Paul Unger Editor PlaceTech

Editor’s note | How soon is now?

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PAUL UNGER

We talk about the journey to the modern, tech way of doing things but do we really know what that looks like? How will we know when we have arrived at the future of property?

At the start of the year there were endless blogs from commentators and consultants celebrating the impending arrival of proptech proper: the consensus was this is the year it gets serious.

As we enter the final third of the year and the newly-clad school kids go back through the gates, it’s a good time to assess where we are up to and where in fact we are headed as an industry.

Undoubtedly we have seen progress; there has been a glut of money into investment funds specialising in innovation for the sector, big trade shows reflect a maturing market, and major established companies from Costain to British Land are repositioning themselves as tech-centric. But the investment glut feels like a bubble with more backers than good runners. The conferences are still too cliquey and not mobbed by property folk. Those that do attend are finding ways to repackage what they have always done as tech. Taking to the stage to proclaim ‘tech is in everything we do’ without giving specific examples of something in the next building that wasn’t in the last building. The vast majority of buildings are still built, let and managed in the same way they have been for decades.

A quick poll on our PlaceTech Twitter this week – which attracted the kind of low sample that suggests people don’t like Twitter polls much, but hey, we’ll try anything once – suggests half the people watching are not sure how proptech is progressing because of a lack of visible data. Certainly, we find a defensive, even secretive response when trying to get property companies to share their thoughts and experiences of their voyage into the tech unknown.

If it doesn’t feel like we’re much further on than this time in 2017, is it simply down to a lack of evidence of adoption? I suspect the amount of internal management dedicated to discussing and exploring this stuff has rocketed, the bosses are just not ready to shout about it yet.

Which brings us back to the point – where are we expecting property to get to? If we are setting a test, where is the pass mark? Is it when everyone is employing digital engineering on all new projects, or when every building is managed on an app, when robots replace concierges, or when those companies not demonstrating tech solutions stop winning work and go out of business?

I’m guessing the answer that emerges will be a level of ubiquity akin to when every bank had an app; although as is often pointed out, the high street banking market is an unfair comparison as it contains far fewer players than real estate.

The massive range of tech available and splintered nature of the market with thousands of companies, each moving at a different pace, means the comparison is perhaps closer to the ascent of the internet. At the start of the millennium every business had its own level of basic, intermediate or advanced website. The one-page telephone number listing, the half-a-dozen pages marketing brochure, or the superduper ‘interactive’ version with a contact form, search engine and perhaps even product ordering capability.

We can probably all think of at least one company we know that performs alright in 2018 without having a website – a niche pair of contrary investment agents who enjoy keeping it old school perhaps – but we wouldn’t say the internet isn’t a mainstream part of the everyday business landscape.

Whatever the answer, we’re a long way from there yet. For now property needs a safe space to look and meet and discuss. The destination can wait, simply starting a conversation is the first step.

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