The future of proptech for commercial real estate: Key insights from FuturePlace’s 2022 Real Estate Innovation Festival

MRI Software’s APAC team recently joined property professionals from across Australia and around the world at the two-day Real Estate Innovation Festival at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney.

The event was a source of countless valuable takeaways for corporate real estate and property management professionals faced with complex decisions about technology implementation in a post-pandemic world.

We take a look at some of the key ideas emerging from the panel discussions and keynote speeches.

Is the office dead? Or is it here to stay (in a different way)?

Jon Lesquereux, of workplace technology solutions provider Equiem, moderated a discussion on our problematic, post-pandemic relationship with the office.

Once the epicentre of our working lives, office spaces in commercial buildings are now playing a much more nuanced role which panel member Letitia Hope, of ISPT, described as a “springboard for a wide range of connections.”

Companies, and the spaces they manage, will inevitably become “culture clubs” with an ecosystem of networked services to support them. Technology will be the key enabler (and hyper-personalisation the goal). And property managers will be increasingly sought for “strategic rather than just space-management advice.”

Mirvac‘s Scott Stumbles believes corporate real estate will change over the next 20 years from short-term changes for buildings and occupants to long-term impacts on city skylines.

“We do great mixed-use precincts in Australia (with offices and retail) but we will be seeing more true mixed-use buildings with a wider range of functions,” he noted. This will increase the need for innovation with different entrance points, lobbies and overall building configurations.

Also, “workforce elasticity” will call for new services like flex spaces within leases, more individualised hospitality services, webinar areas with proper broadcast technology, and data privacy enhancements.

Panel members agreed that, in reality, we’re now looking beyond hybrid working towards “omnichannel working”, with future-focused applications like the metaverse and holograms being options we might start analysing and investing in.

How autonomous buildings enable sustainable cities

Troy Harvey of PassiveLogic spoke about how digital twin technology is driving automation in building management so that property managers get everything they need to design, build, and operate their portfolios without the effort and expense of integration.

He believes that investing in technologies that allow for autonomous energy control of our buildings and built environment will be key to helping us decarbonise the world at scale.

“Buildings aren’t just buildings,” according to Harvey. “They’re actually the world’s most sophisticated robots with tens of thousands of ‘controllables’.”

“There are heating cooling, ventilation, energy, storage, renewables, occupancy systems (and much more) that you’re coordinating together.”

PassiveLogic has been working on physics-based digital twins models that lead users to a single worldview. With one approach, this allows them to aggregate, coordinate and optimise the buildings under their control.

Redesigning workflows around a digital-twin-first model, allows you to propagate the systems throughout the life cycle of the building. It also gives you the ability to work more efficiently at the portfolio level and not just at the building level.

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Using data analytics to de-risk real estate and the built world

Moderator Sophie Cornell of JLL technologies asked panel members about how technology solutions will evolve to meet the needs of portfolio managers in the high-risk operating environments of the future.

According to Doug Curry of Arealytics, the commercial real estate sector is plagued with one of the ‘dirtiest datasets’ of any industry and has historically had no effective way to bring data together.

He said the “basket” approach to data capture and analysis is fundamentally limited and innovation depends on chasing the holy grail of “total gross activity”.

Joanna Marsh of Investa identified data and analytics as key mitigants of risks like obsolescence, ESG challenges, and stranded assets.

In her view, solutions need to give a “granular” view and help answer a whole range of important questions like: “Should we split a suite or expand it and how much should we spend? What else is available in the current market? What are our downtime and risk assumptions?”

Aneesh Nair of Honeywell Connected Enterprises echoed Doug Curry’s view that success with risk management solutions comes from culture change and human-driven initiatives.

Instead of a “plug and play” approach, providers are deploying success management teams to “Go in, work with customers and use the system alongside them to solve a problem.”

Lauren Alpeyrie of PGIM Real Estate believes that, when it comes to data and risk, “Eighty per cent of the effort comes down to collecting clean data and getting people to do things differently”. PGIM’s focus has been on gathering transaction-level data globally, aggregating it, bringing in new third-party data sets and getting teams working together and advocating for change.

For Steven Bird of Lendlease Digital, the greatest post-Covid challenges will be using data to manage the peaks and troughs of demand and utilisation, and moving from a cost control focus to a space management one.

Bird believes that experience optimisation is ultimately paramount. And this involves a shift from gathering information to actually applying data to understand who’s coming to offices and why they’re coming.

Ways to incorporate innovation and sustainability-focused technology into real estate assets

“Buildings are integral to achieving sustainability goals”, according to Melissa Hardy of QIC, and technology will play an increasingly important role in guiding commercial real estate businesses towards net-zero operations.

Recently, 77% of surveyed Australian property professionals agreed that technology will have either a “major” or “significant” impact on reshaping real estate portfolio management practices and driving sustainability outcomes over the next three years.

There’s a strong demand from real estate managers for sustainability solutions, an expectation from investors of robust reporting on both financials and ESG, and an overriding concern for real human outcomes and experience optimisation.

According to Hardy, “digital master planning” is a crucial support system for sustainability and is being realised through a variety of related initiatives like:

  • Portfolio dashboards that gather cross-asset performance data on ESG, tenant and customer satisfaction metrics;
  • Automated recycling collection;
  • De-constructable and customisable buildings;
  • AI-controlled optimisation of building management and HVAC systems;
  • Best practice sustainability models for tenants;
  • “Behavioural nudges” to lessen waste and resource usage;
  • Climate hazard impact assessment tools.

While there’s an appetite for sustainability and innovation, there are also several challenges to adoption. These include changing customer behaviour, designing customised solutions, reducing cost and time constraints and bridging the confidence gap for users.

Why real estate innovation has a “people problem” rather than a technology problem

Charles Reed Anderson of international strategic design consultancy, Eight Inc, talked about how we need to put people back into the equation to ensure technology supports rather than stifles innovation.

Ironically, we’re drowning in a sea of data while finding real insights hard to come by.

He said that commercial real estate companies can only truly deliver on economic, social and sustainability goals by ensuring human outcomes drive their “value creation engine” and inform their technology strategy and tactics.

According to Anderson, “radical transparency” – evidenced by the best-practice Tapei Smart Cities Initiative – shows working together more openly is the answer.

Digital twin technology has emerged to answer important questions about how building users can be informed, empowered and engaged.

It’s making the management of our buildings, communities and cities more transparent and arming our facilities, sustainability and workplace managers with actionable insights for improving humans’ experience of those places.

MRI Software is a leader in providing property professionals with digital technology to operate smart, scalable and sustainable real estate assets. Learn more about our connected property management and workplace solutions for commercial real estate owners, operators, and occupiers.

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