Traditionally sceptical of technology, the property industry remains one of the last sectors to be disrupted. Innovation is only adopted when it adds real value.
But in both the residential and commercial spaces, promising startups and established brands are applying new developments in Internet of Things (IoT) technology to meaningfully improve the environments in which we live, work and play.
Interestingly, it’s the residential sector which has led the way. The online estate agent market has been transformed. Platforms like Purple Bricks are making it easier and cheaper to buy and sell property than ever before.
Inside homes, smart devices are providing peace of mind and enabling efficiencies. From Phillips Hue wireless lighting, to Hive Active Heating, and Nest IP security cameras – technology is being adopted because it enhances domestic life.
With most proptech companies less than five years old, it is still a relatively nascent space. But awareness and acceptance of smart technology in the home is already informing expectations of the workplace.
Flexible working patterns and a growing acceptance of homeworking has resulted in greater domestication in office design. Workplaces must be engaging, secure and comfortable to compete with the attraction of skipping the commute – and technology has a vital role to play here.
Smart, connected working environments can also help C-Suite executives address some key challenges: how do we increase productivity? How can we attract and retain talent? And how do we reduce our overall costs?
Take for example, The Edge, in Amsterdam. Designed to be the greenest building in the world, it received the highest BREEAM rating awarded to a commercial property; and uses 70% less energy than one of a similar size. But business advisory firm Deloitte, which commissioned it as a headquarters, found that the major advantage to its bottom line wasn’t from the energy savings which resulted from the sustainable design.
The 30,000 sensors and intelligent building management system in The Edge enable real-time measurement of occupancy levels, footfall, and adjustment of lighting and oxygen levels to match.
This allows a workforce of 2,500 to efficiently share 1,000 desks. The building even remembers how individual employees like their coffee.
The main benefit? A healthier, more engaged and, crucially, more productive workforce. Across that many employees, as any business adviser worth their salt will attain to, even a 2% increase in productivity justifies the business case for the investment in technology many times over.
But proptech isn’t just solving problems for office-based businesses. In the retail sector, bricks and mortar stores and shopping centres have responded to the online threat by becoming smarter.
Shoppers are wooed instore by tech-driven retail theatre: augmented reality mirrors, intelligent digital signage, and promotions directed straight to their smart phone by raft of wireless technologies.
For retailers, the ability to track analytics relating to footfall and dwell times through heat mapping and hyperlocation services is transformative. It enables them to place the right products and stores in the right areas. For the landlord, successful retail units can command higher rents.
Far from mere window dressing, technology is proving an integral weapon in the battle of clicks vs. bricks.
Manchester is at the vanguard of developing much of this innovation in the UK and is home to Innovate UK’s smart city demonstrator project, CityVerve.
Through harnessing the potential of IoT, sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning, the programme aims to create citizen-centric technology which can improve the built environment and address the challenges faced by people living in a more densely-populated urban area.
MSP is a lead partner in CityVerve, and the initiative is headquartered at the Bright Building, which has been designed as a smart building from the ground up and features many of these cutting-edge technologies.
We’re able to track and act on real-time occupancy data to help customers maximise their space. Meeting rooms and exercise classes can be booked through the same online platform, while smart external lighting adds to the ambience and offers a sense of security in the evening.
For it to be effective, technology needs to be factored into and complement the overall design, while enabling the overall service offer. It must be part of the architect’s vision. It seldom works as an afterthought.
Ultimately, greater insight and control of a building enables its owner, and the workspace provider, to offer more cognitive, secure and comfortable environments, which in turn command higher occupancy rates.
But for all of technology’s promise, there will still be naysayers who are slow to adopt. Some of the most expensive new commercial buildings in Manchester city centre are bafflingly-devoid of IoT technology, or at least don’t engage their users in any meaningful way.
And, while the sector has a plethora of ingenious individual technologies, the challenge and the next important wave of development, will be to bring them all together under one platform or operating system.
These barriers aren’t insurmountable, however. As buildings become more intelligent, the ability to track, quantify and measure the return on investment will render the business case irrefutable. What was seen as luxury, will become prerequisite. Landlords who don’t move with the times will be left behind.
In real estate, there’s been a shift from letting space to businesses, to providing a service for people within them. Innovation in smart buildings is allowing forward-thinking developers to deliver an increasingly customer-focused offer.
Many sectors have been disrupted by technology. The commercial property industry will be enabled.
Tom Renn is managing director of Manchester Science Partnerships.