Barry Jessup, First Base PlaceTech Trend Talk London
Barry Jessup, director of developer First Base, said property had waited years to see change from within and nothing happened

Change ‘won’t come from within property’

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Nicola Byrne

Changing the industry will come from people and companies outside property, according to Barry Jessup, director of developer First Base.

“One thing we know is the creativity and innovation that will impact real estate, will not come from within the real estate sector. We’ve been waiting decades for that to happen, it’s not going to happen,” said Jessup, speaking at the PlaceTech Trend Talk London event.

Watch Jessup’s full presentation here

“It’s going to come from the outside in, and what we need to do and what we have an obligation to do, in my opinion as a developer, is to provide people with the opportunity to fail, hopefully fail fast and on occasion, succeed.”

This isn’t just lip service from Jessup. First Base is currently carrying out various tech trials within its developments, one being the use of Built-ID for public consultation and the other District community engagement app.

First Base Built Id Give Me View

Give-my-View digitises community engagement for those who find it difficult to attend public meetings to provide their views on development plans

Also, First Base is working with local universities and colleges to allow them to trial fresh ideas in its projects. “We will provide within our developments, the opportunity to fail. We’ll create living labs, as we describe them, to allow people to test technology to see if it can have a beneficial impact,” added Jessup. “There’s some great architecture and work in the industry, but I think a lot of changes will come from outside our day-to-day work and we’re looking to embrace and adopt those as soon as possible.”

Big Tech is also bringing its influence into the sector, with the likes of Amazon investing in a modular housing startup and smart home tech, and Google backing property management software, AskPorter. Whilst Big Tech appears to be more focused on the automotive industry at the moment, what will happen when it turns its full gaze on buildings?

Jessup is surprised it hasn’t happened already: “It’s interesting because I think tech giants are finding it not quite as easy as they thought it would, but equally there’s so much innovation and so much R&D money that they will have an impact. I think there’ll be some dead dinosaurs in the property industry by the time they finish.”

This outside-in assertion was echoed by John Wills, associate director of Savills, who comes from a tech background in product management and has been tasked with the challenge of transferring those skills into property.

Referring to himself as a shepherd within the global property firm, Wills job is to guide property management into the future, try and channel discussions between different departments, and inform system strategies.

“We talk a lot about customer experience in the property sector and improving customer experience but what we’re really talking about is product management. The idea of placemaking as a term is very much a product-orientated term, it’s about creating something that’s desirable,” said Wills.

“Property has always been a product, and property works best when you have a desirable product. It’s interesting when you look at the operating models of WeWork and Edge Technologies, what they are creating and what they did with the Edge was create a building that people wanted to visit from China.

“They created a massively desirable product, so what can we do as property? Well maybe we can introduce product thinking into what we do.”

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John Wills, associate director of Savills

Wills referred to this as ‘design thinking’, a process which he explained as follows:

  • Empathise – conduct research to develop an understanding of your users
  • Define – combine all research and observe where your users’ problems exist
  • Ideate – generate a range of crazy, creative ideas
  • Prototype – build real, tactile representations for a range of your ideas
  • Test – return to your users for feedback
  • Implement – put the vision into effect

Design thinking is putting customers in the middle. Wills said the analogy of the car industry worked well here. “Properties are around for a long time; cars are around for five years before a new model comes along and is upgraded.

“The process of doing that for property is happening over a much longer time, and people want different things. There are people who will live and breathe the light switch until they die despite Alexa, and we have to factor that in.”

Wills described the pace of change within property as glacial, with the average lease length still being seven years. He added: “We’ve yet to make BIM really work in management, the reality is that it does happen, just over a period of five or 10 years.

“We are looking at new business models in property, and conversations around these happen daily in our company. We’re seeing new roles being created across the industry, such as chief technology officers, roles that didn’t exist in property which are good first steps.”

Wills explained Savills has a team of software developers, purely focused on developing for property management, who designed bespoke software internally as “we couldn’t get what we needed from the market.”

He added: “I wish we could do more, but the reality is these roles are new and expensive and there’s a skills shortage too.”

Do you agree? Or do you think innovation can come from inside? Join the conversation by adding your comments below or if you would like to write a response to the piece, please contact news@placetech.net

View the slides from the Barry’s presentation on our SlideShare page.


John Wills and Barry Jessup were speaking at PlaceTech Trend Talk London sponsored by Mills & Reeve, Node, British Property Federation and FUTURE:PropTech.

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