PlaceTech brought together more than 100 property professionals to discuss the technology set to have a profound impact on our industry and the built environment.
Held at Manchester’s Bright Building and chaired by PlaceTech publisher Paul Unger, the event revolved around the biggest trends in property technology, from the rising importance of workplace wellness to software for delivering insights into how buildings are being used. PlaceTech Trend Talk Manchester was organised in association with Mills & Reeve, Bruntwood and Manchester Science Partnerships, OBI Property and Redwood Consulting.
The event also saw the launch of the PlaceTech TRENDS Q1 2018 report which maps the trends and innovators transforming the sector.
Smart microgrids are the future of energy
The event opened with Tom Renn and Bev Taylor, managing director and head of energy at Manchester Science Partnerships, discussing the state of energy in Britain, and the technology that can optimise the delivery – and cost – of electricity.
- The development of smart buildings and smart infrastructure such as electrified transport systems, including future autonomous car grids, will increase energy demands. During peak times in the day when demand is high, costs can be high, particularly for corporate users who only use energy at these times. At the same time, there is a growing need to reduce our carbon footprint as a city and country – hence the growth of renewable energy sources, whose intermittent generation contributes to peaks and troughs in the supply of electricity.
- Micro-grids are decentralised energy systems that can operate outside the central grid – and this technology can solve the so-called Energy Trilemma: the conflicting aspects of sustainability, affordability of energy, and the security of the supply. Buildings that install their own microgrids can store energy for later use, or sell it through the main grid.
- For property companies, this ability to “shift” – save energy purchased at cheaper off-peak times for use during peak demand – lowers costs. This is especially important as the price of energy is set to rise dramatically in the coming years.
- Within in the next five to 10 years, we’ll see more flexibility in the supply of energy according to demand, thanks to the proliferation of smart microgrid technology. The technology is currently commercially viable, and by 2030, there will be a 45% increase in new electricity connections made via microgrids.
- The goals of this technology will be to ensure an uninterrupted supply, reduce the environmental impact by allowing companies to store and generate energy for sharing, and protect against price fluctuations.
So how can property companies get in on this?
- Fundraising from major corporate research and development budgets can help make the business case. For example, the Bright Building, which invested £250,000 into a microgrid system including Tesla grid storage batteries, raised the funds through a grant from Innovate UK as well as funding from CityVerve, Lloyds Bank, and Tesla, as well as reserves from Bruntwood, majority shareholder, and Manchester Science Partnerships itself.
- Once the system is in place, revenue stacking is key: pick several ways to monetise the extra battery energy available which “suit your assets, requirements and risk appetite,” advised Renn.
Bonus: A sustainable, affordable, reliable energy supply is a unique selling point for a tenant to choose a building. As Taylor noted, “Smart cities need smart grids.”
Landlords are seeing the value in flexible, high-design workspaces
Nicola Woods from OBI Property discussed the changing nature of work and its impact on landlords and office buildings.
“Landlords are adapting to occupiers’ demands and new ways of working to focus on flexibility,” she said. “Investment in the workplace is incredibly important, as a good environment can progress productivity and staff’s mental wellbeing.”
Technology businesses, which took up 35% of new leases in Manchester in 2016 with a predicted ongoing rise through 2019, could be influencing the cultural shift towards flexible working and more attractive office environments. These aspects would be a competitive edge that can attract corporate teams who work long hours as well as startups who need flexibility in lease and space.
These are the types of features and tech increasingly in demand in office buildings, Woods said:
- Sensors under desks can now monitor how actively used a space is and if it’s not in use can encourage adapting that space for something else or scaling down occupancy to a more efficient level
- Community cohesion. Cafes, gyms and flexible-use meeting rooms, as well as indoor and outdoor communal areas for relaxation. There’s also a trend towards including other leisure aspects like bars and restaurants, and making life easier for employees with facilities such as banking and cycle to work schemes
- Collaborative workspaces as well as coworking areas where corporate employees may mingle with freelancers and startups
- Wellness-focused features are increasingly desired, especially as people spend majority of time in their office, particularly biophilic design: the presence of plants and natural materials has been found to increase productivity by 20%
- Agile working environment, from a variety of workspaces beyond the desk, to flexible floorplates to give occupiers the ultimate blank canvas
Blockchain could transform how property business is conducted
Neil Singer, CEO of clicktopurchase, an online auction house and blockchain property sales platform, took the stage to discuss how blockchain technology could transform the property industry.
