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22 ways the UK is creating a proptech powerhouse

The British Property Federation’s report, written by proptech commentator Dan Hughes, highlighted the wealth of work central and local government is doing in built world technology. The BPF and Hughes called for a digital real estate forum to connect the myriad official programmes that touch real estate from across government departments. Here is the list of 22 initiatives in the report that illustrate the case for a unifying body.

1. UK BIM Programme

As UK Government chief construction advisor, Paul Morrell, instigated the UK Government Construction Strategy in 2011 which directed the sector to work more collaboratively and to use information technology – specifically through BIM (Building Information Modelling) – to improve cost and efficiency of both construction and operation of buildings. With the UK government responsible for around 40% of the construction industry’s workload, the UK BIM Programme mandated the use of BIM Level 2 methodologies for all public sector construction projects from 2016. The Construction Industry Council (CIC) has been heavily involved in developing and leading this programme with Government.

In order to allow the industry to adopt BIM, a large amount of work around process and standards has been undertaken, such as the PAS 1192 series of standards.

2. Government Soft Landings

Following publication of the Government Construction Strategy, a number of task groups were established. One of these was the FM/Soft Landings task group which was asked to produce a policy document on Government Soft Landings supported by appropriate guidance and a process map. The flow of information is often lost during the construction phase, so the purpose of the GSL work is to align the interests of those that build and those that manage an asset and ensure a smooth transfer of information. GSL sits alongside the wider BIM agenda.

3. Open Data

The UK Government has done a lot of work to make its data more accessible. In 2010 the Open Government Licence and the site were created, and in 2011 a now superseded Public Data Group was created alongside a Data Strategy Board. A wide range of data relevant to the real estate sector is available under the OGL. Alongside Government work in this space, the Open Data Institute, founded by Sirs Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt in 2012, is a not-for-profit organisation with the mission to connect, equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with data.

4. Geospatial Commission

The Geospatial Commission, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2017, is tasked with bringing together HM Land Registry, the Ordnance Survey, the British Geological Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the UK Hydrographic Office and the Coal Authority to improve the access to and quality of their data, make more geospatial data available, and set regulation and policy for geospatial data created by the public sector. The Geospatial Commission has a £40m budget over two years.

5. Government Digital Services

Government Digital Services is a unit of the Cabinet Office set up in 2011 to implement the UK Government “Digital by Default” strategy. The role of GDS is to drive a digital service delivery across government and provide support, advice and technical expertise for departments as they embrace technology. Much of the Real Estate sector is linked to government policy and in 2013, a list of 25 exemplar projects were published, including ones focused on rural payments and land registry. A GovTech Catalyst with a £20m fund was launched to support public sector organisations to find innovative solutions to operational service and policy delivery challenges. In 2018, GDS also published a “Technology innovation in government survey” which maps out many of the innovative projects happening around Government. This lists 427 different programmes, projects or initiatives that relate to Government technology.

Visualisation Of The “Technology Innovation In Government Survey” Results

Visualisation of the Technology Innovation in Government Survey results

6. Infrastructure + Projects Authority

Formed in 2016, by bringing together Infrastructure UK and the Major Projects Authority, the Infrastructure + Projects Authority reports to both the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury. The authority supports the successful delivery of all types of infrastructure and major projects: ranging from railways, schools, hospitals and housing, to defence, IT and major transformation programmes. Its stated purpose is to continuously improve the way infrastructure and major projects are delivered, in order to support government priorities and improve people’s lives.

7. BEIS 

The Department for Business, Energy + Industrial Strategy Future Sectors Team was founded to connect government policy makers with innovators and end-users. The team is currently focusing on proptech, having been tasked by the Ministry of Housing, Communities + Local Government to better understand the sector, and how it might support innovation. Initiatives run by the Future Sectors Team and its predecessor have, through evidence gathered from businesses, supported changes including: working with sector bodies to deliver new tools like the “finance finder” tool for small housebuilders; developing representative bodies and challenge funds; initiating sector reviews; supporting  legislation (satellites, drones); and delivering tax changes and clarifications on such areas as satellites, ISAs, crypto currencies.

A workshop with officials and a follow-up workshop with the Housing Minister were held in the winter of 2018. From this the Government intends to identify ways to support the emerging sector.

8. Department for International Trade

The real estate sector is already an area of focus for DIT, for example the programme of activities at MIPIM in Cannes, however there is a very real opportunity to use technology as a key theme for this. Both in terms of creating a more attractive and transparent real estate market for inward investment and through the export of real estate technology expertise and products.

9. UK Research + Innovation

The national funding agency investing in UK science and research has a combined budget of more than £6bn. UKRI is an independent organisation principally funded by BEIS that brings together a number of Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England. Competitions for funding of various sizes are run through Innovate UK and a UK Industrial Challenge fund. A number of challenges have been identified where real estate and the wider built environment has a substantial role to play in successful outcomes, however the challenges are often more focused on the technologies, rather than the desired outcomes. There is a challenge titled “Transforming Construction” which has several initiatives targeted at the construction sector.

10. UK Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence has been identified as one of the opportunities for the UK and it will have a significant impact on most parts of the real estate and wider built environment. In April 2018, the UK Government announced a UK AI Sector Deal to support the UK in this space which included a commitment of close to £1bn in funding.

