CBRE’s annual occupier survey found corporates starting to embrace technology but struggling with the dilemma of how to get the skills required. Should they hire tech-savvy people or train existing teams?
Here is an edited extract from the EMEA Occupier Survey 2019.
Technology strategy – building technology, skills and process design – continues to be a major area of focus. Concern about the impact of technological innovation on business operations is evident among a majority of occupiers: 60% of companies expect technological innovation to have a high or very high impact on their operations over the next three years.
And they are becoming clearer about where this impact is likely to come from: 83% ranked artificial intelligence and machine learning in their top three technology concerns, followed by the Internet of Things (56%) and Robotic Process Automation (50%).
With these as the priority concerns, how are companies framing their approach to real estate technology investment and procurement of technology skills? In response to anticipated technology disruption, but just as importantly to take advantage of the benefits offered by new technology, a significant proportion (70%) intend to raise their level of investment in real estate technology in the next few years. A notably higher proportion (77%) of banking & finance companies express this aim.
As with several other aspects of the survey, the favoured technologies and the motives for deploying them, reflect a marked shift towards people-related objectives. Increasingly technology is viewed as the means of achieving people-centric ends.
Currently, the two most popular real estate technologies are smart building sensors for occupancy management and energy management controls – effectively building and efficiency factors. By contrast future intentions for real estate technology investment focus on occupant navigation apps and connect external IoT, both more people-centric applications. And the motives behind real estate tech investment intentions reflect the same shifts: the current preoccupation with building and energy management / FM is replaced by a focus on occupancy management, with user experience / productivity also newly appearing in the top three reasons for pursuing tech investment.
Part of this issue for companies is how best to develop, or acquire, the skills necessary to enable and deliver their real estate technology aims.
Is it more effective to equip the existing workforce – through digital transformation – to become more tech-savvy; or to hire ready-made specialist tech skills to do the data analysis necessary to support the aims of tech strategy?
In reality for the majority of occupiers, this is not an “either-or” question since elements of both are likely to be important, but the survey findings shed interesting light on the preferred approaches. Plans to bring in new skills are far from universal but, where they do exist, user experience leads and digital transformation officers are more favoured roles than data scientists. On the face of it this looks counter-intuitive: after all, predictive analytics have been among the three most-favoured technologies for each of the past two years and it takes specialist skills to curate all this information.
What might be happening here? It looks to us that companies have become aware – sometimes through bad experience – of the need to devote resource to collating, organising and documenting information before letting data scientists loose on it. Companies need to get their data house in order as a precursor to large-scale “big-data” analyses. In other words, the initial task of data consultancy, assembling and organising data, is part of the remit of digital transformation officers: effectively gowning and sedating the patient before surgery can start.
In addition, the limited appetite to hire data scientists directly doesn’t necessarily mean that they are viewed as unimportant, more that there may be better ways of gaining access to them. The ability to access this skill set through specialist outsourced providers, including proptech firms, may be an increasing preference that can also include a data consultancy element. Another positive by-product is that it may help firms in determining where to locate niche tech skills.
Some evidence suggests that locating them alongside other scientists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and so on, is more likely to succeed than housing them in a “corporate” environment. Exploring the scope to develop specialist stand-alone formats, such as in-house incubator hubs, is likely to become a more popular approach.