Being Digital - A primer for commercial real estate. Part 1.

December 2013

December 2013

Eighteen years ago Nicholas Negroponte, who founded WIRED and the Media Lab at MIT wrote Being Digital, the seminal work on what happens when we move from a world primarily of Atoms to one predominantly of Bits. A truly prophetic book, I saw him give a lecture on the subject in 1995…. and was hooked. This was a grand vista being laid out, a digital world of innovation, exploration and imagination.

Well, since then I’ve been waiting for ‘IT’ to happen. And waited, and waited. Green shoots would appear, then be dashed by the inadequacies of this or that hardware, software or digital infrastructure.

The wait though is over: we now have all the tools that are required for ‘Being Digital’ to become a reality. And with these tools the big disruption can begin, for there should be no doubt that a great divide will open up between those who embrace the digital world wholeheartedly and those who merely accommodate it.

So what does ‘Being Digital’ mean, and what implications does it have for commercial real estate?

1. It’s not about you anymore
In the analogue world we’ve become used to dealing with people on a one by one basis, and consuming information likewise. Single channels connect us with others or with information. We interact and learn on a singular basis. But in the digital world we still deal with individuals, but on a networked basis. Multiple channels of connectivity and data dissemination mean we communicate and collaborate with multiple parties, in multiple locations, all the time. As a result we have access to a wider pool of knowledge, greater access to skills and most likely a more nuanced, multi-faceted view of the world. As Bill Joy said:

‘Whoever you are, the smartest people don’t work for you’

In the digital world the smartest people don’t need to work for you for you to work with them. In the analogue world you’d most likely never know they existed.

Being Digital means one moves away from Hub and Spoke thinking, where you sit at the centre and get fed information, item by item, to collaborative thinking, where you are a node on a network, with everything connected to everything else and where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

A scary thought just being a node on a network. How do you possibly see the wood for the trees? Well, that is where software comes in. As we will cover in Part 2.


PS This point about Being Digital is generic to everyone and every business. However for the commercial real estate world specifically, it will mean a relentless move towards transparency. Developers, agents, suppliers and occupiers will all have access to the same information. Combined with the trend towards greater sustainability in the built environment it will de rigeur for everything to be monitored, in real time, and for the vast majority of that information to be widely shared and shareable.