Tom Cheesewright

First get the basics right

As a futurist, I spend most of my time talking about what could be, rather than what is, writes Tom Cheesewright. When I’m asked to speak about proptech, I talk about future possibilities: living cities, smart buildings, AI assistants and mixed reality experiences.

And yes, inevitably, blockchain gets a mention.

The potential of these technologies is vast. I have no doubt that the first companies to grasp and apply them will do well. But they require experimentation and investment, with an uncertain level of return. This can be challenging to justify.

Investing in yesterday’s technologies should be an easier decision. Technologies that have had time to bed in and prove themselves. Technologies that offer a demonstrable response to customer demand and a solution, if only partial, to internal pressures. Surely any sensible company keeps a watchful eye out for technologies that can enhance its margins and improve the experience of its customers?

Perhaps not. Because if that were the case, there would likely be no proptech trend. Much of the transition that is happening now would already have happened. Slowly, as technologies matured, companies would have adopted them and applied them to their business.

Instead, we’re in the middle of a confusing and complex rush. Where new technologies are confused with old, where hype and sense are being muddled, and where a vast array of different technologies are being grouped under a single term.

For all the excitement about blockchain, the internet of things, and mixed reality, most of the proptech transformations happening now are the application of yesterday’s technology to straightforward problems of friction. As industries, property and construction have been laggards in adopting technology. As have many of the adjacent industries that support them, like law, finance and accounting.

This isn’t my verdict, it’s what almost everyone in these sectors tells me. They tell me out of frustration, particularly the younger members who are pushing for more rapid adoption. They tell me out of confusion, when they’re being asked to invest in things they don’t understand. And worst of all, they tell me with a perverse sense of pride. “This industry is different,” they say. “That won’t work here.”

We should be excited about the transformational prospects for the property and construction industries of current and future technologies. But we should first acknowledge the technical debt that hangs over us. Forgive the building analogy, but until we get the basics right, any investment will be built on poor foundations.

Get the basics right first: lower friction inside the business and between partners, improve the customer experience. Then you can start to think about the future.

Tom Cheesewright is an applied futurist advising clients on spotting future trends and preparing their business to respond.

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