Being Digital in Property - Your starter for 10

April 2016

21 years ago I heard MIT’s Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte give a lecture on Being Digital. It has taken 21 years, but what seemed obvious then has at last gained general acceptance. Tech is now big, though today you have to call it #PropTech, as if it is something new. and disruptive. It isn’t, and in Property at least, it won’t be.

And it isn’t, and won’t be, because every business is becoming a digital business. Some are taking training steps, whilst others have the gait of a Usain Bolt, but no-one can afford to not move down the digital road. And the great thing is that with 21 years of what the economist Carlota Perez has described as the technological ‘Installation Phase’, we are now moving into the ‘Deployment Phase’. In a nutshell the infrastructure is in place and the world (or at least half of it) are entering a golden age where new technologies are rolled out and capitalised on. So, as long as you don’t shut your eyes and pine for the last golden age, we are all in a position to take advantage of some extraordinary hardware and software.

What?, So What?, Now What?

1. Smartphones. The most important technology the world has ever seen. A market ten times bigger than any other, billions of people worldwide are buying new phones every two years. And every two years they are doubling in capabilities. As Benedict Evans says “The smartphone is the new sun”. More and more your will run your business via your phone, so ensure you have one no more than two years old. And it must be either an Apple iPhone or Android based. Those two operating systems have both won the war, so do not buy a loser.

2. Tablets. The work you do not do on your smartphone you will probably do on a tablet. Yes you will hear people say “But I can’t do real work on that”, but the nature of real work is changing and for perhaps 90% of what needs to be done, a tablet is adequate. They are also fast, light and portable with long battery life. if you are (really) heavy Office users then buy a Surface Pro 4, otherwise either of the iPad Pro’s. These are for work so no cheap copies please.

3. Laptops. Being mobile is the future that is here today. By all means keep your desks with large screens on them, but move to laptops as the default ‘PC’. And seeing as they are substantially cheaper than they were 20 years ago no cheap ones here either.

4. Cloud based software. Whether you are a one man band or multinational, you all have access to the same software, via SaaS (Software as a Service) Cloud apps. Do not buy software you have to load locally or install on your network (as a rule of thumb). Office 365 or Google Apps for Work is foundational, thereafter a CRM, Project and/or Task Manager and Dropbox covers a lot of everyday requirements. Mailchimp is excellent for email marketing. If you need industry specific tools try before you buy. Do not buy anything that is not mobile friendly (this will remove many property software vendors straightaway – good).

5. Broadband. The faster the better. If you can stretch to Gigabit broadband (through the likes of Hyperoptic) buy it; the more you have the more you can do, even if you cannot see what you would use it for today. Ultrafast opens up a hidden world of capabilities (trust me on this).

6. Apps. You will obviously have mobile versions of your core and industry specific apps, but other must haves include the Google set (Search, Maps, Translate, Photos etc), CityMapper and The Trainline for local travel, Slack (end of email?) and LinkedIn for business communication, and then the full range of social media apps. You may think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the like are for play, but they are not. Or not exclusively. They are where you will find your customers.

7. Podcasts. More and more industry or domain specific Podcasts are becoming available. There are excellent technology, strategy and management ones as well as an increasingly good one from EG itself. Download a Podcast app, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play and listen to them on the way to and from work.

8. MOOCS. Massive open online courses, from FutureLearn (Open University), Coursera, Stanford, Oxford or many other places are a treasure trove for continuous learning. Often short courses, heavily video based they are perfect for your tablet!

9. Google Squared Digital Marketing Course. Every property company should have at least one member of staff who has done this course, which takes six months and is all online. The Property industry is, by and large, not good at online marketing; this course would help put this right.

10. Books. Yes, paper is allowed, even in a digital company. And there are at least 6 must reads each year. Follow me on Twitter for digitally focussed recommendations.

So 10 practical recommendations for running digital businesses. None are onerous, most are fun, and together they will help keep you beyond the clutches of the #PropTech marauding hordes.