to a number of people who have recited how they had the exact same conversations 20 years ago about different technology, and that nothing has changed. It has. The speed of development, processing power and volume of data are increasing exponentially, barriers to entry are plummeting and customer expectations are transforming.
2. Support tool
Once people realise that technology is having an impact, it is often rationalised by the view that it is ‘just a support tool.’ We have a website, CRM and a laptop, so we have the technology angle covered. Of course, all of these are vital for modern day business, but this misses the point of the bigger picture and are all based on traditional processes and methods. This stage can give people a false sense of comfort.
The next stage is that businesses realise that change is happening and they put proptech on the agenda. They start talking about it in the market or start small initiatives to reflect this. This is a step in the right direction and it can be a good way to get started, but this is often still based on the assumption that the sector is not fundamentally changing, and can sometimes be more of a publicity initiative, than a fundamental part of the business strategy.
The next stage is an awareness that something more fundamental is happening. Whilst this can seem alarming this is also where most people realise that technology is not just a threat, but can also be a huge opportunity. Technology is good at the tasks that we don’t typically like to do and vice versa. This is the breakthrough stage where there is a realisation that technology is changing business models and along with the threats, can bring huge benefit.
5. Weighing up benefits
The penultimate stage is where businesses actively try things out, but the focus is often on identifying the best long-term technology solution. There can be a lot to choose from! This can be a bit bemusing but testing products and weighing up the benefits that they bring is a crucial step. It is important to keep in mind that things change so fast, that there is often no right or wrong answer, there is certainly no ‘one solution fits all for many years to come’ any more.
The last and final step is that technology is not really talked about, it is just the norm. All the focus on technology is great if you are at the earlier stages, but in truth technology should never be the focal point. The property sector is all about building better environments for people to work and live in. Technology is a powerful enabler, but it is just an enabler.
So where are you and your organisation on this journey?
The real danger is thinking you are at a different stage from where you actually are. Each stage comes with increased understanding that all the talk about proptech isn’t really about technology itself, it is about a fundamental shift in the property sector enabled by technology.
Property has always changed very slowly and the barriers to entry were huge. Neither of these are true anymore. As a sector we will need to embrace constant change, doing things because ‘we’ve always done it like that’ will become increasingly unsustainable.
The property sector is at a really exciting point and it is vital that people know where they are and have a digital strategy to reach the business-as-usual stage. Things are changing and if companies do not recognise and react to this, others will take the lead.