Construction — 3 June 2016

Real Estate: Who’s responsible for innovation?

Not too long ago I attended what’s often described as the ‘tour de force’ in the property industry – otherwise known as MIPIM. Held in Cannes, the event brings together tens of thousands of real estate and construction professionals to share and discuss what’s happening in their sector. And there were plenty of topics for everyone to get their teeth stuck into this year… although few would disagree that Brexit and its impact for the property industry was never far from anyone’s lips.

But it wasn’t just about David Cameron and the EU, in fact I was delighted to see the importance panellists and delegates were giving to the topic of innovation and collaboration in the construction industry. Under the sun-kissed sky of the South of France there were sessions on the ‘digital economy’, ‘tech and real estate’, ‘digital innovation’, and ‘collaboration for liveable cities’ – to name just a few.

I also met Liam Bailey, Global Head of Research at Knight Frank – the leading UK & London property agent. He echoed some of the concerns discussed at the event, saying the property industry had been slower than other sectors to embrace technology. He believes however that’s now changing and there’s much more interest from the industry in terms of the potential offered by technological innovation. According to Liam, people are starting to cotton on to the fact they can use technology to improve their service level.

That’s a strong argument, and a strong endorsement for digital innovation, but Liam’s words and the opinions I heard during MIPIM got me thinking; What do our favourite buzzwords – ‘the digital economy, digital innovation and collaboration’ – actually mean for the real estate sector and who is responsible for it?

That’s not easy to answer. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all response to this question; each company has a different internal structure which lends itself to a specific innovation and collaboration process.

Some companies, such as Atkins Global and Balfour Beatty, are opting to elect ‘Transformation Directors’ who take the weight of responsibility for implementing new technologies and creating a collaborative environment for construction workers, suppliers and contractors. Other companies, are opting for a bottom up approach; encouraging and training employees to use cloud services that will simplify processes and improve productivity.

Both methods have proven successful – you only have cause for concern if your organisation is failing to invest in either!

‘PropTech’, as it was termed at MIPIM is exploding. And, with companies such as View The Space now having 2.5 billion square feet of real estate held in the cloud, real estate companies failing to use digital technology – to innovate and collaborate – are losing their competitive edge.

Innovation requires innovators, guardians to spearhead the evolution of digital technology in an industry which has operated largely in the same way for 100s of years. Being an innovator, or a company seen as innovating, will enable you to progress current processes and update outdated legacy systems to become more agile.

In the words of Debbie Jackson, the Assistant Director for Regeneration at the Greater London Authority, and another incredibly interesting person I bumped into at MIPIM: “We have no idea what the end goal is. Innovation by definition is about seeing where things might take you. If you have an end goal then it limits your possibilities.”

With services such as Dropbox Business now available for the construction industry, it’s easier to implement and achieve a collaborative workplace than you think.

If you want more information on best practice when implementing digital technologies in the real estate and construction sector contact our in-house expert Mike Connors,

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