11. Geovation

Geovation started as a concept in 2009 and has grown to work extensively with start-ups in the geospatial and real estate sector. It has had its own physical space since 2015 and has supported 79 start-ups as of the end of 2018. Geovation is an initiative created by Ordnance Survey and subsequently joined by Land Registry and provides funding of up to £20,000 and a range of data, business and network advice.

12. Future Cities Catapult

The FCC states its mission as being to help UK firms develop innovative products and services to meet the changing needs of cities, and to sell them to the world. In doing so, it is supporting the emerging sector to become an enabler of national productivity and a central plank of the UK economy. The FCC supports companies tackling city challenges, such as congestion, housing and placemaking.

13. New materials

For the real estate sector to move forward and achieve the benefits expected, it will be essential for new or currently niche materials to become more widely used. This could be in the use of composite wooden frames in construction, materials that can be printed on-site or that allow the next generation of batteries. Key to all of these is investment and research into material engineering, a strength for the UK.

An example of this is the National Graphene Institute. Opened in 2015 in Manchester, it was funded by a combination of the UK Government and the European Union and is the centre for graphene research in the UK, which includes ways of successfully using and exploiting in industry.

14. Smart cities

Smart cities is a topic that is often spoken about at a national level, but with much of the activity at a local level. However, in 2018, the UK Government launched the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund for local regions to bid for to help boost local economies. A good example of a local Smart City initiative is “Bristol is open16”, a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council which delivers research and development initiatives that contribute to the development of a smart city. In 2018, Bristol won the Smart City Award at the GSMA’s 2018 Global Mobile Awards from a shortlist that included Barcelona, Dubai, New York, Singapore and Yinchuan. The award provides global recognition on how Bristol has raised the bar on defining the smart city of the future.

Other examples of cities with smart city initiatives include the Manchester Smarter City Programme, Future City Glasgow, Nottingham’s Smart Campus, and SmartSheffield. Belfast is set to become the first city in the UK to have Pulse Smart Hubs installed on the city’s streets with free Wi-Fi, sensors for capturing environmental data, a defibrillator, a free phone call service, and a touchscreen visitor information service.

15. London Datastore

Created by the Greater London Authority, the London Datastore is an example of a local initiative to release data for a specific geographic area. The purpose is to enable anyone and everyone to access data and use for free as they see fit. Not only does the London Datastore provide access to the data, but also provides tools to help find, understand and visualise the data.

Within the London Datastore, data can be sorted by topic which includes multiple datasets on planning, housing and infrastructure amongst others.

16. Digital Policy and Roadmap – Bristol City Council

Cities and local authorities are using data and technology to deliver and enhance services, many of which are focusing on the built environment; from planning to housing and infrastructure to city navigation. A good example of this is at Bristol City Council, where the local authority has published a 2018-2022 Digital Roadmap and has a comprehensive register and map service.

17. BSI

The BSI is a global business standards and certification company covering many sectors and disciplines, one of which is construction and the built environment. In 2018, BSI launched the BSI Kitemark for BIM Level 221 to help organisations demonstrate they can deliver infrastructure projects that meet the requirements of the UK Government’s condition of contract.

18. Centre for Digital Built Britain

This is a partnership between BEIS and the University of Cambridge, which aims to deliver a smart digital economy for infrastructure and construction, transforming the UK construction industry’s approach to the way we plan, build, maintain and use our social and economic infrastructure.

The partners’ stated mission is “to develop and demonstrate policy and practical insights that will enable the exploitation of new and emerging technologies, data and analytics to enhance the natural and built environment, thereby driving up commercial competitiveness and productivity, as well as citizen quality-of-life and well-being.”

19. Ministry of Housing, Communities + Local Government

This department, so instrumental in many aspects of the built environment, is undergoing a substantial digital transformation and has a stated ambition to be the leading digital policy department. In 2018, MHCLG and GDS published a joint-initiative called the Local Digital Declaration, which is a set of guiding principles that will help support local authorities of all sizes or capabilities to deliver digital services and platforms that meet the needs of citizens.

20. R+D Tax Relief

The UK Government provides R&D tax relief to support companies working on innovative projects in science and technology. As technology and R&D become increasingly important to the real estate sector, this should become of increasing influence and can be claimed irrespective of success of the project. In a market such as real estate, that has traditionally carried out very little R&D, this is a good example of where Government financial policy can help companies drive innovation in a sector.

21. Apprenticeships

There has been a strong drive from the UK Government to encourage and drive apprenticeships through several financial schemes, such as the Apprenticeship Levy. The whole of the built environment sector is already a huge employer and as technology skills are increasingly needed, the real estate technology sector should see a growth in apprenticeships.

22. RICS Data Standards

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has developed a suite of Data Standards that work in parallel with its International Standards and Professional Statements, to ensure the quality and consistency of data. Implementing RICS Data Standards ensures that data is captured, verified and shared both within organisations, and across external stakeholders. As an example, the RICS International Property Measurement Standards data standard is an XML schema allowing users to capture, denote and share IPMS measurements of buildings.

Hughes concludes: “There are a significant number of wider market and Government initiatives in the UK addressing the impact of technology on real estate. However, these are often focused on a specific technology, a particular building-type or a specific stage in the building’s life, and not joined-up. This is as-opposed to being outcome-focused and coordinated.”

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