- The benefits of a blockchain database are two-fold: It’s powerfully encrypted so the data cannot be changed, and it’s a decentralised record that doesn’t require a third-party to verify, which has particular potential for efficiencies in how property transactions are conducted. “When you think about removing an intermediary, that’s what has a huge impact on the property industry,” Singer said.
- One of the most powerful features possible for a blockchain database is the smart contract, which allows automated verification of contract terms such as identity and credit rating (against an external blockchain database of such information), thus reducing time for mortgage applications, title exchange and other document-heavy processes in the property cycle.
- However, companies should ensure they have a solid business case for using blockchain technology as there is a cost to investing in a blockchain system and overhauling existing practices. Also remember that “a blockchain database will not make bad data good,” Singer warned. In other words, businesses should analyse the quality of their data, and whether there will be enough efficiencies from migrating to a blockchain system to justify the initial investment. All that said, Singer was sanguine: “In the last few months, the blockchain buzz has come at an extraordinary pace. I encourage everyone to embrace it and learn about it.”
Technology will provide deeper insights into how a building is used
Three CEOs from innovative proptech companies took the stage to showcase how their products can impact property management, from pre-sale to post-occupancy.
In the increasingly active sector of smart building management, Hark is a cloud platform to monitor and analyse environmental data in real time, able to integrate with legacy systems – no additional hardware required.
Hark can analyse data from a wide range of sensors, such as carbon dioxide levels, temperature and humidity, which can deliver critical insights into indoor air quality and energy use. “Our platform is designed to predict when issues [such as energy supply or maintenance problems] might arise,” said CEO Jordan Appleson. Energy is a hot topic at present: Appleson also noted that Hark can track peaks and troughs in the energy demand of large buildings such as supermarkets and analyse when to shift surplus energy or turn off particular systems to store energy.
Aimed at asset owners in retail, PlaceDashboard is a platform for tracking and analysing how shoppers behave, based on footfall and carpark sensors at over 300,000 locations in the UK. “What we offer is a way to capture not just what people do on a business’s site, but what they do when they’re off it as well,” CEO Clive Hall explained. The data is used to create performance indices that allows businesses to understand the impact of various events on customer behaviour and store visits, from the opening of a new branch, to a coffee cart setting up nearby.
The company, which has been trading for four years, tracks about one million individuals through anonymised phone data – creating about 300 million data points per day. (Hall assured the audience the company is fully GDPR-compliant.) Over time, its algorithms build patterns of user behaviour through a particular retail site, with impact for councils, real estate professionals, advertising and media, as well as retail and leisure owners.
Closing out the product showcase was Mikus Opelts, CEO of Giraffe360, a Swiss Army knife of a 3D camera, designed for real estate agents to create virtual reality tours of a property, as well as high-quality pictures, videos, and laser-calculated floorplans. Opelts said: “Over the last decade, property presentation has evolved beyond good photography. Virtual reality tours are the future of online viewing. Our mission is to enable it – Giraffe360 can create premium visuals outside, inside, in a basement and with bad lighting.” For agents, the benefits lie in the cost savings on multimedia creation, a faster route to sales and more options for clients, particularly remote or overseas buyers.
A short panel with these three exhibitors highlighted a final, critical proptech trend of the talk: The software-as-a-service business model.
PlaceDashboard and Hark do not sell any hardware sensors, instead integrating with businesses’ existing sensors, while Giraffe360 provides the camera for free. Each company charges users a subscription fee to use their service (in the case of Giraffe 360, if no imagery is created, then no fee is charged). Without the time and cost of hardware installation, businesses can be up and running far more quickly.
Videos of all the presentations and discussions can be viewed on our YouTube channel
Manchester Science Partnerships, Bruntwood, OBI Property, Redwood Consulting and Mills & Reeve were sponsors of this first Trend Talk, held at The Bright Building, a testing ground for new technology that can improve how buildings across Manchester service its community of scientists and entrepreneurs.
The next Trend Talk is due to take place on 17 July 2018 in Amsterdam – click here for more information and tickets.
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