The property industry has been notoriously laggard in adopting technology into everyday processes. Where many have tried and failed in decades past, the next decade presents a chance for profound rebirth in every aspect of the industry.
In 2012, the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise: The Dark Knight Rises hit the cinemas…remember those? While viewed by many as the weakest of the trilogy, I personally feel it was the most audacious of the three films. The first two films tried to bring a world that was often seen as pulpy or campy into a lens that felt like it could happen in our world.
With his last attempt, Nolan strayed a bit from this model by intertwining themes from classic literature like Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities into the narrative of the classic comic book property. I admired the way in which the acclaimed director broke out of a formula that was working so well to inject his own personal worldview and passions a bit more into the story.
“Ok nerd…what does any of this have to do with PropTech?” you ask.
Well since the coronavirus outbreak, there has been much crystal ball gazing around how it may have finally forced the digital transformation of companies and industries globally. In the real estate industry, there has been much discussion of how the situation is a tipping point for property technology or proptech. But without making our own audacious breaks from the formulas that have been successful for centuries, we are doomed to repeat the same failures to launch that the industry has seen in recent decades.
Industry watchers point to how a slew of new tech innovations in real estate could further be spurred by this crisis: think voice-activated lifts to prevent the spread of germs; drones used to sanitize buildings, Extended Reality (whether it’s augmented reality or virtual reality) platforms to walk buildings and facilities managers through necessary checks remotely instead of doing them in person. But here we are, nearly a year into this pandemic and nearly all solutions that have emerged seem to treat the manner in which we interact with the built world the same as it ever has, just after checking our temperatures first.
The fact is that most of these solutions already existed. Yes, there is now a newfound appreciation for what proptech can do. With the outbreak of the virus, the convenience of urban living has shifted to being a danger in one stroke because population density leads to easier transmission. The urgency of addressing these risks has surfaced new and useful ways to apply existing technologies within built environments.
Much like Gotham City after 8 years of peace: a new threat and a new world order is upon the property industry which had until 2020 enjoyed the longest period of growth in the history of those recorded measures.
Businesses, tenants, and landlords must be looking at current real estate technologies and tools as urgently as video conferencing has become essential overnight, despite being in offices in the early 2000s and in our phones for nearly a decade.
Many of us living in cities often take it for granted that our built environments are clean, secure, and incredibly sophisticated machines. But maintaining those machines are large groups of people who work hard night and day behind the scenes to keep them that way.
The fluid, fast-changing nature of Covid-19 has also accelerated the importance of real-time data for decision making and transparency. Previously, corporate real estate leaders and facilities managers might think it’s enough to think about how space is used every six months. Not anymore. End users are going to demand more assurance in real-time to answer security, safety, and wellness questions, such as, “What are the water and air quality like?”; “Where in the office have most people been spending time?”; “Who are the visitors entering the premises?”.
Certifications for wellness and safety are usually performed on a routine inspection basis, which only gives a snapshot of performance at that very moment. But in Ping An Financial Centre in Shenzhen’s Futian district, a video analytics platform is in use in the bars and restaurants of the building to analyze kitchen operations and give real-time feedback on hygiene standards. Instead of a grade, which might have been given six months ago, you can enjoy your meal with the assurance that an evaluation took place right before you sat down.
Covid-19 has demonstrated that we can no longer afford to be behind the curve when it comes to adopting technology. Companies that have adapted best to the new normal are the ones that had already made technology intrinsic to how they function — whether through remote working, the ways they monitor and operate their buildings, or how automation is integrated to alleviate the burden on manpower.
To drive the message home, I am going to repurpose a sentiment from Tom Hardy’s (too often) maligned portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. In his first fight with Batman, he says: “Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but BLINDING!”
In order for the property industry to recover with any sort of speed, simply adopting the technology will not be enough. We must be reborn in it, it must be in our DNA. Otherwise, by the time it is finally the ally of the industry, it will be in the control of insurmountable competition.
Companies born of this moment of opportunity will become as unstoppable as Bane seemed. By 2030, the names at the top of the industry are likely to be those that are being brainstormed right now or have yet to be chosen. I am excited to be working with Brinc to help usher in some new thinking to the property industry born of technology.
Jordan Kostelac, Brinc PropTech Mentor
Jordan focuses on solving challenges in real estate at JLL through the creation and deployment of Property Technology (PropTech) platforms for the Asia Pacific region. Working with both internal and external stakeholders, he guides the exploration of how technology can positively disrupt built environments. Jordan worked for 12 years in FMCG operations management and later process improvement consulting. Since joining JLL, he has worked as a workplace strategy and change management consultant for many of JLL’s largest global clients. A founding partner of Hong Kong Walls, when not trying to reshape the property industry with new technologies, Jordan can be found in his mad scientist lab at Neonotic! Cidery.
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