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Proptech: Cutting through the tech

Chee Kit Ho • 30/10/2019

Property technology or proptech is disrupting the way buildings are managed. The built environment industry is applying proptech to enhance the performance of buildings, to reduce risks and the cost of maintaining a building. But while it is exciting and presents tremendous potential for transformation, it can be hard for property owners to navigate the myriad of proptech possibilities without the right strategies. Given the high capex on technology, it is reasonable to expect property owners and landlords to use proptech to drive maximum value out of every dollar spent on an asset, but these concerns are steadily shifting to the need to use proptech to provide quality user experience.

Cushman & Wakefield recently surveyed over a hundred office asset managers, development managers, leasing managers and technology specialists across the region including Australia, China, Hong Kong and Singapore to find out how they are prioritizing the use of proptech for their assets, the drivers behind their proptech investments and what is keeping them from investing more into technology.

The survey found that property owners are looking for smart and sustainable proptech solutions that reduce downtime and lower energy consumption, contributing to overall cost savings. The property owners are keen to invest in solutions that maximise the efficiency of major operational expense items such as Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), lighting and lifts. Cost efficiency will remain a priority as they try to maximise the financial value of each of their assets by mitigating costs. However, the respondents to our survey have indicated a shift in focus to improving the quality of the workplace experience over the next five years.

Chatbots and tenant engagement portals a priority

In that same survey, property owners prioritized chatbots and real-time occupancy portals on the list of the most desired technology solutions, placing tenant experience firmly at front of mind. Chatbots present a game-changing opportunity to reduce costs for helpdesks amidst increasing call volumes and enhance customer experience. The transformation of tenant portals will offer greater value by providing real-time data, connecting workers from different companies within buildings or a landlord’s portfolio of buildings, driving new revenue streams.

Many landlords have started to explore portals to improve communication with the tenants occupying their buildings. Service providers are experimenting with chatbot technology to manage high-frequency service calls that can be responded to quickly and resolved swiftly. Chatbots reduce human error, increase productivity and removes the inherent bias from customer service interactions. Chatbots typically work through logical self-check questions before work orders are raised. Relying on chatbots reduces the confusion that often arises when customers speak to customer service officers over the phone, impeding response time.

At a more sophisticated level, technology experts are integrating chatbots with building automation systems and tenant portals to give tenants a quality environment to help improve productivity. Executed well, landlords can set certain parameters on tenant engagement portals to deliver a workplace experience that its tenants want. These can range from setting the optimum size for meeting rooms, taking care of their F&B requirements, services relating to personal care including laundry, grocery orders and delivery and other concierge related services. The same technology applied on a campus can be equally positive – students will be able to sign up for courses on the go, set up consult appointments with their teachers and the other way around, help organize campus events – the list goes on.

Overcoming the inertia to embrace tech

The high costs of implementing proptech and the haziness around a clear return on investment keeps many property owners from devoting more capital expenditure to proptech. There is a very real concern amongst them that some emerging technologies are seeing more rapid, exponential improvement – what is implemented today may be obsolete in a year.

Owners are worried about implementation risk and backing the wrong horse, causing many to take a conservative approach and avoid taking unnecessary risks. In choosing the right proptech partners, property owners need to consider the ability of the partner to help foster a digital culture and devise a tech strategy throughout the lifecycle of an asset, not just at the point of its construction.

The partner has to be able to dive deep into the company’s financial goals, understanding their operational challenges and be nimble enough to adjust the solutions to cater to specific user needs and customize their products or services to suit these requirements. It is crucial to take a root and branch approach to understand deeply the life cycle of each asset, how they are managed to avoid a situation where technology solutions become a one size fits all.

Focus on the people behind the tech

Rather than channeling more investment into the latest and snazziest gadgets, there is an urgency for service providers to invest in skills training. Fostering a digital culture across all levels of facilities management professionals is key.

With the massive amounts of data that is collected from tenant engagement portals, chatbots, air conditioning chiller plants, lighting, energy consumption levels, indoor air quality levels across facilities amongst other data sets, property owners should expect service providers to be able to analyse the data, conduct trends analysis to help predict energy, lighting, water consumption patterns in buildings and from there devise strategies to help prevent recurring faults, reduce energy usage and save costs.

If property owners are committed to providing tenants a truly quality experience, the savings derived from operational efficiencies can be channeled to meaningful tenant engagement tools and portals. Where there is a convergence between the building owners, property managers and facilities management for a shared vision for the future of the building, we will then utilize, optimize, and reap the benefits of proptech.

The real value of proptech can only be realized when all the stakeholders agree to a unique blend of solutions that benefits all. The true test of the value of proptech will be reflected in the increase in value of a piece of real estate, which will result in higher rental rates. Over time, the differential premium between buildings which are proptech enabled and those which are not will be glaring.

Read more on the proptech wave and find out what are the trends, drivers and barriers to adoption in our Proptech Top 5 report.

The above article originally appeared on The Business Times under the headline “Utilising, optimizing, and reaping the full benefits of proptech,” on 29 October 2019.

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