Redesigning Property for a digital world

August 2014

Think of it like smartphones; in practice people don’t use them much as phones anymore. They email, they Skype, they social network, they game, they run a myriad of apps to make their life easier, more efficient or more fun. What they don’t do so much is make phone calls. In fact, in the US the average length of a call has halved since 95, to around 90 seconds.

Which is why screen sizes are getting bigger. Used as a phone they look stupid, but as a portable computer screen, bigger is better.

And the same is coming to pass with commercial Property. We’re just not using it in the same way we have done. It’s no longer where our computer is, or where we can access our data. Or where we need to be for meetings. Or where we need to shop. In fact, what is it for?

And that is the point. The Property industry needs to consider the possibility that their product isn’t fit for purpose anymore. Or at least not the purpose it’s been used for for the last 30 years.

Clayton Christensen talks of “disruptive innovation”, where existing companies fail to meet customers’ unstated or future needs and new technology or business models arise that slowly slowly but then rapidly dislodge the existing market leaders. The property industry is largely tone deaf to such innovation and persists in thinking that the way things have been is the way they will be. Look at the mess Tesco is in with its megastores, or the insane over supply of retail space. Or the rotten connectivity even in the newest buildings. These all reflect a failure to grasp
new paradigms in work and consumption.

The property industry needs a new set of skills. It needs people who are attuned to the digital world. Whose mindset is rooted in service. Who believe everything can be done better, faster and cheaper than now. Who look at every touch point with their customers (all occupiers, not just the C suite) and think how they can interact in a more human, dynamic, relevant manner. Who look at technology not as IT but as the enabler of progress. For property (of all types) to remain relevant (and retain/grow in value) the whole industry needs to embrace this digital DNA.

So we need marketing people who tweet and blog, asset managers who monitor social networks, CEO’s who drive digital adoption, finance directors who design new business models, operations people who embrace new technologies, and planners, architects and designers who create new, more appropriate spaces.

Because property is a long term business you need to understand the future. To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, you need to play where the puck is going, not where it is.

Antony

This post first appeared in Estates Gazette 27th August 2014