What’s the future of proptech in the UK? At the MIPIM Proptech Europe roadshow, that’s the question on the agenda. We’re at WeWork Waterloo to hear views on that subject from a panel of proptech companies and Simon Allison from the London Mayor’s office. And as long as we’re in a co-working space, it’s worth highlighting one of the soundbites from the evening which is that London leads the world by a mile on co-working, at least in terms of penetration.
The general consensus is that proptech has come of age. Next year, 2020, will be the year of adoption. It’s only three years ago when bright start-ups couldn’t get a look-in with the corporate purse holders but today the tech agenda is so prominent among corporates, they have senior people whose remit is not to say no to pitches from those bright young things. And there are more proptech/tech insiders in corporates now – a new generation with a different outlook.
So what’s next in proptech in the UK?
Simon Allinson, representing the Mayor of London, says the capital’s commitment to tech won’t change even if and when there is a change of Mayor. Energy efficiency is a huge driver for proptech, he reckons. It makes sense, and as if to reiterate the commercial potential, he appears to be wearing golden boots (even if the streets aren’t always literally paved with it).
He sees take-up happening now among corporates buying into the technology that may deliver smart buidlings. There have been early adopters, of course, but after a slow start, Simon says almost everyone of a certain size in London is in the proptech game now.
The crunch for SMEs is to make things easier for corporates. Provide core value, and your technology will be adopted. You need to think like corporates think, rather than barging in and predicting you’re going to change the world.
The panel see London, Hong Kong and Shanghai on a par when it comes to proptech adoption and market opportunities, but when it comes to proptech companies, one city is (gold-paved) streets ahead. London has more of them than the next two contenders, New York and San Fransisco, combined.
So back to the future. Long term, cities are thinking less about winning big bids like The Olympics and more about adapting to climate and demographic change. And there is something about changing attitudes. Most of us think of real estate in terms of buying and selling property rather than experiencing it. Yet the new generation is focused on experiences. So how do we turn real estate into a service? How can proptech enable wellbeing, physical and mental?
Think of buildings as platforms with the human at the centre. Why? Well, what do you provide to your customers if not your people?
As with many disruptive ideas, there are philosophical questions. If your technology lets people manage their environment, to what extent should you trust them to make the right decision? If you truly have their and your best interests at heart, is there a case for you overruling their input at some point?
Much of the talk in HR and management is of soft issues such as wellbeing. But turn that around for a moment. If you focus on optimising rent per square foot – really optimising it taking into account all the factors – you’ll get increased productivity and wellbeing as a side effect.
Not perfect yet
Nothing is perfect, though, and an audience member highlights the lack of innovation in property and FM contracts, something that routinely confounds the successful deployment of technology. This can be because of archaic contracts with outsourced FM companies who have neither the interest nor the desire to take on a tech product. Similar stresses on in-house real estate managers, struggling to manage their day-to-day responsibilities, make it likely that new initiatives will not necessarily be greeted with unbridled enthusiasm.
It’s a huge problem, one of our speakers confesses. It’s why tech companies are struggling to get their products into thousands of buildings. No two buildings are the same, even ones in the same portfolio, so each potential instance of a tech rollout meets different attitudes and challenges. It’s crucial with joint in-house/outsourced operations that both sides are incentivised to embrace new opportunities.
All that said, 2020 is a different year for the proptech world, one where its ideas and technologies are better able than ever to make it onto the top of the corporate agenda and beyond into deployment.