Let IT in

Many industries are reinventing themselves, propelled by the transformative effect of new technology. A new survey explores the sector’s strained relationship with technology and the attitudes that may be impeding progress

The technological revolution that has transformed business operations throughout the world has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the property sector and the way in which real estate and FM professionals carry out their day-to-day jobs. But the majority of property businesses seem to have resisted the kind of transformative change that has taken place in banking and finance, leisure, tourism and retail.

Perhaps only now is the real estate sector starting to wake up to the opportunities presented by technology and what it can do to improve business efficiency and customer service. Recent investment in technology has brought the industry to the brink of major change, with rapid digital reinvention of building design, construction, management, maintenance, marketing and property sales. But is property by nature too fragmented, and relationships too complex, to really undergo the kind of seismic changes seen elsewhere?

There appears to be a perception that the real estate industry has been slow to adapt to the new technology, with over 60 per cent of those surveyed believing that to be the case. But in fact, more property professionals may be using advanced technology regularly in the workplace than they realise. Whether it’s using a mobile app to control lighting or heating, to hosting a virtual meeting or sharing documents online, technology has rapidly become the norm and in some cases, no longer feels advanced.

Qube Global Software has conducted a survey of property professionals to investigate the dynamics between the different sectors and the core challenges they face, as well as the role technology plays in tackling the big issues. The research set out to discover where they believe their business to be on the journey to technological maturity, how they’re using the software already available to them, the challenges they face in their daily working lives, and how they are preparing for future advances.

Respondents were asked where they see their business on a scale of technological maturity. Only a tiny handful – less than five per cent – regard themselves as pacesetters: technologically intelligent businesses who harness end-to-end technology, automated functions, paperless offices and accurate trend analysis and forecasting.

Far more (22.2 per cent) rate themselves as mere apprentices, with property management software in place but underused, leading to inefficient processes, lack of clarity over data and uncoordinated communication with stakeholders. The majority (52.8 per cent) view their organisations as evolvers – they have made some progress along the road to a digital future, with basic use of software, some automated processes and some data analysis. A further fifth (20.1 per cent) consider themselves proficient – ahead of the pack, strong believers in technology, working in close collaboration with stakeholders with high visibility of their KPI data.

This suggests that while largely aware of the role technology can play in improving the way their businesses are run, only a small proportion believe they are currently harnessing it successfully. Most feel they are at the early stages of their technology journey.

Several respondents commented on how their businesses still rely on Excel spreadsheets to manage their portfolios. Building information modelling (BIM) is now mandatory on certain projects, bringing with it multiple new challenges for property professionals. Yet the survey shows that over a third of FM/CRE providers are still confused by BIM and the systems that need to be in place to use it effectively.

For those already using real estate and FM solutions on a daily basis to run their businesses, the top three benefits were automation, reporting/forecasting and compliance. Difficulty around integration was the main shortfall, followed by mobile access and functionality.

So, while software has the capacity to make people’s jobs much easier, there is still a certain unwillingness to explore the full potential of existing solutions and make the leap into new ways of working. This may be because some companies don’t fully understand that the functionality is already in place, or they simply aren’t using the software to its full potential.

Upfront costs are also a factor and it seems there is still work to do in winning over stakeholders with solid data on the potential efficiencies and cost savings. The survey also suggests that software providers need to invest more in improving the functionality and mobile capabilities of their solutions.

Great strides have been made in mobile technology in recent years. The survey suggests that professionals are both interested in and engaged with the opportunities presented by mobile technology – yet some are frustrated with the options currently available to them.

Mobile technology has enormous potential for transforming the way real estate companies operate. The management of bricks and mortar requires property professionals to be out and about, yet in many cases staff still return to their desks to write their reports and notify the
relevant teams.

While almost four fifths of those surveyed felt that improved mobile access would help with their day-to-day tasks, only 40 per cent said that the mobile offering of their software was ‘good’. With regard to organisations’ primary software, half (49.9 per cent) said it could share data but requires manual input. A quarter (25.9 per cent) claimed their software could freely share data using real time, automated transfers – but a similar proportion (24.2 per cent) said their solution was unable to share any data at all.

Individuals use mobile technology on a personal level every day on their smartphones and tablets. They also understand its potential to transform the way they operate – so why is there a disconnect in the way this technology is applied in the workplace? One possible explanation is the fragmented nature of the industry and the need for system checks and security.

About Sarah OBeirne


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