Tom Willcock Hollis

Hollis hones in on data + drones

The real estate consultancy, based in the UK, Ireland and Europe, has turned its eyes towards the future of the built environment, upping its surveying offer with a drone service, and taking the view property is now a data game.

Tom Willcock, surveying innovation partner at Hollis, believes it will get to the point where if you’re selling a building, “investors will potentially want to see all of the data that is associated with that building, in order to better understand what this building is truly worth to them. It becomes packaged up into the whole lifecycle of the property.”

Willcock joined Hollis two months ago, after working with the firm as a drone consultant. He started off his career as an engineer, spent some time in banking as head of financial management at Coventry Building Society, before setting up his own drone company, Auster Aviation, which is now being absorbed into Hollis.

The i-word

Innovation can often be seen as a bit of a buzzword but we’re seeing it being used regularly in newly created job titles in property, as the industry tries to evolve.

Willcock’s role as an innovation partner at Hollis isn’t just “reading things in a publication and saying let’s incorporate this, it has to be about delivery and doing it sustainably,” he said. His job is to galvanise thoughts from around the business to focus on areas to deliver short, medium to long term plans.

His first port of call? Exploring the visualisation of data and the commercial use of drones. “I think there’s a huge piece around understanding the environment and where a photograph has been taken or providing better visualisation to aid internal workflows or to the client,” said Willcock.

He added: “What simple tools can we put in place, or what new products can we launch order to help people understand where things have been taken, what are the issues in the building, and when you look back at it in a few years’ time, for example, how much has that crack changed? Has it moved in size, what’s the scale of it?”

Hollis does have an in-house software development team, however Willcock explained the firm, at this point, is looking to deliver this by using different elements already out there.

Fly me to the roof

Willcock’s experience in drones is aiding Hollis’ visualisation of data. Currently around 30-40% of his time is spent on sites, flying and conducting drone inspections.

According to Willcock, drone inspections provide better quality results, an example he offered was in roof inspections: “You can work across a whole roof rather than use a cherry picker at a few samples points.

“I recently went up a cherry picker with a surveyor, who asked the driver if they could move further, to which the driver responded that he had the wrong cherry picker for that. It also reduces health and safety risks because people don’t need to go up in a cherry picker then.”

The business benefits and the opportunities of data “have become enormous,” said Willcock.

He added: “It’s going to help us provide a quicker and cheaper service for clients, and data will help them make decisions around their properties.”

The two-month-old drone service “is paying for itself right now” said Willcock, which he believes is a good position to be in.

Gazing ahead

Surveyors and engineers are having to learn new skills in order to adapt to this shift. Willcock believes at universities there will be more focus on “how data is managed, using AI and machine learning, which we can already see in the workflows of surveyors and engineers.”

Will getting a drone license be necessary for graduates joining Hollis? “It’s not a necessity, if they want to, we’re open to it. Having drones changes workflows around how surveying works, do as many resources and people need to go out to a site,” asked Willcock.

Looking forward to 2040, Willcock doesn’t know if surveyors will never have to visit a site again, but he believes it will be a much more triaged workflow.

Hollis has launched an intranet site around innovation, and Willcock is involved in curating staff training days.

“We’ve got to avoid Kodak moments within any industry, having disruptor awareness is important. Surveying firms need to be aware of what is happening, what is changing. Are Google and Apple going to move into this space? You constantly have to be on the front foot looking at these things,” explained Willcock.

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